What Makes a Bedroom a Bedroom?

March 14, 2016

What Makes a Bedroom a Bedroom?

As a certified New Hampshire home inspector we are frequently asked, “What makes a bedroom a bedroom?”.  Many people think that a room needs to have a closet in order to qualify as a bedroom.  While this is a universally accepted standard, good luck finding any type of authority that will back this up. It’s not that easy of a question to answer – surprise! So we did a little research and thought we would share it with you here.

According to the International Residential Code (IRC) a room does not have to have a closet in order to be considered a bedroom.  Rather, it needs to fit the criteria of “habitable” and have some additional safety requirements if it is designated for sleeping. So if you are looking to see what constitutes a conforming bedroom, read on.

Why does this even matter?  It may seem trivial but it actually has big implications regarding the following:

  • Home value
  • Safety
  • Septic system size
  • Tax assessments

We have taken the work out of sifting through the very lengthy and confusing IRC manual and have compiled a list of the criteria for being “habitable.”

  • Ceiling height– Must be ≥ 7 feet tall
    • Sloped ceilings- At least 50% of the floor area must be ≥ 7 ft tall and no areas should be less than 5 ft tall
  • Floor space– One room needs to have ≥ 120 square feet (sq ft) of floor area
    • Additional rooms need to be ≥ 70 sq ft
    • All rooms must have a horizontal dimension of ≥ 7 ft
  • Glazing (windows)– Must have window space ≥ 8% of the total floor area
  • Ventilation– Must have natural ventilation through windows, doors, louvers, or other approved openings to the outdoor air.
    • Needs to be readily accessible and/or readily controllable
    • Needs to be ≥ 4% of the floor area being ventilated
  • Heat source– If you live where it drops below 60⁰F during the winter, then the room must have a heat source.
    • The source must be able to maintain a room temperature of ≥ 68⁰F at all points 3 ft above the floor and 2 ft from exterior walls.
    • Portable heaters do not qualify.
  • Egress– The room must have 2 points of egress (exit)- one that is accessible from the house and one that exits directly outside.
    • Rooms in a basement each need their own escape route
    • Window sill height must be between 24-44” from the floor
    • If the window sill is below grade, it needs to have a window well present
    • Size requirements: Minimum of 5.7 sq ft with a minimum height of 24” and width of 20”
    • Garage exclusion- An opening from the garage into the sleeping room is not permitted
    • Bars, grilles, covers, screens, etc. are permitted as long as they meet the opening size requirements and are removable/releasable from the inside without a key, tool, or special knowledge
  • Smoke Detectors
    • One in each sleeping room
    • One outside each separate sleeping area
    • New construction houses also need carbon monoxide detectors placed in these same areas.
  • Electric– Receptacle outlets installed in accordance with national electric code
    • No point in any wall space is permitted to be > 6 ft from a receptacle. This helps decrease the use of extension cords
    • Modern homes now require Arc-Fault Circuit-Interrupter (AFCI) protection and tamper resistant receptacles to be used in bedrooms
  • Lights- At least one wall switch-controlled lighting outlet must be present


What about a “Non-Conforming Bedroom?”

Some real estate listings also include “non-conforming bedrooms” to make it more appealing to larger families.  These are rooms that are large enough to serve as a bedroom but do not meet code standards.  An example would be a bedroom in the basement with windows that you could not escape through in an emergency.  If an appraisal lists a non-conforming bedroom as legitimate, the assessed value of your home may be artificially inflated.  Besides that, it may not be safe!

This article should be used for general information purposes only and should not be considered an official ruling in any way, shape, or form. It is our goal to provide useful, helpful (and sometimes entertaining) information for your reading enjoyment. Building codes and regulations vary some from one town to another, so it is best to check your local requirements. As a home inspector in NH, we do NOT inspect for code compliance. However, we do understand the principals behind the codes, and always have your best interests in mind!

One thought on “What Makes a Bedroom a Bedroom?

  1. Kevin Vitali

    Many buyers in Massachusetts…. and even agents themselves, think a closet is required for a bedroom. But Massachusetts uses the IRC as well. The first thing to remember is that building codes are usually concerned with safety and not practicality.

    While todayss buyers want a closet in a bedroom as a matter of practicality it is not “required” by building codes.

    You are most vulnerable when you are asleep in your bedroom. The IRC focuses on you being able to get out in an emergency and emergency personell being able to get in.


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