Often when starting a basement renovation you begin with designing the space. When your basement is completely unfinished one of the first things you will do is try to configure where the different rooms will go. If you are trying to increase the amount of living space within your home typically it’s a living/social space, a bathroom, an office or home studio and a bedroom.
According to the Code, each bedroom in a basement requires a window of adequate size for emergency escape. The window must be openable from the inside without the use of tools or special knowledge. It must provide an unobstructed opening with a minimum area of 0.35 m2 (3.77 ft2 or 543 sq inches) No side or dimension of the window may be less than 15 inches. The minimum must also be achieved without removing sashes or hardware, and it must not require a support when in the open position.
If your family is increasing in size or your kids are getting a little older, then making some additional bedrooms and bathrooms in the basement makes great sense.
So you go downstairs and look around and begin to plan out where all of the rooms will go and what space will look like. It is important that you measure your windows. Make sure they are big enough to satisfy the code for a bedroom.
Where are the windows?
This is the first question you really need to ask yourself. Due to regulations and building code, especially within Albert and Canada, where those basement windows are will likely dictate what you can and cannot do, especially when it comes to bedrooms.
The Alberta Building Code requires that bedroom windows have at least 0.35 m2 (3.8. sq. ft.) of clear opening that a person could crawl through, with no dimension less than 380 mm (15 in.). This requirement ensures that there is an alternative way to escape in case of fire or emergency.
If Basement windows are located partially or fully below grade, a window well is also required. These requirements have been in place for many years. In the 2014 Alberta Building Code, which became mandatory last November, the clearance in front of bedroom windows increased from 550 mm to 760 mm. This requires a larger window well. The clearance also applies to any obstructions around the window, like overhead hazards that prevent a safe exit from the bedroom.
Window wells prevent soil from sitting directly against the window. They help prevent moisture like rain or snow from entering the basement and they provide drainage of standing water.
What is the Code for Windows?
Basement windows are typically not considered to be escape routes. Over the years, however, lots of people have been saved by using them in an emergency. Usually by the time an occupant is aware of the danger from a smoke alarm or other the route out is blocked. This means that they have to use the window to get out of the basement. Building Code Article 18.104.22.168. establishes the general requirement for bedrooms. Bedrooms must have at least one window that is large enough that it can be used as an exit in an emergency. (The article does not apply when the bedroom has a door leading directly to the outside or the suite is sprinkled.)
So if you are planning on building a bedroom in the basement it must have one of three things.
- A window that meets the above requirements
- A door that leads to the exterior of the house (If this is the case different codes apply)
- A sprinkler system. (If this is the case different codes apply)
Typically when you are renovating a basement your not looking to put the walk-out door into a bedroom. You’re also probably not wanting to spend the extra money to put another walk-out door in the basement. However, this is an option.
Sprinklers and Walk-outs
The likelihood of putting a sprinkler system into a basement renovation is small. Especially in a residential situation. This is, however, also an option should you really require it.
Most likely you are going to put the bedroom where the windows already are. If you do not have adequate windows in your basement you can add them. You can also put new ones in if the current ones are in the wrong locations. Adding a window in the basement foundation is typically less expensive than a walk-out door or a sprinkler system. It usually will require less maintenance as well.