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Safety in Denver Basement Finishing


March 11, 2016

Updates in building safety codes related to residential basements can pose new challenges to homeowners and added expense to their basement finishing projects. Don’t think of it as just another needless requirement imposed by far-away bureaucrats with nothing better to do than take a few thousand more dollars out of your pocket. Think of it as an investment in your family’s safety.

The International Code Council (ICC) is a nonprofit organization that recommends certain safety codes which were adopted as minimum requirements for new construction by the United States of America and several other countries. The new codes also specify that older homes be brought brought up to date before they can be sold. Homeowners seeking to sell their houses should make sure their houses meet current codes--and that includes codes related to basement living space.

The legislation specifically affects below-grade bedrooms, offices, recreation rooms, and home theaters. If these rooms are below-grade and cannot be accessed directly from the outside,then they  must be outfitted with egress windows before the house can be sold. Closets, halls, and storage spaces are not affected.

Federal requirements specify the following:
 
  • Minimum window width of opening -  20 inches
  • Minimum window height of opening - 24 inches
  • Minimum window net clearing opening - 5.7 square feet
  • Maximum sill height - 44 inches above the floor
  • Minimum window well floor space - 9 square feet with minimum dimension of 36 inches wide and long
  • Permanent ladder or steps if the window well depth exceeds 44 inches.

Egress windows must provide a safe means of exiting the below-grade room in case of emergency, such as fire or tornado or flooding. Residential housing in Denver is subject to all three disasters. They also provide a means of access for first responders to enter the building if you or your loved ones need rescue. Therefore, egress windows require special consideration beyond digging a big hole in your yard and cutting another hole in your home’s foundation.

Trench excavation brings its own regulations that affect the contractor to ensure the safety of construction workers working within the trench dug to install the egress window. These regulations concern the number of people on the job site as well as stabilizing the trench and the size of the trench. There are a variety of products available to line the window well which will keep the trench from collapsing. Check with your contractor for options that fit your home’s style and your budget. When the egress installation is finished, those big hole in your foundation and yard will be safe and large enough for people to exit from the basement in case of disaster.

Once you’ve got the safety aspect taken care of, you’ll have other worries like waterproofing and keeping people and pets from falling into the window well. Denver gets snow--a lot of snow--and rain. You can just imagine the water pouring into your basement through that big egress window. Don’t worry, Kona Contractors already has that covered. One of the hallmarks of a competent and reputable egress installation is the inclusion of below-grade waterproofing to prevent your basement and the window well from flooding. Superior waterproofing will also prevent seepage from freezing and cracking foundation walls.

Waterproofing methods vary by region, soil types, foundation material, annual precipitation, contractor preference, and other variables. Not only must the egress window and exposed foundation be waterproofed, but the window well must have adequate drainage to accommodate snow melt and rain. Again, your contractor can recommend options suitable for your lot and fitting within your budget. Finally, the window well opening must be covered to prevent people and pets from falling in. Solid covers keep out debris, snow, and rain. Grates or grilles admit natural light and, if the window is left open during fine weather, fresh air.

If you want to expand your home’s people-friendly living space by finishing the basement or if your house already has a finished basement and are in the market to sell, then Kona Contractors can make sure that below-grade space is an inviting place to spend time and meets Denver’s safety codes for emergency egress. Call Kona Contractors at (720) 935-4922 to schedule an in-home consultation or check out other tips and advice like the 6 areas in your home to renovate for a home office
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