Question: Our house was built in the 1950s and has a finished basement with two 41½-inch by 19½-inch basement windows. We want to replace them with 41½-inch egress windows. To save on costs, we plan to install the windows ourselves, knowing that the concrete needs to be cut. Before starting our project, I would like to know how the cost of doing the project ourselves compares to hiring a contractor.
Sandra J., Spokane
Answer: Thanks for sending me a drawing of your basement project and for providing other information over the phone; both helped me better understand your situation.
First, I applaud you for taking on such a major undertaking, especially since the concrete has to be cut. Now that I’ve said that, my best advice for you is to hire a concrete cutting company to cut the openings. It will be the best investment you can make on this project. In fact, if you plan to install egress windows so you can immediately put the house on the market or if the house is already for sale, local ordinances may require you to hire a contractor to install these windows.
Building department permits are required to install the windows and/or to finish part, or all, of the basement.
You can save by digging the ground outside where the concrete will be cut and for the new window wells. The cutting equipment will require a hole that is a foot larger on both sides of the rough opening vertically, a foot below horizontally, and 4 feet out from the concrete wall. The cost for the first window will be about $310 and about $225 for the second one.
You can purchase pre-made galvanized window wells from home centers for around $170. The well needs to be as wide as the window and has to come out from the concrete wall at least 36 inches. You should be able to find one that is 55 inches wide by 36 inches deep by 48 inches high. It will fasten to the concrete wall through pre-punched holes in the flanges. For window wells this deep and large, I recommend that you put a cover (wooden grate) over it to prevent someone from falling into it. The cover has to be light enough so anyone can push it off when trying to get out off the well.
If there’s a walkway or a driveway in front of these window wells, place a 36-inch high guardrail around them. The guardrail must be designed so a 4-inch sphere (ball) cannot pass through it. Before you backfill the well, install at least a foot of ¾-inch crushed gravel for water drainage.
Window manufacturers offer several windows that meet egress requirements: 5.7 square feet with a net opening not less than 20 inches wide and not less than 24 inches high. This measurement is the clear opening, across the open window and top to bottom of the open window. Slider windows require a much larger window to meet egress requirements than a swing out opening casement window equipped with special egress hardware. For example, a typical siding window would be 48 inches by 48 inches or 2 ½ feet by 3 ½ feet for a casement (opens vertically) window.
When calculating the rough opening, make it large enough so you can line it with 1 ½ inch of treated material the thickness of the concrete. This will provide solid material to which you can attach the window as well as exterior and interior trim. Also remember that the top surface of the windowsill (at the bottom of the window) cannot be more than 44 inches off the finished floor to meet the building code.
The bottom line is that I strongly encourage you to use a contractor to cut the concrete and to install the windows and window wells. They can get the building permit required for this project. To save money, you can trim the exterior, backfill, finish the interior walls and ceiling (if required), and trim the interior.
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