When Is A Bedroom – Really A Bedroom

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Last Updated: May 4, 2021

Sticky note or sign on the wall or door says “this could be used as a bedroom”

Sellers know that in general, the more bedrooms, the more money the house will bring. Agents also understand this. Therefore, some may list a house as a three bedroom home, but in reality, it is only a two bedroom home.

It is wise to get it right

If a buyer buys what you told them is a “3 bedroom home”, and later they find out that it is only a “2 bedroom” home from a legal and code standpoint, then they may feel that you misrepresented the home.

code book

1. Is A Closet Required for A Bedroom ?

The IRC, “International Building Code” does not mandate that a bedroom have a closet. Note that the local building jurisdiction can mandate that a bedroom have a closet, but very few do.

The IRC building code does not require a closet for a room to qualify as a bedroom. There are a few building jurisdictions that do require a closet, but 99% +/- do not.   ( Read more )

A quick call to the local city or county building depart can answer this, if a buyer is concerned.

Bedroom ceiling heigth

2.  Minimum Size To Qualify As A Bedroom

A bedroom must be a minimum of 70 square feet in size. There is a minimum width of 7 feet wide; therefore a room 7 feet wide must be at least 10 feet long.

3.  Minimum Ceiling Height For A Bedroom

A ceiling must be a minimum height of 7 feet high. However, It can slope down to 5 feet high, but, 50% must be 7 feet or more in high.

4.  Natural Light Required

Bedrooms need to have a form of natural light from windows or skylights. There must be equivalent to 8% or more of the floor area of the room.

Note, if the room is partially open to an adjacent room with natural light, then that light will be taken into account when calculating the natural light.

5.  Natural Ventilation

A bedroom should have proper ventilation equivalent to 4% of floor area. This may be through openable windows or through mechanical ventilation.

6.  Heat Source Required

There should be a source of heat that will provide the room with a temperature of at least 68 degrees. Note that this may vary a little from geographic zone to geographic zone. The source of heat can not be from portable space heaters placed in the room.

7.  No Door Between Bedroom And Garage

garage door with car engine running


There should not be a door between a bedroom and a garage, even if it is one hour fire-rated.

The reason for this is that if a car is accidentally left running with the engine on, the carbon monoxide fumes from the car engine may seep into the bedroom (for doors are not air tight). Deaths have occurred because of this.

8.  Smoke Alarms


smoke alarm

Smoke alarms have been required when building a home; in the hallways near the bedrooms for years, then builders were required to have hardwired smoke alarms in all bedrooms. Now builders are required to have the smoke alarms inter connected, so if one goes off, then the others will likewise go off.

When reselling an existing house most jurisdictions require a smoke alarm in the hall way and one in the bedroom as well. ( the local building department can tell you what their policy is). It is wise to have one in each bedroom, even if the home is in one of the very few jurisdictions that don’t require it.

9.  Carbon Monoxide Detector Required In A Bedroom – If….

When a bedroom has a gas or wood burning fireplace in it; then there needs to be a carbon monoxide detector in the bedroom (as well as one in the area outside the bedroom door).

This is because if the door to the bedroom is closed, by the time the carbon monoxide alarm outside the door goes off, the bedroom occupants may not survive. Thus, the one in the bedroom will go off first.

10. Fire Egress Requirements

All bedrooms require two ways to get out of the bedroom in case of a fire.

One fire egress is the door to the bedroom. The one you enter the bedroom through.

The second egress may be either an window or second door that meets certain requirements.

Was The Bedroom Added Or A Room Converted Without A Permit ?

Bedrooms that were built or created with a permit are more likely to conform to building requirements. However, the date of the bedroom creation may affect it or how close the bedroom is to meeting current requirements.


Several Risk That Should Not Be Overlooked

Risk – If a seller converted an existing condo loft or den to a bedroom without a permit, then there may not be the proper number of parking spaces for the unit.

In example, a two bedroom unit may need two parking spaces, but when the third bedroom was added, then there should be three parking spaces.

However, there is no extra parking spaces in the condo complex. Now it may be an illegal conversion.

If an illegal conversion:

  • There may be appraisals issues
  • Insurance issues if an injury occurs
  • Problems obtaining a permit
  • Future buyers may want a permit or offer less money

Approximately 20% of Homes In The US Are On A Septic System – SO WHAT ?

The EPA estimates that one out of five homes are on a septic system. Most septic system are sized based on the number of bedrooms that there are in the home.

When a bedroom is added to a home, then the size of the septic system may need to be enlarged.

If no permit, and the new buyer discovers that their system is too small or it starts over flowing or fails; then who is responsible?

A Non-Conforming Bedroom

Although a bedroom may not meet all the requirements by the code, it still may be a bedroom to many buyers and used as a bedroom.

A wise agent may choose to let a buyer know that there are some features about a bedroom that may not conform to current, or even past code requirement. However, once they have disclosed that this condition exist, they will usually find that many buyers will still decide to go ahead with the transaction and may make changes after they purchase the property.

Tax Records and Appraisers

Appraisers will usually review property Tax Records  to see how many bedrooms the records show.

They may also take into consideration whether a bedroom is a legal bedroom or meets code requirements for a bedroom. They would not count a room in the garage as a bedroom, and likewise, may not count a room in the home that fails to meet certain code requirements as a bedroom.

Should there not be a building permit for an added bedroom, then they may exclude the room as a bedroom or not give value for it in their appraisal calculations. In some areas, Tax Records do not count a bedroom in the basement as a bedroom. In other areas they do count it as a bedroom.

If there is an appraisal several years later for the purposes of refinancing the home, and the second appraiser, doesn’t count a room that the first appraiser counted as a bedroom, then the appraisal may come in much lower.


Building Department Permits Required

Original Building Plans

What a set of building plans is submitted to the building department, there is usually a requirement for the rooms to be labeled. In example, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, etc. this is done for tax purposes, for sizing the sewer line or septic tank and for other building code calculations and requirements.

If the building plans show that the home has two bedrooms, and it is listed as a three bedroom home, then there may be an unpermitted bedroom or addition.


Sellers should be careful about claiming their home is a three bedroom home, when it may be only a two bedroom home


Buyers may be disappointed when they thought they were buying a three bedroom home and then find out it’s only a two bedroom home. Down the road it could affect the future sales price should this come to light.

Sellers or agents may wish to advise a buyer that a bedroom may possibly be a non-conforming bedroom and even recommend further investigation, should this be of concern to them.


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