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.
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.
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.
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.
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.