|The new standards require that any habitable basement must include at least one emergency escape window and well.
The new International Residential Building Code (IRC), which is set to take affect this month, includes specific requirements that offer even more opportunities for basement finishing projects. The IRC incorporates the residential aspects of the Nationally Applicable Recommended Rehabilitation Codes (NARRP) created by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The new standards state that any habitable basement, finished or unfinished, must include at least one emergency escape window and well. Additionally, each sleeping room located in a basement must also have an emergency escape window and well. These emergency exits must be accessible not only to able-bodied adults, but also to children and the elderly.
The new code requirements will also result in windows that bring additional ventilation and light into basements, making basements a more comfortable environment to use regularly. "The basement, in the past, has never been recognized as prime living space," says Jim Gefroh, architect and residential consultant for the Bilco Company. "Little attention has been given to how [homeowners] use that basement space and how they exit it in an emergency. With the increase of the basement as living space, building codes build in features that make the basement more livable."
Basements are ideal targets for homeowners to add additional features such as home offices and home theaters. And now, instead of simply putting in drywall and carpeting, basement remodeling projects will incorporate the addition of windows, wells and escape ladders/stairs, adding an additional source of profit to finishing jobs. "There is some cost involved in doing this, but it becomes a profit center for the remodeling sector that doesn’t exist today," says Gefroh.
Although the new codes are available for adoption this month, remodelers might not see these requirements taking effect for another few years, depending on when local municipalities and counties review building codes. Some may choose to adopt the 1997 UBC codes before adopting the IRC. The IRC changes will begin to affect a widespread area between 2003 and 2004, but remodelers should anticipate these changes and look to include these upgrades in future projects.
"There are literally millions of homes that will be brought up to code when people expand into them," Gefroh says. "It means that they’re going to have to install large windows and escape routes from those windows, and it’s up to remodelers to do it in a way that is functionally pleasing. It’s a whole new remodeling opportunity."
Banking on Basements