November 14, 2022
The house where I lived in Wichita contained a remodeled basement that was an obvious Do It Yourself (DIY). The basement had a dividing wall down the middle and then the west three-quarters of the space was a Den/utility room, and the east quarter was a bedroom/bath. The owner had not bothered to build an egress window to provide access in case of fire, so this was not included as a third bedroom on the specs. Rather than jacking up the concrete floor in the bath area, the DIY owner had set the pipes on the floor and built a riser over them, making the small space smaller by raising the floor in the bathroom. This compressed corner held both the stool and what appeared to be a camper shower. When I first saw it, I joked I would need to attach a washcloth to the wall to soaps up, and hopefully I would never drop the soap as you could not bend over without opening the shower door. The final aggravation was the shower door leaked and every time I took a shower it got water all over the raised floor. I did not use the basement bedroom often, and especially the shower.
When I looked online, I found the International Residential Code (IRC 2021) pertains to all single and two family homes. The intent of the code is to keep homeowners safe by requiring a means of egress (exit) in basement level living spaces. The reason for an egress is twofold; to allow for an exit in case of an emergency, and to provide access for a firefighter to gain entrance. Egress windows (or doors) are required in every habitable space, and any room used for sleeping requires its own egress window. The code requires that you install an egress window to serve these spaces. If you have a basement that has a bedroom, recreation room, den, family room, media room, office, or home gym, all these rooms are required to have a means of egress. Egress window wells are required where the bottom of the egress window is below ground level. The egress well must not interfere with the egress window fully opening, the distance from the egress window to the back of the egress well must be at least 36 inches (91.5 cm), and the minimum area of the egress well must be 9 square feet. The alternative is to do like my DIYer and not get caught until foreclosure.
The memory of my room without an egress was sparked by the shower I encountered while in The Hague, Netherlands. This was a US brand hotel, and the bathroom was spacious. When I went to take a shower the next morning I was dismayed. The large tub was obviously designed as a soaker, and I found it hard to crawl into. There was an articulated hose on the wall as well as a tap on the tub. What I thought was the shower door was the glass door to the bathroom itself, and there was no curtain for the shower. I chalked this up to “a European thing” and went ahead and took my shower. When I finished, I noticed I had flooded the entire bathroom floor. I threw down towels to soak up the water and complained to Melissa. That was when she pointed out the enclosed standup shower on the other side of the soaker tub. I guess it was not “a European thing” after all. I just needed to be smarter than the bathtub.
THOUGHTS: While building codes are different depending on the country, state, and even city, the IRC is uniform across boundaries. While egress codes are designed to keep people safe, they can become problematic with historic buildings. Some exceptions may be allowed depending on building use and to maintain the historic nature of the building. Lack of egress during fires like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City (March 25, 1911) resulted in the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city and caused the deaths of 146 garment workers who died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping to their deaths. Egress became an international responsibility. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.