Let’s not regress in our thinking

Basement windows should be easily accessible to get out of, in case of emergrency.
Basement windows should be easily accessible to get out of, in case of emergrency.

Continuing our talk on basement egress, what do we know so far?

One, a basement requires two points of exit in the case of emergency, such as a fire, or if you’re Alex Galchenyuk of the Montreal Canadians, and are placed in the awkward situation of having your girlfriend show up at your post-game party where a few young ladies are found lounging on your bed.

With the stairs blocked, or inaccessible during the chaos of a smoke filed room, or the heat of an enraged French lady with Prussian temperament, the egress window may undoubtedly be your only salvation.

And two, for a room to be considered a bedroom, the space must have a means of ventilation (either by the window having three sq. ft. of open screen area, or by a mechanical blower) and a source of natural light (minimum five per cent of the room’s sq. footage).

So, why not make the window egress compliant from the get go? When slid open, or tilted upward, an egress compliant window will need to provide a space that’s at least 15 inches wide, with a total opening of 548 sq. inches, or 3.8 sq. feet.

It should be noted that some horizontal sliders offer in-swinging type of sashes, or a lift and remove option for both the fixed and sliding window panes. Although this would effectively create the required opening for egress compliancy, and allow the homeowner to install a smaller, perhaps more convenient sized window, these conditions aren’t egress worthy.

In order to be egress compliant, a window must not require any special tools, or educated knowhow, to open. In other words, opening a window to its full exit potential can’t require a person, teary eyed, panicked, and suffering from smoke inhalation, having to follow a co-ordinated series of window movements in order to save their butts.

Basically, without any prior knowledge as to how a window operates, the egress friendly window will simply slide open, or tilt up, with minimal effort by the first time user. How does a person, or child, reach the egress window in a basement?

On any other floor in the home, an egress compliant window must be no more than 39 inches off the floor. However, due to the in-ground condition of our basements, where windows are installed 5-6 feet off the finished floor, no such rules apply in Ontario. On the other hand, international egress rules state that even a basement egress window should be no more than 44 inches off the floor.

My recommendation? Modify the room environment in order to minimally adhere to the international requirement.

This view is based on the fact I’ve seen somebody pull themselves up, tuck their knees in, and slip through an opening as narrow as 15 inches, with any type of fluidity, only twice.

Tony Curtis did it in his 1953 portrayal of Harry Houdini, and there was a Romanian gymnast who accomplished the feat during a most recent performance of Cirque de Soleil.

Tony Curtis, God bless ‘im, and a great actor, is no longer with us, and assuming this readership doesn’t include that particular troop of circus performers, I suggest a bench, desk, or some type of furniture arrangement underneath the window, in order to facilitate exiting.

Now, once you’ve made it out the window, are there any other obstructions that may hamper your egress compliancy? Solid earth might pose a problem.

Window wells are a common solution to basement windows that, due to the grade of the surrounding soil, get buried to about half their height.

Unfortunately, the 12 inch deep window well has historically been a common solution. And, if squeezing through the 15 inch window opening took all you could muster, further funneling yourself through a 12 inch space will most likely lead to your ultimate demise. That’s why egress code compliancy demands you install the new standard of a 22 inch deep (distance between window opening and corrugated wall) type of window well.

Build safe, and build to code.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Basement egress compatability

Not to be mistaken for the long legged, white feathered, s-necked bird that somewhat resembles our local Heron, because that would be the basement Egret, basement egress means satisfying the building code regarding the safe exiting of a living space during an emergency.

In a finished basement, the Ontario building code will require the homeowner having at least one egress window within the immediate living space.

What if when finishing a basement, the homeowner wishes to add a bedroom or two, in order to create more living space, add value to the home, or to serve as a rental space?

Renovating a basement into living space is a popular do-it-yourself project. Unfortunately, it’s also one of those projects that tends to fly under the radar of our local inspection department.

For whatever reason, why the nosy Mrs. Tuddlemeyer’s, otherwise known as those who head our neighborhood spy and rumor committees, tend to jump on the hot line as soon as someone invests 2,500 bucks on a backyard deck, yet fail to notice the delivery trucks feeding $20,000 worth of material into a basement, is not understood.

What’s at risk to not having proper basement renovation permits? Building code non-compliance.

Does not following the rules have a consequence? Not until the poo-poo hits the fan, and you receive a hand delivered, registered letter from the firm of Goldberg, Eckstein, and Wertheimer.

These letters usually request your explanation as to why, during your most recent house fire, their client, and your renter, couldn’t manage to squeeze his butt through your non-compliant bedroom window, and due to his subsequent loss of life, wanted to begin the compensation package negotiation at a conservative 20 million bucks.

That’s when you realize the extra costs of installing a proper egress window in this basement bedroom, would have been a relatively reasonable investment. Until then, of course, non-compliance is a piece of cake.

So, if a basement renovation is in mind, let’s get on board with the permit process.

If you’re looking to buy a home which happens to have a finished basement, be sure to check out its code compliancy before signing on the dotted line. There’s no bonus to a home with a finished basement if it fails code.

What may be advertised as a three-bedroom home with an extra bedroom downstairs, may only legally qualify as a three-bedroom home with a large downstairs shoe closet. Even though the Ontario building code only requires one egress window somewhere in the basement space (provided it’s within 80 feet of the bedroom), because a room cannot be considered a “bedroom” without ventilation and at least five sq. ft. of natural light (based on a 10×10 room), a bedroom will require a window of some sort.

So, for the sake of a few inches of extra height or width, why not make it egress compatible, giving you the peace of mind that family or guests are sleeping in a safe area, right from the start.

What qualifies a widow to be egress acceptable? When slid open, the space created shall be no less than 15 inches in height or width, and not less than 542 sq. inches, or 3.8 sq. ft. total.

So, if we’re talking about a standard sliding window, of which only half qualifies (because the non-sliding sash is considered fixed) your basement bedroom window would have to be about 24″x68″ or 30″x55″ overall. Another option would be to consider an official basement window, or hopper style series, whereby the sash tilts inward towards the ceiling, locking in position once it’s fully extended.

Because of the full access quality of a hopper operator, this style of basement window would allow a smaller, more common 24″x36″ size of unit.

Next, can you reach your egress window?

Or, or should you be working on your upper back strength. And, once you’ve opened the sash, is there still room to manouevre out?

More on egress compatibility next week.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Window cents

“I just had new windows installed, and on that first really windy day, we could feel the air coming in even worse than our old panes, so what’s up with that”, or “when I hold a candle up to my new windows, the flame is flickering, so there’s got to be a leak somewhere, right”, are some of the comments we occasionally hear in the retail window biz.

Are these people delirious? Other than those who believe the Maple Leafs will not be playing golf in April, probably not.

However, getting what you requested, or what you paid for, may not have been exactly what you needed, based on location and/or on the direction to which the house faces.

In the case of a high wind, trees lose their branches, shingles fly off the roof, and anything that isn’t bolted into concrete is pretty well in danger of being toppled, or like a window, having its normally air tight seal compromised.

If an older window was better than its newer replacement at deflecting the force of a direct wind, it was either painted or swelled shut, or was of a different construction. Otherwise, today’s PVC or aluminum windows are definitely superior to those units of 15-20 years past.

Again, however, if the home you purchased had the best of casement (crank out) wood windows, and you’ve replaced them with the least expensive double hung (vertical slider) available on the market, then there could very well be a difference in certain areas of performance. In most cases, and unless the window frame is rotting, people replace the windows on their home because of operational difficulties.

Basically, if it won’t open properly, it’s time for a change. When buying new windows, it’s important to examine the various criterions regarding window performance, as well as price.

For example, you may like the look, general operation, and easy to clean ‘tilt-in’ features of a double hung window, but when it comes to wind resistance, it’s going to rank well below that of a casement.

In order for a window sash to be slid upwards without the homeowner dislocating a vertebrae, there’s a fine line between constructing a window sash that’s relatively air tight, but at the same time easily movable.

When ease of motion, looks, and cleaning options become primary requests, then performance against the elements can suffer. Because casement windows can be cranked shut, then further locked into position by a mechanism that tugs the sash even more tightly into the frame, equaling the wind resistance grade of a casement style window is going to be tough.

There are two formats that allow the consumer to compare window performance. They are the CSA-A440 test, and the Canadian ER (energy rating) system.

The CSA-A440 test grades a window on its air infiltration, water penetration, wind load resistance, and even its capability of resisting forced entry. So, be sure to compare the results of these tests between window types, and manufacturers, in order to get a true picture of the amount of bang you’re getting for the buck.

The ER system rates overall performance based on solar heat gain, heat loss through the frame, spacers, and glass, and air leakage in relation to heat loss.

ER is basically the plus/minus of the window world, whereby a plus number indicates that this specific window keeps more heat in, than it lets out.

The ER rating can often be boosted by investing in the superior triple-pane and double Low-E glazing systems. So, look at the ER rating before making your purchase.

That double hung or horizontal sliding unit may seem like a good deal, but if it’s a Dion Phaneuf (currently at -4) series window, with all the efficiency of a bus with two flat tires, you may want to consider spending a few more bucks on a Drew Doughty (plus 16) type model, which will at least give you the peace of mind that you’re getting full value for your purchase.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard