Basements or cellars (depending on which part of the country you are from) are primarily seen as dark and dingy parts of a home. In most cases they are considered a useless area or are used as a "catch all" for family discards that haven't quite made it to the curbside for trash pick up yet. Well, with the skyrocketing prices of real estate these days and the lack of any substantial property to use for an addition to our homes, the basement, after years of being ignored and neglected, is finally being recognized as a useful, cost effective resource for adding more living space to our beloved homes.
Several factors that have to be considered before any serious basement renovations take place include ceiling height, stair pitch or steepness and emergency egress. All three of these requirements can differ considerably depending on where you live. You can call your local building department and they can tell you these requirements. As for what emergency egress is, it is basically an emergency escape. A door of at least 30" wide in most areas is considered a very safe egress but a window has to be a certain size and a minimum distance from the floor in order to be considered safe. Believe it or not, the way the safe size and height of a basement window is calculated is by determining how easily an overweight elderly person (considered worst case scenario) can open and climb out of in case of a fire or another emergency. In reality, these building codes were put in place because no one is going to get out of one of those old metal framed 18" X 30" pull in basement windows very easily (especially an overweight elderly person) and they would probably die trying in the unfortunate event of a fire.
Most local building codes require both a door and a window egress in order for the basement to be considered safe enough for a living area. In many cases building codes require an emergency egress be placed in every bedroom in a basement as well. If you are in the habit of doing home remodeling or repairs without the proper building permits, it is very important for you and your family's safety that you find out what the code is in your area and adhere to it.
By adding all of the necessary emergency egress you are essentially killing two birds with one stone. As I already stated, you are adding safety to an otherwise unsafe area but you are also adding the benefits of natural sunlight. Adding natural sunlight to your basement really gives the area a desirable look and a warm feeling you generally can't get without it. Now, you may be wondering how people get a perfectly smooth, plumb and square openings in their foundations. You may have never heard of such a thing or don't realize the process even exists. Fortunately, there are companies in almost every part of the country that actually specialize in the process of cutting doorways and windows in concrete walls. These companies are called concrete cutting services and / or sawcutting outfits. Either way, they are listed in your local or online yellow pages under the heading of "concrete breaking, cutting, sawing, core drilling etc." A professional concrete cutter will make the process look exceptionally easy and help make short work of your basement-remodeling project.
If you are going to take the time to renovate your basement you might as well do it right. By following or exceeding your local building codes you will ensure your family's safety. Also, be sure that you cut as many window openings in your basement walls as your budget and the structural integrity of your home can handle. This in itself will make your basement the most cherished area of your home. You'll be glad you did it. Good luck.