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Planning a Basement Escape Route in Your Home
By Rosemarie Rossetti
Copyright © 2007 Rosemarie Rossetti
Publication copyright © 2007 United Spinal Association
The egress solution that the author has chosen is the ScapeWEL® Window Well System.
When building a home with a basement it is important that an emergency escape route be included in the design. In addition to using the stairway, emergency exits can be provided through doors and windows.
When the occupant in the home uses a wheelchair, special thought must be given to basement design. Some homes include elevators, stairway lifts, or vertical platform lifts to transport wheelchair users to and from the basement.
Some homes are designed with walkout basements. These exterior doors create a useful way to escape a basement in an emergency and are often wheelchair accessible.
As a wheelchair user, I have been planning to build my new home for many years. My home, the Universal Design Living Laboratory, (www.udll.com) will serve as a national demonstration home showcasing universal design, “green” and healthy home construction practices. The basement will be 3,500 sq. ft. and will be accessible by way of an elevator. I have chosen a limited use/ limited application elevator by National Wheel-O-Vator (www.wheelovator.com). The basement will contain an office/ bedroom, bathroom, exercise room, and storage space.
I am planning to install a Cummins Onan (www.cumminsonan.com) natural gas-powered standby generator to use the elevator in the event of a power outage.
We all know that when there is a fire, the elevator should not be used as an escape route. A “Plan B” is needed. Through my research and visits to trade shows, I have looked at many basement windows as optional escape routes.
The egress solution that I have chosen is the ScapeWEL® Window Well System, consisting of a 5’ x 4’ slider ScapeVIEW™ Series 6000 Foundation Window and a high-density polyethylene ScapeWEL Window Well by The Bilco Company (www.bilco.com). Both the window and window well meet the building code requirements which require a means of egress in any finished basement. This will allow a firefighter an alternate way into the house in an emergency and will allow the residents a way out of the basement. If you are concerned that you be unable to maneuver independently out of an egress window, at least you can position yourself by this window and use a cell phone to call someone nearby, as well as the emergency squad, to meet you outside this window.
An added feature of this window system is the terraced step design of the window well. These two tiers can be landscaped so that flowers can be viewed from inside the basement. This is a real bonus, creating a colorful view of the outdoors! By placing this south-facing egress window in my future spare bedroom/office, more natural light will be able to penetrate. This will save energy because the house lights will be used much less during daylight hours.
These same terraced steps will also lead me to safety. By positioning a table under this window, I will transfer out of my wheelchair and onto the table and then crawl out the window in an emergency. This window has provided me peace of mind, knowing that if I had to crawl out of my basement through this window, I could. From my previous experience I know that I’m stronger when I’m scared!
Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. is building a national model universal design home in metropolitan Columbus, Ohio. She is an internationally known speaker, trainer, consultant, and writer. To contact Rosemarie go to: www.RosemarieSpeaks.com. To learn more about the Universal Design Living Laboratory go to: www.UDLL.com.