What Makes A Room A Bedroom?

What is it exactly that makes that room a bedroom? The question has come across my email enough, and actually I think I even posted on it at some point. Well, it’s resurfaced and maybe time to hash it out, as the opinions on what makes a room a bedroom are anything but concrete.

The initial question:

A few months ago an email was circulated as to what defines a bedroom. There were several responses, but if I remember correctly a bedroom does not have to have a closet to be a bedroom…

And the varying replies from various real estate agents:

-My understanding is it technically must have a window – ideally with a means of egress
-My understanding is two methods of egress. A door, and another door or a window or some way to get out in the case of an emergency. No closet necessary.
-Operable window, that a person can fit through AND the minimum size is 70 square feet, where the minimum for one of the dimensions is 7 feet.
-I believe that HUD requires a closet in order to count it as a bedroom for financing purposes. A lender could probably clarify that.
-I’d suggest using the International Uniform Building code that refers to a specific size of window based on square footage of BR. It needs to have a door and a window and the window has to be the right proportion. Read More.
-The Building Code requires an operable egress window with minimum size requirements as [the other agent] indicated. In addition the window needs to be sized for light and air requirements. If I remember correctly it is 10% of the floor area. A closet is not a requirement to satisfy the building code, but it may be a HUD requirement for financing, as [another agent] mentioned.

Perhaps the most accurate answer?

1. The first bedroom must be at least 120 square feet.
2. If your first bedroom is at least 120 square feet, you get to call your second bedroom a bedroom if it’s at least 70 square feet with 7’ on a side.
3. Required natural light and air: 8% of floor area of natural light, and 4% of floor area of air (operable window). A traditional double-hung window can cover both bases, because when it is open, it provides half the air as natural light.
4. Minimum clear headroom of 7’-6”
5. You need two means of egress. One may be a window. If the second is the window, fire department requires minimum area for personnel access of width 20”, minimum height 24” with net clear opening minimum of 5.7 square feet.
6. A closet is required.

And the first comment from that thread:

What you’ve written here is not entirely correct – I believe you may be conflating Realtor’s rules-of-thumb with actual Code requirements.

1) Sort of. Any habitable room (Living Rm, Dining Rm, etc) can be larger than 120 SF (2007 CBC SEC 1208.3)
2) Correct. Minimum Habitable room size (includes bedrooms) is 70 SF, 7′ minimum width (2007 CBC SEC 1208.3 & 1208.1)
3) These are correct window areas for required natural light (8% floor area) and ventilation (4% floor area), but neither is required if sufficient artificial light and mechanical ventilation are supplied (2007 CBC 1203.4.1 & 1205.3).
4) Correct – Minimum ceiling height for Habitable rooms is 7′-6″, however it is 7′-0″ for bathrooms, storage, kitchen, laundry (2007 CBC 1208.2).
5) Sort of. Only one exit (Means of Egress) is required, the other is an Emergency Escape & Rescue requirement. This is not a Fire Department requirement, it is a California Building Code requirement (SEC 1026.1)
6) Wrong. No closet is required by any State or Local code (Building, Housing, Health or otherwise).

So there you have it…the jury is clearly still out on this one. My advice, get used to living in closets if you’re living in San Francisco.


Add yours →

  1. I’m not sure if the height of 7’6 is correct, if that’s so then many bedrooms in SoMa lofts are no longer legit, for example my unit is a 2 bed/2 bath, and my bedrooms are only 6.75 feet tall. (built in 2002) My purchasing paperwork clearly states that it’s a 2 bed/2 bath.

    • If memory serves, a lot of SOMA lofts were built by exploiting a live/work building code loophole in order to get condos built in areas a not zoned specifically for residential housing. I could be wrong, but perhaps there are variants that could apply to ceiling heights built in SLI, UMU, and RH- (etc.) zones?

  2. Recall that the short-lived live-work ordinance (under which that SOMA loft was likely built) allowed ceiling height of 6′-6″ min. under or on a mezzanine in addition to many other short cuts that developers exploited. Your bedrooms are probably on a mezzanine.

    Also, what the purchase paperwork says and what the building code says may be different.

  3. I believe you may be conflating Realtor’s rules-of-thumb with actual Code requirements.

    Conflating? Correct. Which is entirely appropriate here. Is the original question about how to build a compliant structure? Or does the question pertain to the selling of a property and the ability to accurately describe the dwelling? If building a new space or remodeling an existing space, then citing the current building code is appropriate. If the goal is to accurately describe a listing for a property (or to debate the accuracy of a listing) then the current building code may not be appropriate.

    I suspect the original question has more to do with listings than with satisfying city inspectors. And it seems like this is a much more grey area. My 1906 home has stairs that are definitely not code-compliant. So, do I not have a 2nd story? The ceiling height upstairs (before our remodel) was slightly north of 6′ but clearly that’s where two of the bedrooms were located when we purchased it. (It was not listed as a “zero bedroom”.)

    I could be wrong but I think that some things get grandfathered in (e.g. my previously squatty bedrooms that were original to the home) but if I convert my basement into a new bedroom today and the ceilings are only 7′ tall (and I don’t get a permit) then I probably have to claim that space as a “bonus room” or specifically call out that it’s “unwarranted”.

    It may seem counterintuitive that you could have to 6′ tall bedrooms that are “legal” and a 7′ tall bedroom that’s “unwarranted” but (to the best of my knowledge) you are trying to represent what was the legal intended use of the space at the time that it was created. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I’d assume that the RE gurus here could chime in?

  4. I would enjoy seeing an appraisal that includes a room that was less than 70 sqft with out a closet or door or window that called said room a bedroom.

    The question came to a Realtor: an incredible amount of homes purchased on the CA coast are financed; institutional financing requires an appraisal; so wouldn’t they be the ones to give a practical answer? Is there not a price difference between a 1 bed and den/office, and a full 2 bed?

    Building codes are for minimum safety and habitability, not practicality or finance-ability. So code isn’t a great yardstick when talking to the bank. They look for the full meter stick. (IOW more than code.)

  5. A room with a bed.

  6. Great post, and an often-debated topic. I hear this question from clients all the time and we seem to have a standard response in my office. A room must have “a closet and an egress window” to qualify as a bedroom. But with many of the old Victorian homes we have here in Breckenridge, I’m not sure if that 70 sf requirement would cut it. I’ll check with our building department to see what they say.

  7. It also cannot be accessed through another bedroom. That’s why all these rooms stuck on the back of Sunset District houses have to be called Sunrooms and not bedrooms. Because you have to walk to a bedroom to get to them.

  8. Often debated, indeed! In NC (or anywhere else, I believe), a bedroom does NOT have to have a closet to be called a bedroom. However, it must be accessible from inside the home, be heated by conventional means, and have egress window: ICBO: The Uniform Building Code, Chapter 3, Section 310.4 (1999)
    Sill height shall not exceed 44 inches above the floor.
    Minimum net clear opening shall be 5.7 square feet; exception – grade level windows may have a minimum clear opening of 5 square feet.
    Minimum net clear opening height shall be 24 inches.
    Minimum net clear opening width shall be 20 inches.
    THis is for existing homes; new building codes differ a bit. Also, there are no minimum square footage requirements, but ceiling height, to be counted in square footage, must be 7′. Additionally, in dormered or slope ceiling rooms, you can count square footage that is only up to 5′ IF main part of room has ceiling height of 7′ or greater. This last is true for calculating all rooms’ square footage.
    Moving this conversation to real estate reporting, one *should* disclose that a bedroom does not have a closet if that is so, or disclose that you have to walk through one bedroom to get to another. It should be noted, however, that real estate is state-governed, and these rules will likely vary from state to state or even from region to region.

  9. What bugs me in SF is the taking the living rooms and dining rooms and just calling them bedrooms – specially when there are door issues. So I would like to add that one. A REAL door (not a french door) that LOCKS.
    I know it brings nightmares … but http://www.610rhodeisland.com/ for me doesn’t have any bedroom! If I have to hear the kids jumping on their beds, it’s not a bedroom!

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