Hey, That’s Not a Bedroom!

“Is that REALLY a bedroom?” is a question that has come up many times before when you, or someone you know, are looking to purchase or rent a home/apartment and the listing seems too good to be true.  Upon further inspection you see that they have that tiny room next to the living room listed as a bedroom, and you are sure there is no way it could possibly be considered a bedroom.

Well, the truth is, it may depend on who you ask whether it is or is not a bedroom.   If you were to ask the realtor, they may say “Well… it must have a window and a closet to be considered a bedroom.”  Most realtors operate under the assumptions of moving commodities and most people would agree that to be desirable it would include both a window and a closet. The true definition of what counts as a bedroom is a bit more complicated.

The real requirements for a room to be considered a bedroom as defined in the International Residential Code (IRC) are as follows [Please note the exceptions to the requirements as stated]:

  1. The room must meet minimum size requirements [IRC Section R304]
    • To be considered a habitable room the floor area shall not be less than 70 square feet. (This applies to all living, sleeping, or eating spaces)
        • Excludes bathrooms/toilet rooms, closets, halls, storage/utility spaces
    • Shall not be less than 7 feet in any horizontal direction (7 foot ceiling height) [IRC Section R305]
  1. The room shall be provided with light, ventilation, and heating (Typically achieved by an operable window to the exterior) [IRC Section R303]
    • Shall have an aggregate area of not less than 8% of the floor area
    • Shall have natural ventilation either through the windows or other approved openings to outdoor air
      • Exceptions to this provision include:
        • Glazed area need not be operable if mechanical ventilation is provided in accordance with Section M1505.
          • Where this exception is satisfied artificial light may be substituted for natural light as long as certain light levels are provided.
  1. Smoke Alarms shall be installed in each sleeping room [IRC Section R314]
    • Additional smoke alarm required outside each sleeping area in immediate vicinity to the bedroom
  1. Two means of egress [IRC Section R310 and R311]
    • This is the most complicated of all the requirements. The location and fire suppression system determine the requirements for egress.
      • Typically in a normal residential single family home, this would mean that a egress door that is part of a continuous and unobstructed path, discharging directly into a public way [IRC Section R311], as well as a window that can be used as an emergency escape and rescue opening [IRC Section R310].

As nice as it would be to say that the requirements are a window and a closet, the code is a little more articulate and demanding in the legal requirements for a bedroom. For instance, when a bedroom is located in a basement level, the window may be required as an emergency escape and rescue opening, where two other means of egress are not provided (i.e., two separate sets of stairs to the main level). This is where you see many homes utilize a window well with ladder [IRC Section R310] to avoid the dreaded non-conforming bedroom status.

Historically, bedrooms weren’t always equipped with closets. In Victorian architecture, you will seldom find a bedroom with a closet, as wardrobes and armoires were commonly used for that design period’s clothes-keeping needs.

In the end, if you are to design/build a new home, it would be wise to include a window, closet, and an adequate-size space that a resale market would deem acceptable and desirable for a bedroom. At EVstudio, we have designed many single-family homes, duplexes, townhomes, and multi-family projects. The knowledge we have earned from past projects and research will help ensure no one ever asks, “Is that a bedroom?” when looking around the property we help you build.


Blueprints of bedroom and bathroom designs from an EVstudio project
Examples of IRC-compliant bedroom designs: spacious, safe, and welcoming.

References: CHAPTER 3 BUILDING PLANNING, 2018 International Residential Code (IRC) | ICC Digital Codes (iccsafe.org)




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