Your bedroom is your sacred go-to place for relaxation after a long day of work, or to prepare your body for a long restful night of sleep.
Did you know that your bedroom may or may not legally be defined as a bedroom? A bedroom cannot legally be called a bedroom unless it meets certain specifications.
What qualifies a room to be a bedroom? To be legally called a bedroom, the room needs to fit the criteria of “habitable”, and meet some specific safety requirements. Some things that help to make the room “habitable” include: square footage, egress, ceiling height, heating and ventilation.
The minimum requirements that comprise a bedroom pertain to safety and home value.
When a space is to be labeled a bedroom, it’s important that builders follow the International Residential Code (IRC). The IRC specifies required features for a bedroom.
There are general requirements to all bedrooms, and there are also code requirements that vary from state to state. The IRC coupled with the code for that specific state will determine what can and cannot be considered a bedroom despite how that space may have been used in the past.
Codes are in place primarily for safety purposes, and a bedroom can only be crowned as such when these codes are met.
A bedroom’s layout must meet a minimum size requirement of 70 square feet or 6.5 square meters. This is the minimum amount of space that will allow someone to not just sleep comfortably in a bed, but to always live comfortably in the space. This means they should be able to accommodate a bed, nightstand, and other pieces of furniture like a dresser or work desk.
The bedroom must measure at least seven feet in any direction. This prevents landlords and real estate agents from classifying hallways, and other skinny crevices as bedrooms.
When it comes to safety, emergency exits is key. A bedroom needs to have two means of egress. This means you need two ways into and out of the room in the event of an emergency. One of those exits should go directly outside.
To simplify this code, it’s safe to say that a bedroom should have a door for entering and exiting. The door must open to the outside, which makes the exterior door a less practical solution. So, it should also have a window in the event the exit needs to take you out of the house (like in case of a fire). In some markets however, a skylight would also qualify as a way out of the room.
When it comes to the bedroom windows, there are additional specifications. The window must have an opening area of 5.7 square feet, a minimum opening height of 24 inches, and a minimum opening width of 20 inches. The maximum distance between the finished floor and the finished window sill is 44 inches.
A recent addition to the IRC mandates a minimum distance between the finished floor of the room and the window sill of 24 inches to prevent children from falling out of an open window.
As a source of exit, the bedroom window should be able to open without the use of a key or tool, nor should it have locking bars or grates covering it, as this would make it difficult to exit.
A bedroom ceiling has to be at least seven feet tall. Loft areas can become bedrooms as long as half of the room meets the seven feet tall requirement.
Heating and Ventilation
Since a window is necessary in a bedroom, the window can satisfy the cooling needs, but what about when it’s cooler? A bedroom has to have a heat source.
Since we’re talking about safety, a space heater may not be 100% safe and does not comply. The heating system needs to be installed into the room.
Receptacle outlets should be installed in accordance with proper codes.
There should be one smoke detector in each bedroom, as well as outside of each bedroom. In some areas, new homes are now required to have carbon monoxide detectors in bedrooms as well.
Additionally, the bedroom space is required by code to be protected by an arc-fault interrupter (AFCI), a relatively new safety device intended to protect homes against fires due to faulty wiring.
There should be at least one wall switch-controlled lighting outlet in the bedroom.
These safety features are required for any new construction. Existing homeowners should follow these guidelines as much as possible when converting an existing space into a bedroom. Rethink putting a bed in the attic or the basement for someone and calling it a bedroom without adhering to the safety codes.
As a homeowner, if you were to ever put your house on the market, one of the primary selling elements is the number of bedrooms your home has. The more bedrooms a house has, the more value is added to the home.
In order to list a house with an accurate number of bedrooms, the above codes should be the standard. Anything less is not considered a bedroom and could be reasoning for a lawsuit after the fact.
Does a Bedroom Need a Closet?
A closet in the bedroom is a nice perk. Most of us expect to see some semblance of a closet in the bedroom, but there is no legal requirement for one. The IRC doesn’t require closets in bedrooms.
The only legal requirements are in regard to dimensions, windows, egress, and heating and ventilation. In reality, there are other types of furniture that can suffice as sufficient closet space, such as armoires.
I Thought I Had A Bedroom, But Legally I Don’t (Now What?)
If you have a room that you wanted to be a bedroom, but does not meet the code specifications above, all is not lost. You can call it something else, like an office, or a bonus room. If you’re attempting to sell your home, any wording that implies additional space is a good thing from the buyer’s point of view.
The more living space square footage a home has, the more that home is worth. More bedrooms can also increase the value of the home. If you’re trying to increase the value of your home, or are in need of an additional bedroom, you could also consider a home improvement project to bring the room up to specified code.
Allow your budget to be the guide on making sure you do what is legally necessary, then anything else, like a closet, can be a nice perk. Make sure to hire a licensed contractor who is going to insist on meeting the national and state codes. Also, make sure they take out the necessary building permits that’s required to add on to the house.
Without the appropriate building permits, all the additional work put into creating an additional bedroom, can all be for nothing. It can also add stress to an already stressful real estate transaction if you’re trying to sell your home.
Septic Systems and Bedroom Counts
One last thing, if you are planning to add bedrooms to your home, make sure you know the guidelines for your market on septic systems as they pertain to bedrooms.
Depending on where you live, there may be requirements to have one septic system for a certain number of bedrooms. For instance, you cannot have more bedrooms than what your septic system is designed for.
If your septic system is designed for three bedrooms, that means to build another bedroom or to turn another room into a bedroom, you would need another septic tank. If you were trying to sell your home under these conditions, legally you would not be able to market the new room as a bedroom, without increasing the septic system capacity.