Egress Windows in Basements: Essential Requirements for Canadian Homeowners

Egress Windows in Basements: Essential Requirements for Canadian Homeowners

Egress windows are a crucial component of home safety and comfort for Canadian homeowners, particularly in basement spaces. These windows serve two primary purposes: first and foremost, they act as emergency exits, allowing occupants to quickly escape in the event of a fire or other life-threatening situation. Second, egress windows provide much-needed natural light and ventilation, significantly improving the livability and overall atmosphere of basement areas.

National Building Code of Canada (NBCC) Requirements

To ensure the safety and well-being of homeowners, the National Building Code of Canada (NBCC) has established specific requirements for egress windows in both bedrooms and basements.

Bedroom Egress Windows

  1. Minimum Dimension: The opening of an egress window in a bedroom must have a minimum width and height of 15 inches (38 cm). This ensures that the window is large enough for an average-sized person to pass through easily in case of an emergency.
  2. Minimum Area: The unobstructed open portion of the window must have a minimum area of 3.8 square feet (1.16 square meters). This requirement guarantees that there is sufficient space for occupants to escape quickly and safely.
  3. Height Above Floor: The bottom of the window opening should not be more than 1.5 feet (46 cm) above the floor. This positioning allows for easy access to the window, even for children or individuals with limited mobility.

Basement Egress Windows

  1. Window Well Size:
    a. Opening Depth: The window well must have a minimum opening depth of 30 inches (0.76 m). This depth provides adequate space for occupants to maneuver and exit the window well safely.
    b. Distance from Wall: The window well should extend at least 76 cm from the wall. This distance ensures that there is sufficient clearance for occupants to move freely and avoid any obstructions while escaping.
  2. Permanent Ladder or Step Requirement: If the window well depth exceeds 44 inches (1.12 m), a permanent ladder or steps must be provided. This feature enables occupants to easily climb out of the window well, even if it is deeper than the standard requirement.

Types of Egress Windows

Egress Windows in Basements: Essential Requirements for Canadian Homeowners
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Several types of windows can be used to meet the NBCC standards for egress windows, each with its own unique characteristics and benefits.

Casement Windows

Casement windows are hinged on one side and open outward, providing a wide, unobstructed opening for easy escape. These windows are often preferred for their ease of operation and ability to maximize ventilation.

Slider Windows

Slider windows open horizontally by sliding along a track. While they may not provide as wide an opening as casement windows, they can still meet egress requirements if they are designed and sized appropriately.

Other Window Types

Any window type that meets the NBCC size and operational requirements can be used as an egress window. This includes awning windows, hopper windows, and even specially designed double-hung windows.

Installation and Considerations

When installing egress windows in a basement, homeowners should keep several important factors in mind to ensure a successful and compliant installation.

Converting Existing Basement Windows

In many cases, existing basement windows may not meet the size or operational requirements for egress windows. These windows may need to be enlarged or replaced entirely to comply with the NBCC standards.

Hiring Professional Contractors

Given the critical safety role of egress windows, it is highly recommended to hire licensed and experienced contractors for their installation. These professionals have the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure that the windows are installed correctly and meet all relevant codes and regulations.

Obtaining Permits

Depending on local building codes and regulations, permits may be required before installing or modifying egress windows. Homeowners should consult with their local building department to determine the specific requirements in their area and ensure that all necessary permits are obtained before beginning any work.

Benefits of Egress Windows for Homeowners

Installing egress windows in basements offers a wide range of benefits that extend beyond just meeting building code requirements.

Enhanced Safety

The primary benefit of egress windows is the significantly enhanced safety they provide. In the event of a fire or other emergency, these windows offer a quick and easily accessible escape route, potentially saving lives and minimizing injuries.

Increased Natural Light and Ventilation

Egress windows are typically larger than standard basement windows, allowing more natural light to enter the space. This can greatly improve the overall atmosphere of the basement, making it feel more open, inviting, and comfortable. Additionally, the ability to open these windows provides much-needed ventilation, helping to prevent moisture buildup and maintain better indoor air quality.

Improved Property Value

Having code-compliant egress windows installed in a basement can significantly increase the value of a home. These windows demonstrate a commitment to safety and adherence to building regulations, which can be attractive to potential buyers. Furthermore, the enhanced safety and livability provided by egress windows can make a home more desirable overall.

Basement Renovation Possibilities

Egress windows play a crucial role in transforming basements into functional and habitable living spaces. By meeting the necessary safety requirements, these windows enable homeowners to convert their basements into legal bedrooms, home offices, or recreational areas, effectively expanding the usable square footage of their homes.

Egress Window Maintenance and Safety Measures

To ensure that egress windows continue to function properly and provide the intended safety benefits, homeowners should prioritize regular maintenance and implement additional safety measures.

Regular Inspection

Homeowners should periodically inspect their egress windows for any signs of damage, wear, or obstruction that could hinder the window’s operation. This includes checking for cracks, gaps, or deterioration in the window frame, as well as ensuring that the opening mechanism functions smoothly.

Keeping Window Wells Clear

It is essential to keep window wells free of debris, snow, vegetation, or any other materials that could obstruct the egress window or make it difficult to open. Regularly clearing the window well ensures that the escape route remains unimpeded.

Testing Window Operation

Homeowners should make a habit of periodically opening and closing their egress windows to ensure they function smoothly and without any issues. This practice helps to identify any potential problems early on and allows for prompt repairs or adjustments if necessary.

Installing Security Measures

While egress windows are primarily designed for emergency escape, homeowners may also want to consider installing security measures to prevent unauthorized entry. This can include locks or security bars that can be easily opened from the inside, providing an additional layer of protection without compromising the window’s egress function.

Professional Maintenance

To ensure optimal performance and longevity, it is recommended to have a professional contractor perform annual inspections and necessary maintenance on egress windows. These experts can identify potential issues, make necessary repairs, and provide guidance on maintaining the windows in top condition.


Are egress windows compulsory in Canada?

Yes, egress windows are mandatory in Canada for bedrooms and basements, as stipulated by the National Building Code of Canada (NBCC). These windows are essential for ensuring occupant safety and providing a means of escape in case of emergencies.

Do egress windows require permanent ladders or steps?

Permanent ladders or steps are required if the window well depth exceeds 44 inches (1.12 m). This additional feature ensures that occupants can easily and safely climb out of the window well, even if it is deeper than the standard requirement.

What are the size requirements for egress windows in bedrooms and basements?

Bedroom egress windows must have a minimum opening dimension of 15 inches (38 cm) in both width and height, and a minimum unobstructed open area of 3.8 square feet (1.16 square meters). Basement egress windows must have a window well with a minimum opening depth of 30 inches (0.76 m) and extend at least 76 cm from the wall.


In conclusion, egress windows are a vital component of home safety and comfort for Canadian homeowners, particularly in basement spaces. By adhering to the NBCC requirements, regularly maintaining the windows, and implementing additional safety measures, homeowners can ensure that their families have a safe and accessible escape route in case of emergencies. Moreover, the benefits of egress windows extend beyond safety, as they also provide increased natural light, better ventilation, improved property value, and the potential for basement renovations. As such, investing in properly installed and maintained egress windows is a wise decision for any Canadian homeowner looking to prioritize both safety and quality of life in their home.

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