Bedrooms in the Basement
Have you finished your basement and added a "bedroom" for the folks when they come to visit? Some things to be aware of if you have such a sleeping arrangement. A living space needs to meet certain requirements (heat, ventilation, two exits and a closet) to be classified as a bedroom. The most important being that one of the required exits must be directly to the outside in case of fire. This does not mean the door--unless it does indeed exit directly to the outside--it means a window that qualifies. To qualify as a fire escape a bedroom window must:
- Have a maximum sill height of 44" above the floor (so Grandma can actually reach it).
- Have a minimum of 5.7 sq ft clear opening (so Beer Belly Bob can get out).
- “Clear opening” means when the window is fully opened there is 5.7 sq ft of unobstructed air—e.g. a 34”wide x 24” high opening.
- Be a minimum of 20" wide and 24" high (so firemen with backpacks on can get in).
- Security bars must have approved fast release hardware (is this not obvious?).
Typically a basement window, such as those little hoppers or awnings doesn’t even come close to allowing Grandma to get out. What to do? Build a window well (assuming you are mostly below grade) that meets the following code requirements:
- It must be 9 sq ft minimum.
- There must be 36” minimum horizontal dimension (from house wall out).
- Wells more than 44" below grade require a permanent ladder (which may protrude 6" into the req'd well space)
Granted, building a window well is not easy, especially if you have to cut it out from cured poured concrete. But the alternative is putting someone in a life-threatening situation should fire breakout in the basement. Also, be aware that such a "bedroom" cannot be listed as a bedroom when it's time to sell since it is NOT a legal bedroom. No permit would be issued for such a room declaring it to be a bedroom if it does not meet the above requirements.
Also a smoke detector is required inside the bedroom AND one outside the bedroom in the “adjoining area”. Battery powered OK for a remodel.
And finally, no electrical outlets can be more than 12 ft apart—the idea being that lamps and appliances come with 6 ft cords and the code does not like extension cords. This is usually my biggest clue that a finished off room was done without a permit and without the required inspections.
Jeff Bakewell, Bakewell Home Inspections, LLC...July 2008