Whether I am working with a home seller or a homebuyer the question often comes up “is this a bedroom?”
This leads us to “what is the legal definition of a bedroom?”
A bedroom is not always a bedroom when it comes to the “legal requirements” for a bedroom.
Most of the information that defines a bedroom as a bedroom leads back to the International Residential Code incorporated in the state building code.
Sellers want more bedrooms and label everything they can as a bedroom thinking it will add more money to the price of the home. Buyers are more concerned about a bedrooms functionality and safety.
A legitimate bedroom is worth money…. it could be the difference of tens of thousands of dollars. A two-bedroom home or a three-bedroom home vs. a four-bedroom home could have a significant increase in your home’s value.
It is hard to put a flat value on a bedroom. You must take into account the community the home is in and the price point of the home to determine the value of additional bedrooms.
The expectation of what that home should have compared to similar homes is also key in determining the value of a bedroom.
Bear in mind the legal requirement of a bedroom is first controlled by state building codes. Individual towns can also enforce more stringent requirements.
First is a quick bullet point of what legally defines a bedroom and then go into greater length. The minimum requirements for a bedroom will be broken down into several things.
And, believe it, or not a closet is not required for a bedroom to legally be a bedroom!!
For safety’s sake, especially during a fire building code requirements for a bedroom require there to be two forms of egress for a bedroom.
Typically that egress is an interior door and a window to the outside. The requirement allows for at least one exit to the outside of the home. This could also include an interior door and an exterior door as well.
This allows a bedroom’s occupant to escape the bedroom from two routes during an emergency. But, it also allows emergency personnel access from the outside.
As pointed out above to legally define a bedroom you need one egress directly to the outside of the home. Usually, that egress is in the form of a window.
The window sill cannot be more than 44″ above the floor of the bedroom, allowing access for someone to exit from the window.
There will also be a requirement that the window has an opening of not less than 24″ and be a minimum of 20″ wide.
Again building codes are concerned with safety. A home’s occupants are most vulnerable when they are sleeping. They want an occupant of a bedroom to be able to directly access the exterior of a home but also allow emergency personnel to gain access with equipment.
In some states, the second egress may not necessarily be a be a window but can be an exterior door. The door must directly access the outside and in some cases, they may allow for a bulkhead.
Often a seller will want to count a basement bedroom in a bedroom count. But if it does not meet the egress requirements for a bedroom it should not be counted as a “legal bedroom”.
There are no standard dimensions required for a bedroom. But their minimum size and horizontal dimension requirements for a bedroom. Minimum square footage is typically 70-80 square feet. Many building codes take it one step further.
No horizontal dimension can be less than 7 feet. So a 7 by 10 room could meet the potential legal definition of a bedroom. But a 6 by 12 room would not.
Even though it has more square footage it does not meet the 7-foot horizontal dimensional requirement for a bedroom.
Minimum ceiling height will also vary from community to community. Typically the legal definition of a bedroom will require a minimum ceiling height.
That requirement will usually be a minimum ceiling height of 7 feet for over half the ceiling of a room.
For a small 50’s cape that has a pitched ceiling that could mean if there is no dormer, a bedroom might not meet the legal definition of a bedroom.
It will also be required that a bedroom can be heated. A space heater will not be appropriate. The bedroom must be part of the homes HVAC system or at the very least be heated by an electric baseboard or some other permanent stand-alone heating system.
The heating system for your bedroom must be able to maintain a temperature of at least 68 degrees during the year.
When a septic system is installed it is rated by the number of bedrooms it can serve.
You cannot add a fourth bedroom to a three bedroom septic system.
Make sure your septic system is rated for the number of bedrooms you have before doing any renovations that include an addition of a bedroom.
A bedroom must have private access and be accessed by a hallway or other communal space in the home.
If your “bedroom” is considered a throughway to another room it cannot be considered a bedroom.
A bedroom is going to need at least one window to allow for lighting and ventilation.
Most building codes require a rooms window glazing area to be 8% of a the square footage of the floor.
For example a 144 sq foot room, must have a minimum of 11.5 sq feet of windows.
A bedroom must have a minimum of one light fixture and an electrical outlet or two electrical outlets.
Massachusetts Smoke and Carbon Detector Laws requires that bedrooms either have their own smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors or are in close proximity to each.
The age of the home dictates whether they are battery operated or hard-wired as well as the placement.
A seller cannot transfer property without a smoke certificate in Massachusetts.
If you are adding on to your home in any capacity but definitely if you are including a bedroom make sure you pull a permit.
The permit ensures the addition is built to minimum safety standards and that includes a safe exit from any bedrooms.
If you don’t pull the permit it can create a multitude of headaches.
I have had some towns pull a home’s occupancy permit when they see a room being used as a bedroom but does not meet the safety requirements of a bedroom for that town. Talk about a hassle in the midst of selling a home!
I always say pull the building permit. You will spend a few hundred dollars more on your project upfront, but could save thousands or more later down the road.
Each town can also impose certain restrictions on what can be a bedroom that goes above and beyond the International Residential Code.
Before endeavoring on a major project make sure you understand the legal requirements for a bedroom from the town. Contact your local building department to see what they want to call a room a bedroom.
No. Again, contrary to popular belief, a bedroom does not have to have a closet according to the IRC. Nowhere in the IRC is a closet even mentioned.
In New England, many older homes do not have closets in some or all of the bedrooms in a home. Armoires were a popular alternative to closets in a bedroom throughout the 20th century.
Some towns may require a bedroom to have a closet, so work closely with your town’s building department when doing any renovations or additions.
You may have a bedroom that fits the legal definition of a bedroom. But the idea of a room being a bedroom must past muster with your home buyers.
Most buyers are not going to love the idea of a 7×10 room with no closet as their third bedroom. You can barely fit a bed and a dresser in a bedroom that size.
Or, a bedroom buried two floors down in the basement away from the other bedrooms.
Or the bedroom that is the only entrance to another bedroom…. you get my point.
Most homes it is obvious what rooms are bedrooms. Usually, they are all clustered together typically on a second floor. But some sellers in their angst to get more money for their home want to add bedrooms to their bedroom count.
They take the converted porch with a closet off the kitchen and call it a bedroom. Really no one wants a small bedroom right off the kitchen.
Make sure your bedrooms make sense as bedrooms. That small porch conversion might be better off as a den or an office.
Your potential buyers need to see a bedroom for what it is, don’t try to force a square peg into a round hole.
Some large houses may have 6, 7 or more bedrooms. But there becomes a diminishing returns on the value of a bedroom once you hit 4 or 5 bedrooms.
If you are planning a renovation or addition don’t think adding more bedrooms is just automatically going to add value to your house. It may make sense to add 1 or 2 bedrooms if your home is only a two bedroom home.
But if you already have four or 5 bedrooms, adding more bedrooms will not increase the value. In some instances, too many bedrooms can hurt you.
How? If you have a large home with 7 bedrooms you are using up square footage that could be more beneficial in other areas of the home. A common, fairly expensive remodel is to add two bedrooms in an attic space, but if you already have 3 or more bedrooms, it has almost no value. Very few buyers need 7 bedrooms and your average buyer will not want to pay for 7 bedrooms if it does not add functionality for them.
Be accurate and real with your home’s description when it comes time to sell. This also is true when it comes to bedrooms.
Don’t bring buyers to your house under false pretenses, it angers them and they won’t pay attention to the good parts of your home.
So what to do?
That bedroom in the basement with no second egress that everyone seems to have…. make it an office, a playroom, workout area or a den. If the buyer needs to squeak out an extra bedroom they will see the potential on their own.
You want to avoid any liability after the sale. Misrepresenting your bedroom count can potentially lead to a lawsuit down the road. Especially if a septic system is involved or a serious safety issue.
Bedroom count matters. For home sellers, it can provide a higher home value. But make sure your bedrooms meet the legal definition of a bedroom to avoid future issues.
As a home buyer, you don’t want to pay for bedrooms that may not really be counted as bedrooms. You may not worry about it now. But come resale time a savvy buyer’s agent could really drive the point home that your third bedroom is not really a bedroom and your home is really a two bedroom home.
Also, do you really want to stick one of your children in a basement bedroom with no second egress in a fire?
Sellers be accurate with your bedroom count and buyers do your due dilegence.
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Gabe SandersJuly 11, 2020
I think that different parts of the country have different requirements as to the legality of bedrooms. I hope that all local Realtors adhere to all applicable local laws.
Massachusetts RealtorJuly 13, 2020
The core definition of a bedroom comes from the International Residential Code which is adopted by 50 states. Towns can add additional requirements. But for the most part the definition should be pretty much the same.
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