Do Basement Windows Have To Open?

If you're planning to have a basement in your new home, you need to be aware of the construction requirements such as installing windows in this portion of the house. But are these windows just stationary or are they expected to open? That's what we asked the experts and here's the answer that we got.

Basement windows have to open fully, enough to allow an easy escape to and from the basement in emergencies. This is mandated by law in accordance with the International Residential Code.

Continue reading to learn more about why basement windows have to open and other building requirements for this portion of your house. We'll also answer if you should open your basement windows in the summer and if you can live in a basement without windows. Let's delve deeper into this topic!

Exterior view of an egress window in a basement bedroom., Do Basement Windows Have To Open?

Should basement windows be opened?

Basements extend your home's living space. You can turn it into a bedroom, office, gaming area, or home theater. And since doing these things makes your basement a habitable space in your house, it is subject to specific building requirements primarily to ensure that this place is safe to use at all times.

So, if you're remodeling your house or having a basement installed, it would be to your advantage to know the laws concerning the proper construction of this particular part of the house.

A view of a basement window well of a residential home

One of the most prominent requirements for basement construction is ensuring that it has an egress window and window well.

The number of windows depends on the overall size and number of bedrooms or living spaces that you plan to have down there. In general, there should be one window for every habitable room in that space.

And these windows aren't just for show. They should be fully functional and movable. Anyone should be able to open it without any trouble and it should be big enough to allow easy access going to and from the basement.

Basement Window Building Requirements

Here are the egress window and window well construction requirements:

  • The window should be easily opened from the inside without the need to use any special tools or keys.
  • It should be 44" or lower from the floor.
  • The window opening's size shall be at least 5.7 sq ft. or 4% of the room's square footage.
  • The window's glass area shall be at least 8% of the room's square footage.
  • The window well's horizontal projection from the wall should be a minimum of 36".
  • If the window well has a depth of at least 44" from the ground, there should be a ladder permanently attached to it.
  • If the window is directly underneath a porch or deck, there should be a clearance of not less than 48" between the topmost portion of the window and the underside of the particular structure.
  • The basement window must be visible from the outside to avoid confusion for rescue responders on how to access this area.

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In other words, the window should be large and accessible so you can pass through it when you need to.

You can still install grates, bars, or covers over the window or window well if you want to but they should be easy enough to remove out of the way once you need to get in or out of the basement window.

Find this window well cover on Amazon.

Why do they put windows in the basement?

Window with water drops closeup, inside, selective focus

Just to make it clear, there are valid reasons why windows are required in the basement.


Safety is always the priority. The basement window is an emergency exit so you can easily go out of the house from this specific location when needed. No need to go upstairs to find the main door.

Remember, a fire can spread very quickly so you might not have the luxury of time to look for your usual exit.


The size of the window opening and the glass panels are intended to maximize the ventilation in the room. This is very important since the basement is below the ground so you won't get the usual amount of light and air as the rooms upstairs.


Windows can add style to your basement. It helps you transform the look from a dark and dreary corner to a bright and fun spot in the house. There are different window types and window treatments to choose from so you can enhance your basement's interior design.

While safety and ventilation are the top reasons for installing basement windows, it wouldn't hurt to add some style to your underground room, right?

Should you open basement windows in the summer?

Since you have no choice but to comply with the construction requirements, you must have windows in your basement. So, your next question probably is, should you open it?

With this area being underground, it can get pretty stuffy and uncomfortable, especially during summer. What we usually do is open the window to allow fresh air to circulate, right? However, this isn't recommended for basement windows.

As the hot summer air from the outside collides with the cool air inside your basement, condensation will occur. This will produce moisture along your basement walls and windows.

Mind you, this is the leading cause of moisture problems in the basement. Different issues will arise including wood warping, mold growth, pest infestation, and higher energy cost since your HVAC needs to work harder to provide you with a comfortable indoor temperature.

The air quality will suffer and you might experience increased allergic symptoms. Moisture damage also means you have to repair or replace the walls, furniture, and other fixtures that have been affected.

It's just not worth it all in all considering the cost and damage that you will incur from simply opening your basement windows. It is only advisable to open your windows when the air outside is much cooler to avoid moisture issues.

What you can do instead is use an exhaust, ceiling or floor fan, heat pump, and dehumidifier to help cool your underground rooms.

Check out this exhaust fan on Amazon.

Can you live in a basement without windows?

Old Brown and White Basement Window

Technically speaking, you can live in a basement without a window. What the IRC and local building codes require is an egress point and it could be something else other than a window.

You can install a door, a staircase, a ramp, or a fire escape instead of a window, and when you have any of these, you're still in compliance with the law.

The general rule is the same. These structures must give you safe and easy access out of the basement to open space during an emergency.

When your basement doesn't have windows, you won't have to deal with sun damage on your furniture and fabrics. Their colors will last longer than those exposed to the harmful rays of the sun. You don't need to worry about your privacy since there are no openings where nosy neighbors can see through.

You also have one less thing to worry about when it comes to repair and maintenance.

However, it isn't advisable to live in a windowless basement as it can be bad for your health. Basements are prone to moisture problems and mold, mildew, and pests would treat them as an excellent breeding ground for their kind.

Their presence can cause health problems, especially for those who are prone to allergy attacks and those with respiratory issues and compromised immune systems.

The lack of sunshine and heat also have negative effects on your body affecting your immune system, thermal regulation, and mood. In the end, your overall health might suffer.

Final Thoughts

Exterior view of an egress window in a basement bedroom.

Basements should have large windows that can fit their dwellers when they need to get out of this area in the house in an emergency. As such, these windows have to open to serve their main purpose.

If you want to read more about windows, feel free to visit the following posts:

How To Open Skylight Window

Do Awning Windows Open All The Way?