House Hunting Tips: What’s a Bedroom?

Seems like a stupid question, right? It’s where you sleep.

(Courtesy of Project Gutenberg’s eBook, The House of Good Taste, by Elsie de Wolfe.)

But it turns out that not everywhere you sleep is a bedroom, according to the Seattle Building Code (SBC).

I see a lot of real-estate flyers advertising semi- and fully-finished basements with bedrooms. But not all of these are legal bedrooms. The main reason to discount the claim is that the windows aren’t big enough.

SBC (Chapter 10, Section 1025) says a bedrom has to have an egress window, defined as a window that opens during normal operation to a “minimum net clear opening of 5.7 square feet.” The minimum height of this opening is 24 inches; the minimum width is 20 inches. (Note that these two measurements multiplied together are 3.3 square feet — smaller than the minimum net clear opening – so at least one dimension has to increase.) The rules are a bit different for windows below grade.

Furthermore, window openings can’t be higher than 44 inches from the floor. How many times have basement windows been at your eye level?

A couple of other laws (Chapter 12) apply to rooms in general. In order to be considered a “habitable space,” a room has to have at least a 7-foot ceiling; no more than 50 percent of the ceiling can slope; and no portion of the ceiling can be less than 5 feet tall. Remember this when you’re touring a second-floor bedroom under the eaves.

In addition, no habitable space can have a dimension less than 7 feet nor less than 70 square feet of net floor area. I’ve seen some new construction with narrow bedrooms that come within inches of violating this.

And, in general, most people define a bedroom as having a closet.

Why is this important? Because it’s easy to get distracted by how the current owner is using a room. Just because there’s a bed stuffed into it, it’s not necessarily a bedroom. Bring a tape measure and figure out for yourself if a room’s a bedroom. And pay accordingly.

  • Brendan Amorose

    That's certainly food for thought. Indeed, a bedroom – a true bedroom – has to offer all the comforts and features that a bedroom can offer. At first, these little things seem to be nothing more than a bunch of bells and whistles, but in the long run, they provide comfort that can prevent pesky renovating later on.