What Is a Means of Egress?

Your property must have the proper number and type of exit points

Exit sign showing a means of egress—a way to exit a property.
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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.

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 investors are familiar with their local and statewide building codes.

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." A means of egress 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.
  • The exit discharge: The exterior point where you exit the property.

Types of Egress Points

A means of egress allows you to get from inside of a property to an exterior point of safety. A form of egress can be either a window or a door. A staircase or fire escape can also be part of a means of egress.

Windows 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, but if a firefighter in full uniform can fit through the window, odds are, it is large enough. Egress doors must not require a key to open them from inside the property.

How Many Forms of Egress Are Required?

Every single apartment needs at least two compliant forms of egress. This includes basement apartments.

Example: Michael has a walk-out basement. He wants to add a bedroom to the basement. When he submits an application for a permit for the work, the building department denies the request unless Michael submits additional plans showing how he will provide an additional point of egress from the bedroom.

Finishing a Basement

The issue of egress commonly comes up when someone tries to finish a basement. As a property investor, you may be able to add valuable space to your investment by finishing the basement.

Adding a Bedroom

Whether you are trying to add an entire basement apartment 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 is so that if one exit is blocked by a fire or other hazard, the individual still has another way to get out of the property. 

Things to Consider When Adding a Basement Bedroom

Moisture/water Issues affect many basements: Many basements have issues with moisture or flooding. In order to finish the basement, you may first have to add a french drain or a sump pump in order to get rid of these moisture problems.

Permits may be required to modify a basement area. Due to the safety issues of two forms of exit, you will definitely have to get permits in order to add a bedroom in a basement. You will have to deal with town inspectors who may also want to examine the rest of your property to make sure it is all up to code. Anytime you get a permit, you will have to pay the town a fee, which will vary by town, by the type of permit issued, and the work being performed.

You should consider the cost of renovations. Adding a basement apartment, or finishing a basement with a bedroom, is expensive. You have to make sure the value it will add as a rental or the value it will add to your property flip will be worth the expense. You may see an immediate return on a property flip, but if you are using it as a rental, you may have to hold onto the property for years for the cost to make sense.

Property taxes may increase with the addition. Finishing a basement into livable space will increase the value of your property, but it will also increase the taxes on your property. This increase will cut into the rent you will get from a basement apartment or may make it harder to find a buyer for a property flip.