What is Egress Code?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Egress code is a section of the building code concerned with ensuring that homes have plenty of exits, so that in the event of an emergency, people can get out quickly and easily. Homes built before the egress code went into effect are generally exempt, although if they are remodeled they will need to be brought up to code. New homes must comply with the egress code, and building inspectors tend to be very particular about ensuring that homes meet the standard, because failure to follow the egress code can be fatal in an emergency situation.

An egress code might require enough space for a kitted-out firefighter.
An egress code might require enough space for a kitted-out firefighter.

As a general rule, under the terms of an egress code, every bedroom must have an outlet to the outside, known as a “means of egress,” which can be a window or door, through which someone can easily fit. Many regional egress codes specify that the means of egress must be able to accommodate a fully kitted-out firefighter, to ensure that emergency services will quickly be able to enter a structure in a fire or similar emergency. The code usually mandates a particular minimum size for windows used for egress, and specifies that windows must be low to the floor so that people can get in and out easily.

Each habitable room must have a way that people can exit to the outdoors in case of fire or other disasters.
Each habitable room must have a way that people can exit to the outdoors in case of fire or other disasters.

In addition to bedrooms, basements with “habitable space” often must also have a method of egress to the outside. In all cases, the goal is to ensure that occupants of a house are not trapped in a fire or in the wake of an earthquake or similar disaster. If, for example, someone sleeps through the early stages of a fire, it may not be possible to get out of the house by exiting the bedroom and finding a door, making it necessary to have a method of egress directly out of the bedroom.

Without egress codes, buildings and homes could easily trap occupants in emergencies, such as fires.
Without egress codes, buildings and homes could easily trap occupants in emergencies, such as fires.

The egress code was enacted in response to complaints from emergency services personnel who were concerned about preventable deaths during emergency situations. Specific code requirements vary by region, and it is a good idea to check the local egress code before remodeling or building a new home to confirm that the structure complies. Employees of the building department may also be happy to review the egress code requirements with people who call for information.

An egress door is an exit designed to allow safe evacuation from a building during an emergency.
An egress door is an exit designed to allow safe evacuation from a building during an emergency.

Like other aspects of the building code, the egress code sets a minimum standard. People who meet that standard will pass inspection, but many advocates recommend that people consider measures which will exceed the standards of the building code for additional safety. For example, living rooms and kitchens are not strictly required to meet the egress code in most regions, but since people spend a lot of time in both of these rooms, it may be sensible to make sure that each room has an outlet to the outside which people can use as an emergency exit.

Homes under construction must conform to local egress codes.
Homes under construction must conform to local egress codes.
All doors along a means of egress must be at least 28 inches wide.
All doors along a means of egress must be at least 28 inches wide.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

TrogJoe19

@Armas1313

My aunt has a bomb shelter built nearby her house in the event of disaster. There is a lot of canned food and drink stored there for a lot of people in a long wait. Having an alternative like this can be very helpful as well, and allow for the survival of many loved ones.

Armas1313

In many cases, such as an air raid, thunderstorm, or a nuclear fallout, staying inside in the basement can be most effective, rather than egress. Sometimes houses can be leveled and basements can be left completely intact. Understanding your household structure and how safe your basement would be in these events can be an effective precaution.

arod2b42

Fire codes and egress codes can be annoying at times, and feel like an unnecessary precaution, but once you realize the vital necessity of escape in the event of an emergency, you come to appreciate these mechanisms. Back before we had these, the rate of deaths by fire were alarmingly high. Burning to death is one of the most gruesome and painful ways to die.

BostonIrish

Egress code is also applied to large and dense cities like Boston, where roads can be confusing. In the event of any sort of disaster, there are signs on the road pointing to an evacuation route. This is a helpful and reassuring device which can alleviate fear of being caught sleeping.

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