I'm looking to create an office space in my basement. I live in a townhouse attached to 2 other units. In the basement we currently have smalls windows near the ceiling.

From what I've read, it sounds like I need to add a second means of egress. The only way into the basement right now is the main interior stairs.

The problem is that if I need to add a second means of egress, I need to go through the association. I am pretty sure that they wont let me cut a hole in the foundation in order to add egress.

Are there any alternatives to adding egress?


You'll have to contact your local building department to be sure, but it's very likely that they'll require a second means of egress. They might also have localized information, on ways others in your area have dealt with the problem. It's not likely that you're the only person in your area that's wanted to add living space to their basement.

International Residential Code 2012

Chapter 3 Building Planning

Section 310 Emergency Escape and Rescue Openings

R310.1 Emergency escape and rescue required.
Basements, habitable attics and every sleeping room shall have at least one operable emergency escape and rescue opening. Where basements contain one or more sleeping rooms, emergency egress and rescue openings shall be required in each sleeping room... ...Emergency escape and rescue openings shall open directly into a public way, or to a yard or court that opens to a public way.

Exception: Basements used only to house mechanical equipment and not exceeding total floor area of 200 square feet (18.58 m2).

Based on this code, as soon as a basement is used for more than housing mechanical equipment, egress is required. Though I think most places allow storage and such, and only get picky when a habitable space is added to the basement.

According to the IRC, habitable spaces include any space used for living, sleeping, eating, or cooking. Non-habitable spaces include bathrooms, toilet rooms, closets, halls, storage and utility spaces, and any similar spaces.

According to Mass.gov, Massachusetts follows International Residential Code 2009 with some amendments. Though it doesn't appear that there are any amendments to the section quoted above.

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  • 4
    Wait a minute, my understanding (and my city's permitting office's) is that an office doesn't require a second method of egress, unlike a bedroom where you can actually sleep in. Offices are okay with just a door. Even the code you mention above specifically only discusses bedroom egress, and a basement egress. No mention of habitable living space. – alt Apr 22 '15 at 17:21
  • This is not true for any basement I have remodeled. Unless we are going to specifically officially call something a bedroom, then you only need one method. Great to have two but I have finished a LOT of basements that were signed off by the city with no secondary egress (just stairs and common basement windows). – DMoore Apr 22 '15 at 17:41
  • It sounds like this might be a gray area in practice. I guess I will need to speak with the town inspector to see what they think in my case. – John Bubriski Apr 22 '15 at 18:04
  • @DMoore Codes vary from place to place, that's why I started by saying that the OP should contact their building department. In my area if there's any type of habitable space in a basement, two escape routes are required. – Tester101 Apr 22 '15 at 18:32
  • @alt An office is different than a bedroom. A bedroom must have an escape route directly from the bedroom, whereas an office can use a common escape route. – Tester101 Apr 22 '15 at 18:35

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