To Egress or Not to Egress

Posted by John on July 31st, 2011

Potential Egress Location

So we (mostly me) have been thinking about adding an egress to the basement. We had the option of incorporating a basement egress when we spec’d the house out, but we declined it since the cost was significant and we had other priorities.

Why add an egress at all?

Adding an egress will allow us to bring larger objects into the basement without having to manuever them through the house. The interior access to the basement involves a turn halfway down the stairs and it would be challenging to bring in large sheets of drywall, plywood, couches, etc. Moreover, when we finish the basement, having an egress into the backyard is safer than not having any escape route at all.

There are four basic egress options we are considering, well, five if you count doing nothing at all. The first and most basic option is an egress window system. An egress window is an enlarged basement window that is low enough to use during an emergency. There are several companies in the area that can easily install an egress window in one day and the cost is reasonable. The downside of doing a window is it’s not a door. While it can be used to bring 2×4’s in, it’s no help with 4×8 sheets of plywood or drywall.

The second option is a Bilco door. A Bilco door has the ability to bring in larger building materials or sofas, but it’s usually locked when not in use, so it’s no help during an emergency like a fire. The install can be done in one day because the unit uses a pre-cast concrete stairwell. Bilco doors are weather-tight and can be painted to whatever color we want. In terms of price I think they are a step up from the window egress.

The next two options are either a single or double door option with poured concrete sidewalls and poured concrete stairs. To have this done by egress pros would cost $5k-$10k more than a Bilco door. Normal entry doors have all the advantages of a regular exterior grade door including the ability to bring in large objects and the day to day in and out use that Bilco doors and egress windows aren’t intended for. Since this option won’t have a weather covering, this door option will require a drain at the bottom of the stairwell. A drain will need to either connect to a sump pump at an additional cost or evacuate directly into the yard. The only differences between a single door or a double door design besides the material cost for a double door are a longer lintel and wider stairs.

At this point, I’m leaning towards the single door option. In order to reduce the cost, I’d like to do as much of the work myself as reasonable. I can rent the excavation equipment and hire out the concrete cutting portion. I’ve already had a professional engineer evaluate the site and it is doable. For a fee, I would have the same engineer provide me drawings necessary for a permit. If I can get the cost down to the same as a Bilco door by DIYin it, why not?

Am I crazy? What would you do?  Am I forgetting something?  Any suggestions would be helpful!

Possible Lintel and Door.

Posted in DIY Projects,Outdoors and Landscaping. Tagged in ,,

  • sean

    I'm not a big fan of adding any penetration to the foundation walls, other than windows as it becomes difficult to deal with future water issues. trust me… water finds its way if you make the way. if you have to make an opening, the less is better. I have a blico door that i'm trying to get rid of and infill the opening again. i do have a trench at the bottom of the concrete steps and it's connected to the sump pumps. as expected, it allows water into the basement. the bilco door itself might be water tight but not all the other components are. the bilco door can be locked from inside only so you still can egress out in case of emergency.

    • Thanks for your input Sean. I hear ya on the water. To be honest, Lisa isn't thrilled with the idea of a full size door anyway. I do like Bilco doors though. I think we may finish the basement next year, so we'll have to make a decision by then.

  • Jeff Williams

    I know this post is almost 4 years old. If the situation is still relevant I would consider pulling a lot more of the dirt away and doing a walk out with tiered retaining walls further out. How far does the lot slope away?

    • John @ OHFS

      It is still relevent, Jeff. Thanks for the suggestion. That’s my ideal plan. The lot slopes away but fairly gradually. Pulling off a retaining wall and a walk-out is totally doable. The only hard part is convincing my wife to let me cut a hole in the basement wall. That’s not something she is currently a fan of.