We purchased a 1978 multi-story house that stated it was 3 bedroom (BR) and 3.5 bathrooms (BA) with a partially unfinished basement. There is a room in the basement partially finished with a closet and close access to 2 exterior doors. This room does not have an (egress) window. The room only needed some patches to the drywall, flooring, lights, and paint. Per our area building code, a repair of less than $1000 does not require a permit to be pulled, so we didn't pull a permit. In 1997 building code changed to require an egress window for new construction and when remodeling for a basement bedroom to count. For my situation, this was not a remodel but simply a repair (fixing to original configuration). Additionally, per local code, a permit was not required because we didn't exceed $1000.

So my question is can this now be classified as a basement bedroom?

Before people jump on me for this being a death trap if someone sleeps in the room and a fire were to occur. I remind them there are 2 direct accesses to route you out of the basement as well as they could travel back upstairs then out of the house.

  • Since you haven't told us your locale, it's hard for us to know your local building/occupancy codes, so it's really hard for us to answer the question. Additionally, the point of each sleeping area having its own egress is that sometimes you cannot leave the room because the fire is just outside the door. Sure you may only have to go 10' to get to the walk-out basement door, but if that's 10' of 500° F flame, you're not going to be interested. Ergo, deathtrap. – FreeMan Jan 19 at 18:17
  • @FreeMan from his profile: New Market, AL, USA – Jon Jan 19 at 19:00
  • Possibly an unconventional suggestion, but would it be possible to move one of the walls such that one of the two existing basement doors is inside the bedroom? – Nate S. Jan 19 at 19:05
  • If it was classed as a bedroom when purchased and all you did was re decorating (patching holes , new floor coverings, light fixtures and new receptacles ) are all under maintenance and redecorating it is still a bedroom. I flipped some 1920’s homes years ago that the basement had been converted into 4 studio apartments. The egress was via a stairwell in our jurisdiction the electrical had to be updated (no fuses allowed) but all the original rooms remained and we had no problems and this was purchased for rentals just a few blocks from UofO. No structural changes it is still a bedroom. – Ed Beal Jan 19 at 20:12
  • Classified for what purpose? Real estate listings? This strikes me as a local code issue, which isn't ideal for this site. Ask a third party to make an inquiry of your local inspection office. – isherwood Jan 19 at 21:15

The Code does not refer to a “Bedroom”. Rather it’s a “Sleeping Unit”.

A Sleeping Unit REQUIRES an egress window (or door) but must be to the exterior. The window is used by the occupants for escape AND it’s used by emergency personnel to enter the structure and rescue people, animals, etc.

In addition, don’t forget 1) the space must be a certain size, 2) there is a minimum head height required, 3) there’s a smoke detector required, 4) if there’s steps leading to it, they must be a certain size AND have a handrail placed at a certain height on one side of the stairway, if it’s over 3 steps.

Edit: If the op is wondering if the space can be a sleeping unit without an egress window, because it use to be a sleeping space, the answer is: no. The code says: “Alterations to any structure shall comply with the current code requirements for new construction.” (See ICC Chapter 34)

EDIT: “Grandfathered” construction is one of the most misunderstood phenomena in the code.

First, you need to know that the term “Grandfathered” is not in the code. What everyone is thing of is “Existing Buildings and Structures”. (See ICC Appendix “J”, Section AJ 101 through AJ601)

Second, you need to know that the Building Official can require anything...including spreading peanut butter on all the walls. There is also an “Appeal Process” and he’d probably loose that one. However, just because something existed for many years, it doesn’t mean the Building Official can’t require it to be “fixed” if he deems it dangerous, hazardous, etc....including structural, exiting, plumbing, electrical, etc. AND if that item does not meet the current code, they’d probably win that “non-compliance notice”.

Third, there are three items that need to be “fixed” regardless if the Building Official sees it or not. As a building owner you are required to 1) install smoke detectors that comply with the current code, 2) non-tempered glass (including plate glass, wire glass, etc.) needs to be replaced with tempered glass where required by the current code, and 3) egress windows that comply with the current code.

So, to answer the OP’s question, the bedroom will comply if it has a smoke detector, egress window, complying tempered glass, and does not have something the Building Official thinks needs to be fixed.

  • And, the minimum size of the window is usually dictated by ingress requirements. Think about what size opening you need for a fully outfitted firefighter with breathing apparatus on his/her back to be able to pass through. Run into this problem all time around here when people want to turn an existing, older home (smaller windows) into a rental unit. – SteveSh Jan 19 at 18:23
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    I think what the OP really wants to know is: is this 'bedroom' in the basement grandfathered in, since it existed and was a bedroom before the 1997 code change? They appear to already be aware that it doesn't comply with current code. – brhans Jan 19 at 18:25
  • That may be the case, @brhans, but it's not very clear. Additionally, he says "can this now be classified as a basement bedroom?", thus it sounds like that's what he wants to do. – FreeMan Jan 19 at 18:40
  • Grandfathering a non-conforming use is very VERY jurisdictional dependent. I cannot venture a guess as to what OP's local regulations are in this regard. – SteveSh Jan 19 at 18:41
  • I don’t see grandfathering being an issue if there are no structural changes. In my jurisdiction the only time they can force an upgrade is with changes, and in some cases change of ownership where changing from residential to commercial. – Ed Beal Jan 19 at 20:35

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