What are the rules for basement bedrooms?

Recent questions about the rules for basement bedrooms

rule for basement bedroomsOne question I seem to be getting a lot lately is related to the rules for basement bedrooms. The main source of these questions come from real estate agents that want to know if they can classify a room in the basement as a bedroom.

I’m sure being able to call a room in the basement a bedroom can help the marketability of the home but you need to make sure that it meets the official guidelines. If not, you may be disappointed when the appraisal comes back showing the room as something else.

There are two issues that need to be considered when discussing basement bedrooms and they are with regards to windows and closets. There are very specific guidelines relating to the presence of windows as well as the size of the room, however the issue of closets leaves a little room for interpretation. Let’ take a look at where the appraiser gets the information that helps determine the rules for basement bedrooms.

Where appraisers get their information

As an appraiser there are two sources of information I go to when answering questions regarding rules for basement bedrooms. The first is source is the International Residential Code (IRC). The IRC is a set of regulations for one and two family dwellings that specifies how the structures are to be built. It includes components such as building, plumbing, mechanical, and electrical items that are used in construction.

The regulations provided by the IRC are extensive but here are some of the specifications for rooms that are to be called bedrooms:

  • Must have a minimum of 70 square feet (sf) of area
  • Cannot be less than 7 feet (ft) in width
  • Cannot be less than 7 ft in height
  • If the room has a sloped ceiling the portion that is 5 ft or higher is all that can be included and no less than half of the floor area can have a ceiling height of less than 7 ft.
  • They must have windows with sizes of at least 8% of the floor area and the windows must be able to be opened by occupants (for safety reasons in case of an emergency). This means that they cannot be fixed pane windows, or painted shut and unable to be opened.
  • The window sill cannot be higher than 44 inches (in), cannot be smaller in area than 5.7 sf, and the height cannot be less than 2 ft or width less than 20 in.

As you can see they are very specific about the rules for basement bedrooms. In addition to the IRC, appraisers must also consider Fannie Mae guidelines when analyzing the properties they are appraising.

Fannie Mae does give us a little wiggle room when considering bedrooms. What they basically say is that the appraiser must study the market to see what is typical and or expected of buyers.

If you have a house that has no closets in the bedrooms, and this is typical and expected with no loss in value, then no adjustment would be necessary. An appraiser’s job is to measure the reaction that buyers and sellers have when buying houses and whether there is a monetary result of their reaction.

One example I like to give to illustrate this regards new construction. If a new home was built without closets would the typical buyer pay differently for this house? For the most part the answer would be yes because current buyers have come to expect closets in their bedroom.

On the flipside of this would be older homes that were built without closets. If you are in an area of older homes, and all of these homes were built around the same time and had no closets, what would the buyer’s reaction be? Many times buyers of these types of homes have come to accept this because it was the norm for the time the home was built, and all of the other homes in the area are the same. In this situation an adjustment for no closet would most likely not be made and the room would still be called a bedroom.

Another thing you should look at are the trends with these older homes. If people are installing closets in these homes after purchasing them then that tells you that that is what is now expected and it is being recognized by buyers.

So what’s the bottom line rule for basement bedrooms?

The bottom line rule for basement bedrooms is “it depends”. The IRC is very specific when it comes to the physical attributes of a bedroom like I described above. On the other hand Fannie Mae does give us a little room for interpretation of buyer and seller behavior when it comes to the presence of closets. It will depend on the market that you are in and what buyers and sellers expect. I hope this discussion has been helpful in helping to sort out this common question.

Question

Do you have anything else to add, or maybe an experience you had? If so leave a comment below and let’s keep the conversation going. As always, thanks for reading.

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Comments

  1. Great article Tom. I will probably refer back to this one in the future. The following is just an aside question out of curiosity and for the conversation. I know appraisers with a typical scope of work usually don’t get this picky when determining a bedroom or not (because the market usually does not), but does the IRC have any rules about the wiring of a bedroom finished after a certain date. I finished a room in my basement into a bedroom and the electrician was required, by at least local code, to install Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters.

    • That’s an interesting question Gary. I’m sorry I don’t know the answer but will look into it and let you know if I find anything. I’m assuming that is to further improve the safety of the room? Great question.

    • I did a little search Gary and this is what I found:
      The 2006 International Residential Code (IRC) requires that AFCIs be installed within bedrooms in the following manner:

      E3802.12 Arc-Fault Protection of Bedroom Outlets. All branch circuits that supply120-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-amp outlets installed in bedrooms shall be protected by a combination-type or branch/feeder-type arc-fault circuit interrupter installed to provide protection of the entire branch circuit.

      Exception: The location of the arc-fault circuit interrupter shall be permitted to be at other than the origination of the branch circuit, provided that:
      1. The arc-fault circuit interrupter is installed within 6 feet of the branch circuit overcurrent device as measured along the branch circuit conductors, and
      2. The circuit conductors between the branch circuit overcurrent device and the arc-fault circuit interrupter are installed in a metal raceway or a cable with metallic sheath.

      Bottom line I think this is done for the ultimate safety of the occupants.

  2. Most of the time I do not count a room in a basement in the square footage of the house. Once in a great while I will if I can really get the sense the market categorizes the below grade area (basement) as living space. My sense is often the market will say a basement is a basement. In other words, buyers might pay more for space that is above ground rather than below ground, so it can be dangerous for us appraisers to assume the basement is treated the same way in the marketplace when it really might not be. The proof is in the market though, so we have to look very closely….

    • So true Ryan. I’m sure the value and perception of a basement varies by location as well. In the Birmingham area a home with a basement is highly valued as it gives additional living space for kids or even a mother in law apartment. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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