An egress well is a form of basement window enclosure that surrounds a below-grade window on a house. There are a few purposes of an egress well. First, like any window well, an egress well allows outside light to enter the basement window, providing more natural illumination to a basement. The more important feature of an egress well is its function as an emergency exit, because its design provides a possible safe exit from the basement in the event of a fire or other emergency.
More often than not, egress wells are constructed according to a terraced design, where the terraces provide a kind of step stool leading from the window up to ground level. Alternately, some egress wells have actual ladder slats built into their interior walls that serve the same purpose. Well systems vary in depth and can be covered from above with transparent covers that allow light to enter the basement while preventing animals or children from falling into the well.
Window well systems, or area wells, are necessary if below-grade windows are installed on a house. These wells function to keep soil and other material from covering the window. They also retain the earth surrounding the home’s foundation so that pressure is not applied to the window or its frame. Not all area wells are egress systems, but egress wells have unique advantages.
In addition to the safety qualities of an egress well, the terraced design facilitates easy installation of the stacking segments that will make up the well and allows the homeowner or builder to construct a very deep well, if chosen. Deep wells can accommodate larger windows, which in turn let more light into the basement and generally provide a larger exit space if any of the occupants need to evacuate the house. The terraced structure also can be landscaped with a variety of cascading plants, which can create visual interest when viewed from the interior, thereby masking the otherwise utilitarian look of the well.
In some locales, building codes require egress wells for basement windows. When planning to build a home or add windows to an existing basement, it is recommended that the builder check with the local code enforcement agency to find out if an egress system is a requirement in that locale. Even if it is not required, builders might want to consider the benefits of an egress system when evaluating basement window wells. This is especially true if a bedroom is to be added to the finished basement, in which case creating a safe exit from the home in case of fire likely will be a priority.