What Is a Means of Egress?

What You Need to Know About Means of Egress

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In building code, a means of egress is a way to exit a property. Having the appropriate number of egress points can help save lives in a fire or other emergency.

It is important that all property owners and investors ensure that their property complies with all local and statewide building codes. Learn more about what a means of egress is and when you may need one on your property.

What Is a Means of Egress?

In general, a means of egress is considered an unobstructed way to get from any occupied portion of a building or other structure to an area of safety or "a public way."

Property owners have a responsibility to make sure their properties follow all safety codes. One important safety requirement is to have proper exit points throughout the property.

A form of egress can be a:

  • Door
  • Window (of sufficient size)
  • Ramp
  • Staircase
  • Fire escape

An elevator is not considered a means of egress, as it may not be a safe exit in the case of a fire or another emergency.

Every single apartment needs at least two compliant forms of egress. This includes basement apartments. This ensures that if one point of egress is obstructed, the apartment's residents have a second way to exit the apartment in the case of an emergency or for emergency personnel to enter.

Alternate names: point of egress, egress point

How a Means of Egress Works

A means of egress allows you to get from inside of a property to an exterior point of safety. It consists of three parts:

  • The exit access: Where you enter the egress point from inside the property.
  • The exit: How you get from inside the building to outside the building. This can include either a vertical or horizontal path.
  • The exit discharge: The exterior point where you exit the property.

Doors, windows, corridors, and other structures must meet certain size requirements to be considered compliant to code as a point of egress. The exact size requirement may vary according to your state or local code.

Doors should swing in the direction of the exit to count as a means of egress.

The number of egress points required by code increases as the occupancy of a building increases.

Egress doors must not require a key to open them from inside the property. Any means of egress must be clear and apparent to occupants of a building in the case of an emergency. If it is not immediately apparent, it must be marked as an exit.

The placement of egress points is also important:

  • The two points must be places at enough distance from each other to minimize the likelihood that both will be blocked at the same time.
  • In new construction, exits must follow the "diagonal" rule and be separated by at least half of the diagonal distance of the area they serve.

If you are renovating a building, especially if you intend to rent out different spaces, there are specific places where you will need to consider adding extra points of egress to comply with building and safety codes.

Basement Bedroom Egress

Whether you are trying to add an entire basement apartment to rent out or just add a bedroom to a finished basement in an investment property, you must meet certain fire safety codes. Any bedroom must have two forms of exit to the exterior of the property. This includes basement bedrooms and apartments.

Types of egress points in a basement can include:

  • Door directly to the outside
  • Door to the upper level of the property
  • Window that is sufficiently large to count as a point of egress

Due to the safety requirements involved in egress points, you will need a permit to add a bedroom in a basement or turn a basement into a separate apartment. You will have to deal with town inspectors who may also want to examine the rest of your property to make sure it is up to code.

Attic Egress

If your attic is just used for storage, it likely only has a ladder or set of pull-down stairs to access it. But if an attic is going to be used as living space, it will also need two means of egress.

You will need to replace a ladder or pull-down stairs with fixed stairs that meet your local building code. This will serve as the first means of egress.

The second means of egress in an attic is usually a window or a fire escape. A window will need to meet the dimensions specified in your local building code.

Second Story Apartments

If you are converting a building to two apartments, one on the bottom floor and one on the top, both apartments will need to have separate means of egress.

You will need to install a front door with a set of stairs that directly accessed the top floor apartment, likely without going through the apartment on the lower floor. This is your first means of egress.

Other means of egress for second-story apartments can include:

  • A backdoor and set of stairs
  • A fire escape
  • Windows that are sufficiently large to meet local point of egress requirements

Key Takeaways

  • In building code, a means of egress is a way to exit a property in the case of a fire or other emergency.
  • Every apartment or other residence must have at least two means of egress. These can be door, windows, ramps, corridors, or fire escapes. An elevator is not considered a means of egress.
  • Doors, windows, corridors, and other exit points must comply with federal, state, and local size requirements in order to count as a legal means of egress.