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What is egress?

Egress is another word for “exit”—or literally “a way to go out.” Often you’ll find egresses mentioned in building codes, with stipulations for the number and types of egresses or exits necessary for proper construction. 

A means of egress often relates to a means of escape. In housing, access to exit points is especially crucial in regards to fire safety. Therefore, many building codes have specifications regarding points of egress for bedrooms, garages, and basements. 

When designing or remodeling a building, the type of occupancy and typical use affect the placement and separation of necessary egress points, as do the travel patterns that one would need to take in order to get to the egress. 

Egress can also relate to exit from a piece of land itself. When a parcel of land is connected to a public road, the way out is obvious. But landlocked property may require a legal easement over another owner’s land in order to secure proper egress.  

Egress vs. ingress

As you may suspect, ingress refers to the converse or opposite of egress. If egress is a way out, then ingress is a way in. In some applications, entrances and exits are the same, while in other situations ingresses and egresses require distinction.

Consider a commercial kitchen. Many restaurants create a traffic flow for entering and exiting to avoid collisions between busy waiters. Without a predefined ingress and egress, there’d be a lot more broken dishes!

In residential building code terms, ingress isn’t used as often as egress. Point of escape remains the main concern, so ingress is somewhat assumed at marked doorways. 

However, you may see the term used on designs for larger, multi-unit properties where some exits (such as fire exits) are not used for entry. Ingress might also be used sometimes to distinguish from which side a door will lock—the ingress or egress side. And some inspection documents may refer to points of water ingress, specifically in regards to storm safety.  

You will see ingress used frequently in conjunction with rights to land. Right of egress and ingress are often used simultaneously when referring to lot access.  

Egress and real estate transactions

In real estate transactions, egress becomes important on both a land level and a structural level. 

When considering a property for purchase, you’ll want to make sure that the land has access to a public road either directly or through rights of ingress and egress. A legal easement grants rights of ingress and egress to properties that are offset from public roads. In simple terms, these rights usually amount to the ability to create a private driveway on the edge of someone else’s land or the ability to access an already-established private road. 

Sometimes rights of egress and ingress will be granted for access to certain services, utilities, or resources. For example, you may need rights of egress and ingress to use a water source located on a neighboring piece of land.     

On a structural level, you’ll want to make sure that all building codes have been satisfied prior to entering a real estate transaction—or at least you’re aware of what needs to change. Building codes account for necessary egresses in a house or complex, so as long as the previous owner can show code compliance, your deal is in the clear.

If you intend to make major renovations to your property, you may want to consult with a code inspector, architect, or professional contractor prior to purchase to ensure that your plans account for egress codes in your area.    

Egress and your home

As a basic rule of thumb, every space is required to have at least two points of egress. Exceptions could be granted for small spaces with low occupant load, though these types of exceptions are rare. 

To meet the requirements of an official point of egress, a window on the first floor must be 20” by 24” or larger, have a clear opening of five square feet or more, and sit no more than 44” off the floor. On upper floors, the requirements of egress are similar: a minimum size of 20” by 24”, an opening of 5.7 square feet or more, and a placement of 44” or less off the floor. Certain municipalities deviate slightly from these egress rules, so be sure to double check your local codes.

Egress and your basement

Habitable basement areas, including finished basements and basement bedrooms, have their own set of egress rules.

Egress windows in the basement should be the same as upper floor windows: a minimum size of 20” X 24”, an opening of 5.7 square feet or more, and a placement of 44” or less off the floor. For natural light purposes, egress windows should have a glass area of no less than 8% of the area of the room. For ventilation purposes, they should also have an opening area of no less than 4% of the area of the room. 

In addition, basement window wells need to be large enough to accommodate emergency exits and allow firefighters to get inside. For this reason, if the egress window is below ground level, the window well must be at least 9 square feet, and the back of the well must be at least 36” from the window. If the well is more than 44” deep, a permanent ladder or steps are also required. Egress window wells can have a grate, but that grate should be kept unlocked and should be easily opened. Remember, egress regulations are meant to provide safe exits in the case of emergencies. 

Once again, egress regulations for all of the above may differ slightly from place to place, so it’s always best to check with local code officials.

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