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PODCAST: What makes a bedroom legal?

A quality bedroom makes a house more marketable. This episode talks about qualifications, the technical and practical aspects of a bedroom. 

Reuben defines what a bedroom is. Tessa talks about the qualified dimensions, floor area, ceiling height, and headroom. They also talk about the practical and technical requirements such as the heat source, safety requirements such as emergency exits, alarms, and detectors.

Bill asks about the requirements for bedrooms in the basement, the main floor, and attics. They discuss if a closet is required to have a closet. 

Learn more about the required bedroom dimensions here:

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The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.


Bill Oelrich: Welcome, everyone. You’re listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman. As always, your three-legged stool coming to you from the Northland, talking all things houses, home inspections and anything else that’s rattling around in our head. Well, welcome to today’s episode. We are going to jump in, eventually, to bedrooms. And what are bedrooms? Technically, what’s a bedroom, and practically, what’s a bedroom? So that’s gonna be our conversation today. But before we do that, I’m gonna throw it over to Reuben because he has a very tired look on his face, and I wanna know why he looks like he’s dragging a little bit.


Reuben Saltzman: I am not dragging. I have never had this more energy in my life, Bill. We had a Tough Mudder Race yesterday. We had a bunch of people from Structure Tech sign up to do the Tough Mudder. We did the easy one, we did the 5K. There’s different versions of it, and it involves a bunch of running, and a bunch of very, very muddy obstacle courses. And It was a ton of fun. We had a bunch of people come out, and we killed it. [chuckle]


BO: Any large blisters in places they don’t belong? 


RS: No, no. It’s not… Really not the kind of race where you get blisters or any of that. It’s pretty low key, and…


BO: Any abrasions in places where they shouldn’t be? 


RS: There’s a lot of people who walk between them. You know, got a few cuts. Few people got some bruises, things like that. I got bandaged up. I got some good cuts on my elbow from climbing over these walls and putting your body on dirt and grit. I’ll tell you, the most shocking one out of all of them. There’s one where you had to do… I think they call it the Polar Plunge, and it’s where you got this gigantic… I don’t know what it is. It’s almost like a big piece of plexiglass at a 45 degree angle, and you gotta climb up this ladder to get to the top of it, and it must be 50 feet wide… No, probably less than that. But you get up there and you slide down, and it’s like… And you get plunged in what looks like a mud pit. And every time you see a mud pit, it’s like it’s warm, it’s kinda gross. Well, you plunge down this one, you get to the bottom and you are submerged in basically an ice bath. You can’t actually see the ice, but they’ve got pallets of ice, and they just keep loading it into this pit. And you expect something warm, but you go in there, and it is freezing. And everybody has the same reaction when their head pops up, they go…




RS: And your eyes are wide open, ’cause you’d never expect a mud pit to be ice cold. So that was a fun experience, and it was one where everybody jumped out very quickly.


BO: Okay, Tessa, have you ever done a Tough Mudder? 


Tessa Murry: Well, I have not, and after hearing Reuben’s colorful description of ice cold mud, I don’t know why I decided not to. I really missed out on a great opportunity, it sounds like.


BO: I don’t think that sounds like a great opportunity at all.


RS: No, everybody was very glad we did it, and we all signed up for next year’s. When we had to take a right turn for the 5Kers, and the 10Kers took a left turn, we all kinda went, oh, why do we only do 5k? And there was a bunch of obstacles that we didn’t end up doing, and we all… It was unanimous, we all agreed we’re doing the 10k next year, and we all already signed up for it. You missed out, and…


TM: Congrats.


RS: I’m gonna be working on you to do the 10K next year, Tess. You too Bill.


BO: I’m busy that weekend.




RS: Such a liar.


BO: Alright, let’s…


TM: Was that a Fundraiser for something? 


RS: No, no. And it was not an official Structure Tech event, it was just a bunch of us that got together.


TM: Gotcha.


BO: Alright, let’s bring this back to where we began the conversation. We’re in a pretty hot housing market right now, and one good way to add value to your house and make it more attractive is by having more bedrooms. So we thought we’d take a minute to just define what a bedroom is per the code, like technically what’s a bedroom. But then there’s a practical matter to a bedroom too. And do you wanna sleep in that thing that isn’t really a bedroom, but somebody called it a bedroom on the MLS listing so that they could bump the price a little bit? So Reuben, let’s start with the technical side of things. What is a bedroom according to… What do you wanna use? The IRC, or were you…


RS: Yeah, let’s go with the Building Code definition. Hang on, let me look it up. Not defined.




RS: There is no…


BO: That’s helpful.


RS: There is no definition listed in the International Residential Code for a bedroom. So, I’m not sure what it is. Maybe the closest thing I could find might be the term habitable space, and the definition of that would be a space in a building for living, sleeping, eating or cooking. And then they also go on to say that bathrooms, toilet rooms, closets, halls, storage or utility spaces and similar items are not considered habitable space. So… No bathrooms or toilet rooms. So, closets, halls, storage spaces, those are not habitable spaces. But all the rest of the spaces, cooking, eating, sleeping, those are all living spaces or habitable spaces. So a bedroom would fall into that, but a bedroom is not specifically defined.


BO: Okay. But what about egress? And in the code, where is that discussed, because you need to have a certain egress in a bedroom? 


RS: You do, you do. You need what they now call an emergency escape and rescue opening. And you’re not gonna find that under requirements for bedrooms, you’re gonna find that… Well, they say that you need this for basements, habitable attics, and every sleeping room. And what’s a sleeping room? I don’t know, but you need this for all these different spaces. And people always get hung up on bedrooms, but that’s kind of an old requirement. You need it for… You need it for habitable… You need it for basements, for habitable attics. You need it for a bunch of different places. But today we’re really focusing on bedrooms, and what’s clear is that you need a way to get out of your bedroom if you have a fire or you have smoke pouring in, you need a way to get out quickly.


TM: So we could list these as qualifications, couldn’t we, Reuben? In order for something to be considered a bedroom, it would need to meet these different qualifications. And real quick, should we highlight them? Just… The egress is one of them, the emergency escape and rescue opening, but also bedrooms would need to have a heat source and dimensions of at least 7 x 7 and a floor area…


RS: What do you mean by 7 x 7? 


TM: Like dimensions of length by width. The room dimensions would need to be seven feet by seven feet.


RS: So you’re saying if you had a room that’s seven feet by seven feet, that’s in a floor area? 


TM: Well, here’s another exception to that. The room has to have a minimum of 70 square feet total. So if you had a room that was seven feet wide one direction, it would have to be at least another 10 feet to meet that 70 square feet requirement.


RS: Gotcha. Gotcha.


TM: And then one other thing would be ceiling height, and here in Minnesota, it’s seven feet, but there is an exception. Do you remember what that is, Reuben? The exception for older houses? 


RS: Yeah, it’s for basements, and it’s something that went into effect fairly recently. And so if you’re outside of Minnesota, this probably doesn’t apply to you, but we got this new thing that says that if you’ve got an existing basement and you wanna put a bedroom in there and you don’t have seven feet of ceiling height, you can actually reduce your ceiling height down to six feet, four inches. I mean, that is a huge reduction in the required ceiling height, but you can reduce it all the way down to there, and you can still have a conforming bedroom. And I guess the idea is that they wanted people to be able to take a room that otherwise wouldn’t be a legal bedroom and make it legal, and at least be able to look at all the rest of the safety features. Make sure you got… Well, I’m gonna get ahead of myself ’cause I was gonna start listing all the safety requirements for a bedroom, but they want people to be able to take this room and make it code compliant so that they can still get the building official in there to look at all these other safety requirements, instead of having people say, well, forget it, I’m just gonna put a bed in there, and call it done. And I’m not pulling permits.


TM: Yeah, I remember when you were teaching me about that, that… You explained it in a way that made a lot of sense. It’s like people that have these older houses, they cannot get seven feet of ceiling height if they finish their old basements. It’s just not possible with the structure, and so people are gonna put bedrooms in their basements anyways. And the city was just concerned about people that were gonna be doing that without pulling permits to make sure that they had the other safety requirements in place. And so the city was like, okay, we’ll forgive you, you can’t change the ceiling height in these old houses, and we know you’re gonna do it anyways. So we’ll let you get away with six foot four.


RS: Exactly.


BO: Okay, the 70 square foot requirement. Let’s talk about that. Is that a requirement that is underneath that legal head space or… What’s the technical word for clearance? 


RS: Headroom.


BO: Headroom? Okay. Is 70 square feet required under the headroom, or can it be a portion of that? ‘Cause people do this in attics. I’m sitting in an attic right now, that no matter where I go, except the middle of it, I have to bend over, tip my head or something, so we’ve got this awesome play space, but we don’t have a bedroom here.


RS: Yeah, I’d say it probably wouldn’t be considered habitable space by a strict Building Code definition, Bill, because there is a section that talks about one and a half storey attics, and it said you need to have seven feet for a width of three and a half feet. Now on yours, yours makes a triangle. You don’t have this big flat hallway that you can walk down where you have a bunch of ceiling height. Yours just ends at a peak. And whether you take one step to the right or the left, you start losing headroom, so yours would not count. You need to have at least seven feet high for a width of three and a half feet.


TM: Wow. I’m just thinking there are not very many storey and a half houses I’ve been in where they have three and a half feet of width of seven foot ceiling height. You’re lucky if it gets to seven feet ceiling height at the peak, like the top of the triangle in most houses, it seems like.


RS: I don’t know. I’ve got one. I mean, I have one, I used to have one…


TM: You had one.


RS: When I lived in Minneapolis. I know at least one other person on our team has one in Richfield. They exist, but, yes…


BO: When it’s a super steep roofs, you get more head space. My house is a modified two storey so I had vaults in my second storey at six feet. It bolts up for a little bit before the ceiling starts, and that’s why I have so little head room in my attic space because we’ve started even lower in the second floor, so this really is a head space. It’s a tube like thing for me to podcast from. Yeah, we don’t use it as a bedroom.


TM: And you know if anyone’s confused about what we’re trying to describe verbally, there’s a nice picture that you drew out, Reuben, of these requirements, right? How can people find that? 


RS: Yeah, we will put a link in our show notes. The blogpost title was Bedroom Ceiling Height and Floor Area Requirements for 1.5 Storey Homes. And I made a YouTube video to go along with it. I’ve got a nice diagram I made. It all lays it out very clearly. And if you want the Official Code section, you could pull open your Minnesota State Building Code book and turn to section R305, and it’ll talk to you all about all the little nitpicky requirements.


BO: Okay, so those are the technical requirements.


RS: That’s right.


BO: And you mentioned a heat source.


RS: Well, those are some of the technical requirements, I guess. Yeah, we got a heat source. You need a way to keep it at the designed temperature of… What is it? It’s like at least 68 degrees during the dead of winter, is that right, Tess? 


TM: I don’t know. But you just basically…


RS: Let’s just go with that. That sounds to me.


TM: Sure. It sounds good. They probably just wants to make sure people don’t freeze.


RS: Yeah, yeah, 68 degrees, I believe, measured three feet high off the floor, and however that’s achieved, you know what? And it makes me think about people who say, well, you need a supply register and a return register, that’s not true at all. You need a heat source. You don’t need a return register. Now, if you got a heat source and there is no return in the room, it might have a difficult time keeping that room comfortable, it might be a good idea to undercut the door or put some type of air transfer system in there. But there is no requirement for a return register in a bedroom.


TM: Yeah.


RS: And in fact for a return register in any room. You need a way for the air to get back to the furnace, but this will be a good future podcast topic, and we will cover this in a future podcast.


BO: Return air.


TM: Yeah, a lot of times we see electric baseboard heat added to certain rooms that may not be part of the ductwork system to get that heat source in there.


BO: Right.


RS: Yep. Yep. And also on that topic, there’s no requirement for AC, you don’t need an AC system in a house, period.


TM: Yeah.


BO: Yep. Don’t have one at the cabin. It’s just heat. It’s one way.




BO: Windows provide the cold air. Have you ever been in a basement bedroom where you walk in and you’re like, I’ve yet to see the furnace, but I’m standing in a bedroom? And then you see some louver bi-fold door and behind that lives the furnace and water heater. Is that cool? Is that acceptable? And does that room meet the requirements for being a bedroom? 


RS: I’m gonna turn this over to Tessa for her one word answer.


TM: It depends. That’s two.


RS: That’s whatever.




RS: Yes. Yes. Well, put Tessa. So concise.




RS: And she’s absolutely right. There’s a lot of different variables, and you know what, we should make that into a separate show because that could take up a whole show talking about when you can have gas appliances in bedrooms. What the little rules are? So maybe tune in next week. We’ll have a follow-up on that.


BO: Can you give us some guidance? Can we go from, Depends, to 90% of the time is, No, and 10% of the time is, Yes? Or what can you give me at? 


RS: Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it. In general, if you have a furnace that uses air inside the house for combustion, you probably can’t have it in there. If it’s a direct vent furnace meaning it takes all of its air for combustion from the outdoors and vents all the exhaust gas directly to the outdoors, it’s a sealed system where it never talks to any of the air inside the home, you probably can have it in a bedroom. But there’s more to it than just that.


BO: Okay, okay.


RS: So that’s a teaser, I guess.


BO: Perfect, perfect. Well, what about the always present question of a closet, do you have to have a closet in a bedroom? 


TM: That’s a great question, Bill. And I just feel like we teach continued education courses for real estate agents, and this always comes up every…


RS: Always.


TM: Single class from real estate agents, they’re like… When we’re talking about bedrooms and how we inspect houses and everything, they always wanna know, does it have to have a closet? Reuben, I’ll let you take this one away.


RS: I can be very concise Tess.




TM: What’s your answer? 


RS: No. No, you do not need a closet, there is no requirement to the Building Code for a bedroom to have a closet, there never has been. And I’m not aware of any requirement for real estate where a bedroom needs to have a closet to be called a bedroom. Everybody talks about it, they say, well, everybody knows you need a closet to call it a bedroom. And I’ve been asking the same thing for the last… I don’t know, as long as I’ve been blogging for the last 12 years or so, show me the requirement, show me anywhere, show me the FHA requirement, whatever it is. Show me a document that says, you need a closet to call something a bedroom. And everybody says, well, it’s in there somewhere. I know, ’cause I’ve heard it and everybody knows it. But I have never seen this in writing, so I can’t say it doesn’t exist in writing anywhere, but I’ve been asking for it and I’ve never seen it.


TM: If anyone’s listening to this podcast and you know where it exists, please send us that documentation.


RS: Yeah. I mean, I’ve heard people say, well, it used to be an FHA requirement. The lender might require it. That’s all well and good. Everybody might have their own little rules before they wanna loan money, they wanna see a closet, that’s fine, but we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about some type of requirement. That’s what I’d like to see.


BO: Okay. So have you ever really seen a bedroom in question on the main floor. I can think of one circumstance where somebody might really push the boundaries of what a bedroom is on a main floor. But the vast majority of the time, it’s an attic that’s been retrofitted, it’s a basement that they’re trying to retrofit.


RS: Most of the time, Bill. But I’ve seen my share of homes where there are no bedrooms on the first floor, there never were any bedrooms on the first floor, it wasn’t built that way. They had two bedrooms upstairs on the second floor, and neither one of those had a closet. Neither one of those, I’m sure ever had a closet, they just weren’t built with those. So I don’t take issue with this.


BO: Yeah, well, I was going back to just the size of a bedroom where they… It’s trying to get shoehorned into a main floor, it’s rare that we see it. Maybe in a house where you’re trying to add an in-law or somebody. Give a… Another generation, so to speak, a place to lay their head at night as they age or something like that. Or around colleges and universities where a landlord might be trying to maximize the number of rooms they have in a house for student housing or something like that. But usually they’re in the basement and usually they’re in the attic when it comes to rooms that are in question, whether they meet the requirements for a bedroom.


RS: Yep.


BO: Okay, then the only other bridge your’re to cross or box to check would be safety requirements for a bedroom. So I’ll throw it over to you two, because you’re in the weeds on this, what do you need to see in terms of safety requirements when it comes to a bedroom? 


TM: Well, we’ve already mentioned one of those things, and that’s the emergency escape and rescue opening or an egress window. So we look for that, and… We’ve talked about this in other podcasts, so we won’t get into the weeds on what that is exactly, and how to define that, but check out our other podcasts on that.


RS: There was one we did with a fire inspector and home inspector Brock Verville, with the City of Albertville. We just did that recently, the title is Fire Codes are Written in Blood. And we talk a lot, I really grilled him on how he reports on small window openings as a home inspector, I think it was good perspective, and we were 100% aligned. At Structure Tech, we report on stuff the exact same way, so I thought it was a really good discussion. Sorry Tess, back to you.


TM: No, that’s perfect. And I think it’s important to bring that up, we are not code officials, we’re not code inspectors, but we are looking for these safety issues and we’ll put it in our report if a window does not meet these standards. But the main thing is, right? I’m sure you agree with Brock, that you’re checking to see if people could escape if there was a fire, someone could get out of the window, basically. And is it too far…


RS: That’s the important thing, yes.


TM: Yeah, is it too far off the ground, would someone need a step stool to get up or is it too small, an average person couldn’t fit out. Those are the things we’re looking for.


RS: That’s right.


BO: You’re saying the bedroom I grew up in, that was in a basement that had that little 18-inch by 2 foot pop open basement window on a rambler was not a bedroom? 


RS: We’re saying you’re lucky to be here.


TM: You’re lucky to be here.




TM: Jinx.


RS: Jinx.


BO: I’m actually living next to my family. They did some odd things.


TM: Well, besides the window stuff, I think what you’re getting at, Bill is talking about smoke and CO alarms, and so that’s another thing that’s really important. Every bedroom should have a smoke alarm inside the bedroom, and then you should also have a carbon monoxide alarm, a CO detector outside and within 10 feet of the bedroom.


BO: Okay. Right.


RS: And if you wanna stick one inside the bedroom too, you can, but the only one that’s required here in Minnesota is that you have one outside within 10 feet.


TM: And both devices should be not yellow or old or original to the house, if you got a house built in like 1980. You wanna make sure that they’re functional, and what’s the average life span for a smoke alarm? Around 10 years? 3-5? 


RS: Ten years. 10 years. Smoke alarm is 10.


TM: Ten years? Okay, and what about a carbon monoxide alarm? 


RS: Well, they used to be five and then some of them had seven-year warranties, but now that they’re making them dual or what is it, not a dual sensor alarm, a combination alarm, where it’s both a smoke and a CO alarm, now manufacturers are upgrading it and they’re saying CO sensors are now good for 10 years.


TM: Yeah, so just depending on what you have, what type of make, model you have, make sure that they’re functional, working and not expired.


BO: As a matter of practice, did either of you have conversations with clients asking them how many bedrooms given a house you were inspecting, had listed on the MLS, and did you ever say, well, just so you know, this one really doesn’t meet the requirements, but I just wanted to alert you, if you’re paying a premium for this space right here called a bedroom, it’s technically not, but I’m not getting into a pricing conversation with you, I just… I want you to know ahead of time, you’re not buying a bedroom here, you’re just buying a room.


RS: Well, I would never actually get into defining a bedroom since I don’t even know how to define a bedroom, but I might have a conversation about it, just say, hey look, this room down here in the basement where it’s got a door and it’s cordoned off, maybe you might wanna consider this an office space, but if someone’s planning to sleep down here, just be aware there’s no good way for them to get out in case there’s a fire, so I wouldn’t recommend using this as a bedroom. I might have that conversation, but I’m not gonna say, hey look, the listing calls this four bedroom, I only count three, what gives? 


RS: It’s very confrontational to take that approach, it’s a much softer approach in just saying, hey look, if you’re planning to do this, then maybe you’d wanna do this. If someone’s gonna sleep down here, you’d probably wanna have somebody put in a way for them to get out if there’s a fire, it’s as simple as that.


BO: You can guide them to that realization without just calling… Calling the question though. Alright, let’s put a wrap on this week’s episode, but Reuben, I want you to remind everybody, if they wanna send in questions, where do they send them to? 


RS: Please send your emails,, again, that’s, and we would love to read them aloud and give you our best attempt at competent answers.


BO: Yeah, a couple of episodes coming up, I just wanna tease these out, we’re gonna do an episode on funky smells. We get a ton of requests to have our inspectors come out and try to investigate odd odors in houses. And so we’re gonna dive into that topic and kinda give you our stance on smells, and then we’re also gonna jump into that combustion safety conversation. When we pick up that conversation, we’ll talk about gas burning appliances in bedrooms and how everybody can stay safe in that manner. So thank you everyone, you’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman. Thanks for listening, we’ll catch you next time.