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In attempting to get a permit to install a basement bathroom, our township building inspector is demanding we install an egress window. She has put a stop work order in the meantime. Naturally, we need to move. This has been going on for nearly a month. Everything we dispute one claim, they make another. First, it was because there is some drywall. Next, it was because she claimed the bathroom made it a habitable area. When I pointed out that the code she is claiming to go by specifically says bathrooms don't count as habitable, her and the building department manager decided ALL basements have to have egress windows. Period.

It's the 2009 IRC that they claim to be going by.

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. 

So, I said, why doesn't my side door that connects to the basement by stairwell count? There is no other room. Nothing to block it. By the very definition in the code it should count.

EMERGENCY ESCAPE AND RESCUE OPENING. An operable exterior window, door or similar device that provides for a means of escape and access for rescue in the event of an emergency. 

THAT is the complete definition AND the document itself says nothing is to be altered if already defined in the document. Only thing I wanted to check, and according to Webster, since they DON'T define an exterior door, and that is defined as a door allowing entry and exit to/from the outside.

I would have no problem if this was really necessary but we are putting in a bathroom. No recreation room, no bedrooms. Storage and a utility room. That's it. Can't get any satisfaction from the township, needless to say. We're considering just doing it so we can get this nonsense done and then suing in court for causing us unnecessary expense.

Any thoughts? I mentioned we need to move. We bought the house a couple months ago and have been trying to get it ready before moving in. So much for that plan.....

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    Egress is not just about you getting out, it's also about getting emergency responders in and out safely. If you're trapped in a basement during a fire, and the only way in is a typical small basement window. The emergency responder will have to enter without a tank, then wait for a tank to be passed in. To get out, they'll have to follow a similar procedure. All this wastes time, and puts not only you and your family at risk, but also increases the risk for the person trying to save you. – Tester101 Sep 22 '15 at 23:59
  • The codes were not put in place to inconvenience you, they exist to protect you and the folks trying to help you. – Tester101 Sep 23 '15 at 0:01
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OK, first of all it is probably best to not get into a shouting match with the local code officials. No matter how wrong you think they are, you still need their approval. So be sure to stay civil!

Second, the question of which code version should not be up to whim. You can verify what copy of the IRC your state and local city uses by looking it up online. Many states make additional adjustments to the code, and your county or city might as well. All of this is easily verified.

Third, put down the Webster dictionary. Building codes and construction have specific meanings for many words and phrases, and a dictionary will not help you.

But to get back to your question, the answer is in the very code you cited... you just stopped reading too soon:

IRC 2009, Chapter 3
R310.1 Emergency escape and rescue required. Basements and every sleeping room shall have at least one operable emergency and rescue opening. [...] Emergency escape and rescue openings shall open directly into a public way, or to a yard or court that opens to a public way.

So it only counts as an emergency exit if it goes directly outside. It can't go up stairs and then out a door. The side door you already have counts as an emergency exit for the ground floor, but not for the basement.

Unfortunately you have learned that if you do construction in an area of the house you are generally required to bring that portion up-to-code. If you were not doing any work in the basement, it's unlikely that the building officials would care about the exit. But if you touch it, you own it.

  • The exception mentioned by @Comintern is the reason the building department is requiring an escape route, but your answer is why the existing door doesn't meet the criteria. These answers need to be combined. – Tester101 Sep 23 '15 at 0:06
  • @Tester101: the basement is being used for more than just mechanical equipment so that exception doesn't apply. We don't know what else is going on in the basement and whether it was up-to-code before the bathroom, but it definitely isn't now. – Hank Sep 23 '15 at 0:28
  • We don't know what the basement is used for now. It's either only used for housing mechanical equipment, or it was modified before the escape route code was adopted. In either case, adding a bathroom means the exception definitely can't be used anymore. – Tester101 Sep 23 '15 at 1:49
  • @Tester101: OK I think we're in agreement that the exception is not relevant now (if it ever was), which is why I didn't include that section of the code in my answer. – Hank Sep 23 '15 at 3:53
  • The exception may explain why a rescue window wasn't originally required. And explains why adding a bathroom would require a rescue window. – Tester101 Sep 23 '15 at 11:40
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If they are claiming that all basements require an egress window according to the 2009 IRC, I'd say that they are overlooking the exception in R310.1 for "Basements used only to house mechanical equipment" (unless it's been amended by your local ordinance).

However: In that you are installing a bathroom in the basement, that exemption would no longer apply. While the original plan may have not required it, any modification will typically be subject to current code. In this case, keep in mind that there are seperate requirements for primary means of egress and emergency egress.

The code is generally interpreted to require two paths of escape from any area without a door directly opening to the outside on the same level (that interpretation typically stems from the International Fire Code). That's why it exists - to provide for an alternate means of exit when the primary exit path is blocked, on fire, collapsed, or otherwise unavailable to use in an emergency.

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    Just a minor correction: IRC actually only requires one emergency egress from bedrooms, et al. As I quoted in my answer, the egress must go directly outside. There are often additional ways to get out of the room (e.g. through a hallway, the typical way), but a bedroom that has only one door is fine as long as that door goes outside. – Hank Sep 22 '15 at 23:55
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    @HenryJackson - You're correct. It requires one emergency egress in addition to the primary means of egress. I.e, a second means of escape. – Comintern Sep 22 '15 at 23:56
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    I disagree, my reading of the IRC is that you only need to have one egress and it must be directly outside. Any other paths (e.g. through the house) are optional. E.g. an "inlaw" bedroom with a door outside and an small (non-egress) window is OK. – Hank Sep 23 '15 at 0:20
  • @HenryJackson - My mistake - it's actually the International Fire Code (section 1029.1 and others) that specifies that requirement, and there is an exemption for rooms with doors opening directly to the outside at the same level that would cover most residential units. Edited to clarify. – Comintern Sep 23 '15 at 0:51

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