The Awesome Basement Bedroom Egress Window Project – Part 1

The basement bedroom egress window is not only a necessary safety requirement for a basement bedroom, but it’s also an aesthetic improvement to any subterranean living space.  This project was a big one for me, but it was rewarding and I’m proud of the work that I did.  Here’s the details behind one of the bigger projects I’ve taken on as a homeowner.

More egress window photos from this project here.

After purchasing a new home last year, we (knowingly) found ourselves at a bedroom deficit.  We wanted each of our kids to have their own bedroom, but that meant we would need to purchase a five-bedroom house.  In our neck-of-the-woods, the availability of move-in ready five-bedroom houses is limited, and the five-bedroom houses that were available, were well beyond our budget.  So, our plan was to find a four-bedroom house in our budget and add a basement bedroom.

The original window to be replaced.

This window doesn’t let in much light and is too high and small to escape from easily.

Eventually, we found the closest-to-perfect option that we were going to find in our price range:  a four-bedroom house that had a finished basement room.  The room was already framed, dry-walled, and carpeted.  The only catch was that there was no closet in the room, and the only window was a tiny 1′ x 2′ cellar-type window.  The lack of a closet, and the inescapable window meant that the room did not meet the local code or safety requirements to serve as a bedroom.  The egress window project and closet-build plan was born.  Today, we’ll focus on the egress window…

After researching what it would cost to have someone else do the work, it was clear that I would have to find another option.  I found that other option staring back at me as I haplessly nicked and cut myself through my morning shave.  Estimates I received ranged from $5200 on the low-end, to $12,000 on the high-end.  Whoa.  I wasn’t expecting this to be a $500 job, but I certainly did not expect the cost to be so high.  I didn’t have the funds readily available and needed to get the job done soon.  This was going to be a big one-man job.

Obviously, there’s more to an egress window project than simply installing a new window.  These are the five main project components that I worked through:

  1. Dig – Dig a really big hole.
  2. Demo & Prep – Make a major mess taring up the drywall in the bedroom to expose the concrete foundation wall.
  3. Cutting – Cut a massive hole in the concrete wall and hope the house doesn’t collapse.
  4. Install – Install a large egress window to close up massive hole in concrete.
  5. Finish – Re-drywall bedroom and finish interior window trim.  Build retaining wall to stabilize the massive hole outside.

Digging the Basement Bedroom Egress Window Well

Egress Window Well Dig

The big dig has begun. If only I knew…

The hole that I dug out for the egress window well was larger than it needed to be, but I wanted to maximize the amount of available natural sunlight and reduce the restrictive feeling of being underground.  I’m happy I did, having a direct southern exposure, the room soaks up the sunlight.

Since I was trying to save money, was a bit portlier than I preferred to be, and had a passionate hatred for myself, I decided to hand-dig the egress window well hole.  Ugh.  For the entire summer, I had perpetually sore shoulders, and an aching back.  I would advise you to either rent a backhoe or pay the money to have someone come out and dig the hole for you.  Not only are you faced with the herculean task of digging that much dirt, but you have to have a place to put it.  In my case, I had an area in the backyard where the ground had settled substantially.  All the dirt fill was dumped there to level-out the ground.

If you dare follow my path into the physical damnation that is hand-digging a hole of this size, but be prepared.  Depending on where you live and your soil conditions, you may have several feet of solid clay to extract (as I did).  A shovel wasn’t working very well at that point.  It became an arduous task of using a pickaxe and a pitchfork to loosen and break-up the clay, then a shovel to remove the extracted chunks of clay.  This is dirty, no-fun work; I highly recommend avoiding it.

Demolition & Preparation Work

It’s an unfortunate thing, but if you’re working with a room that is already finished, you’re going to have to do some demolition work to ready the room for an egress window.  In my case, this meant tearing out a large section of wallboard and the supporting metal studs behind them.  Luckily, there were no electrical conduit or plumbing runs that traversed the area where the window would be installed.

There’s not much finesse to this kind of work.  You’ll have to go at it with a hammer and pry-bar, removing sections of the existing wall to expose the concrete foundation.  I found it best keep a large trashcan at-hand to drop discarded material into.  It’s only going to make more work for you to pile the debris up then throw it out later.  Be sure to clear enough of the existing wall out of the way; it will make the concrete removal much easier if there is nothing getting in the way during the cutting.

Measuring for the Egress Window Opening

This is one of those occasions when you will want to double (or triple) check your math.  You will have some flexibility depending on your window size and choice of framing lumber.  There are a few parameters you need to account for when determining how big the egress window opening should be.  These are a few things you will need to consider and take into account when determining the rough opening:

  1. Egress window framing

    Here is an example of how I piggy-backed the rough egress window frame to achieve the desired fit.

    First, be sure that your window choice adheres to all of the code requirements for a basement bedroom egress window opening. This includes the minimum height and width of the window opening and the allowed height from the interior room floor.  My local code states that the opening must have a minimum opening width of 20″,  a minimum opening height of 24″, a net clear opening space of 5.7 sq ftand a maximum sill height of 44″.  You will need to add your window dimensions to the dimensions of the framing lumber you will use.

  2. Determine the exact dimensions of the framing lumber you will use to rough-frame the egress window opening.  You may need to piggy-back two or more pieces of lumber with different dimensions to achieve the proper/desired opening.
  3. Make sure your basement bedroom egress window opening will remain centered in the opening when based on the overall dimensions used in #1 and #2.

Cutting the Egress Window Opening

Outline of egress window cut out

Measure twice.  Cut here.  I wanted to make if very easy for the concrete cutting company to know what I wanted removed.  Basement bedroom egress window here I come.

This was a bit tricky.  My foundation consists of 10″ wide reinforced concrete; you’re not going to cut through that with a standard circular saw.  I’ve seen some videos where a gas-powered stone saw (normally used for exterior pavers and rock walls) is used to cut through the concrete, but it looked like a bit more than I felt comfortable attempting.  Admittedly, the idea of cutting a 4′ x 5′ hole in my home’s concrete foundation made me queasy.  After a minimal amount of contemplation, I opted to leave this particular task to the pros.  I would recommend going this route unless you are absolutely comfortable and know exactly what you’re doing.  You could do some real damage to your home if you start cutting into a load-bearing foundation wall (mine was not so no additional lintel or header support was needed).

Egress window concrete cutting

The aftermath of the egress window concrete cutting. Note the “manageable” pieces of cut up concrete that I had to lug out of that hole.

I began searching the internet for local concrete cutting companies.  Many of these companies focus on commercial construction work and will not be too interested in performing small residential jobs.  You’ll likely have to call around to get a decent price (and someone willing to take on the job).  In the end, I was able to find an insured concrete cutting company that was willing to cut the opening, and cut the extracted concrete into manageable size pieces.  They final cost to me for the service was $650.  This did not includ digging the hole to access the exterior concrete foundation wall, nor did it include the removal and disposal of the cut concrete.  You can likely expect to pay another $400-$500 additional for that.

Once the saw is setup, the actual cutting of the concrete doesn’t take very long.  I don’t have any photos or video of the company doing this work on my job, but this video is very similar to the process that I witnessed (less the cheesy 90’s metal and the cutting was done outside – turn your speakers down):

Be prepared for the mess that concrete cutting makes.  Even with the saw outside, there was a slurry or water, dust, and dirt that accumulated on the bedroom floor, and a areas on the ceiling where the mixture sprayed.  The existing carpet was left in very bad shape.  Since we planned to replace the carpet anyway, we weren’t concerned, but if you intend to keep the walls, ceiling, and floor clean, be sure to prepare and lay out plenty of thick sheet plastic.

Installing the Egress Window

The rough egress window framing has begun. Note my dauther's uber-sexy pink ear-protection that I resigned to using when mine could not be located.

The rough egress window framing has begun. Note my daughter’s ultra-cute pink ear-protection that I resigned to using when mine could not be located.

In order to install the new egress window, the concrete opening had to first be framed-out.   I installed the window header and frame using pressure-treated lumber.  Since concrete can draw and emit moisture, you’re going to need to use pressure treated or another moisture resistant wood like cedar for the rough window frame.  Untreated wood will rot quickly when used in these conditions.

I used a .22 caliber ramset hammer to fire nails through the treated lumber securely into the surrounding concrete.  If you’re not familiar with the tool, here is an example.  Shells very similar to firearm ammunition are loaded into the ramset tool.  You then place the nail-end of the tool firmly against the wood and strike the back of the tool with a hammer.  Once struck, the nail is fired.  You’ll want to wear ear protection when doing this as it can be quite a noisy process.  Hopefully, you neighbors won’t think you’ve gone on a rampage.

In the photo to the right, you can see how I had to overlay two pieces of treated lumber to properly

egress window flashing

I did not take a photo of the flashing on my project, but this is a very similar example of how the rough-opening was flashed.

size the rough opening for my window.  Not only did this ensure that the egress window I purchased would fit the rough opening, but it also provides a surface to easily secure the window to.  As added insurance against the elements, just prior to installing the egress window, I applied flexible tar-based flashing tape to then entire interior surface of the rough-opening frame.  This will further-protect the framing from any moisture that may leak in around the window’s edges.

Most vinyl windows have a nailing flange that extends an inch or so beyond the window’s outer frame edge.  This window itself fits within the rough opening while the window’s nailing flange butts-up against the rough-opening framing.

Window nailing flange

Example of a vinyl window nailing flange.

My top priority at this point was to seal-off the opening completely, ensuring that the outside weather and critters remained outside where they belong.  With the window resting in place (from the exterior of the home), I proceeded to drive galvanized nails through the nailing flange.  Be sure to use galvanized or other treated nails that will not rust or react to the chemicals in your treated lumber.  I placed nails every 8″ or so around the window to

The installed egress window.

The rough installed basement bedroom egress window.  You can see the flashing protruding from the edges of the window.  Also, note the drain-box installed below the window at the base of the window well. This will help to prevent water accumulation within the window well during heavy rains.

ensure it was fully-secured to the rough-opening frame.  On its way into the rough-frame, the nails will penetrate the flashing tape and the tar will seal the nail holes to prevent future moisture problems.

With the egress window nailed securely in place, I used 3.5″ cedar boards for the exterior window trim.  There were no intricate joints or angles necessary for the trim; I simply butt the horizontal and vertical trim boards together at the corners of the window.  To finish sealing-off the outside, I used a silicon-acrylic, caulk to seal the edges of the trim boards.  Hooray!   I was no longer staring at a gaping hole in the side of my home!

Finishing the Basement Bedroom Egress Window

Metal framing below egress window

Metal studs are in place below and around the egress window. New insulation is installed as well.

There was a tremendous peace-of-mind knowing that the window was in and I did not have to worry about the

outside coming into my home.  However, I had a major mess to cleanup inside the basement bedroom.  Save yourself some cleanup work and be sure to cover everything in the room with plastic sheeting.  The cutting of the egress window opening left me with some water, concrete dust, dirt, and other debris to clean up.  Once the mess was cleaned-up, I was able to begin patching up the drywall around the window.

Since the existing wall was framed with metal studs, I re-framed the area around the window with the same.  I’ve had some experience framing with wood, but have never worked with metal framing materials before this project.  Maybe it was my lack of comfort and knowledge using metal studs, but I would have preferred to have used standard wood 2×4’s.  I muddled through it.  Thankfully, I only had a small section of wall to frame.

Interior view of egress window

Here is the final interior view of the new egress window with trim, drywall, and paint.

With the new metal framing secured below the egress window, I installed new insulation and began fastening new drywall boards to the framing.  My drywall skills have improved a bit over the years, but I’m nowhere near the pros in skill or speed.  What takes me an hour to tape and mud would likely take a drywall professional less than 10 minutes.  But alas!  I may be slow, but I am cheap.

With the new drywall hung, taped, and sanded, I moved on to framing the interior window trim.  Since the plan was to paint the interior window trim white, I used select-grade pine boards for the window sill and surrounding trim.  I have a small compressor and nail gun that came in handy for securing the sill and trim to the rough-opening frame.  After a bit of hand-sanding, I primed and painted the sill and trim using a high-gloss white interior paint.

Egress Window Project Summary

Completed basement bedroom egress window

Here is the completed egress window and window well project. I will detail the retaining wall portion of the project next.

Overall, I am very satisfied with how the end result of the basement bedroom egress window project.  In all, not too shabby for a desk-jockey.  I saved a wad of money doing the majority of the work myself.  In total, I spent just over $1000 on the project, a savings of over $4000 based on the lowest quote I received from a contractor.  My single biggest expense was the $600 spent having the

concrete foundation cut.  The egress window itself cost me less than $200.  The remaining $200 or was spent on other miscellaneous materials.

If you have any questions, I’d be happy to let you know what I can.  Please post your questions in the comments section so others can benefit too.  Come back soon.  I will post the second phase of this project: the egress window well retaining wall along with some additional photos of the completed basement bedroom interior.

More egress window photos from this project here.

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