Remember when basements were just, well, basements? Today, basements are often finished and referred to as the lower level. Traditionally, bedrooms were placed in homes on the main or second floor. As homes with walkout lower levels became popular, bedrooms were added on that lower level. In older homes, folks who needed more space added a bedroom in the basement. So, what rooms can really be considered a bedroom?
For most of us, a space can be considered a bedroom if it has a door that can be closed, a window and a closet. Those aren’t the legal requirements – those vary from state to state. Here in Wisconsin, the code for a lower level bedroom is lengthy and designed for safety in case a quick escape is needed in case of an emergency such as fire. If you want all the details, here’s a link: Wisconsin Code SPS 321.03 for Exits
Please keep in mind codes can change, so be sure to check the current code if you’re adding a bedroom to your lower level or buying a home with a lower level bedroom. Here’s a summary for you:
- Two (2) means of egress/exit. Typically, that’s the door entering the room and a window, located as far apart as possible. Sometimes you’ll see home listings with a “lower level bedroom” without two escape routes. That’s not legal, and it’s not safe!
- You must be able to open the window (include storm or screen) from the inside without the use of tools.
- The window opening must be at least 20” x 24” regardless of whether that’s height or width.
- The lowest point of the window must be no more than 60” above the floor. But, If the opening is more than 46” above the floor, a permanent platform or some type of steps to access the window must be installed with a flat surface at least 20” wide and 9” deep, located no more than 24” above the floor and no more than 46” directly below the opening—and must support a load of at least 200 pounds.
- If the egress window opens directly to grade (lawn) level, great! If it opens to a window well area below grade and that height is more than 46”, a stair or ladder must be in place to allow you to step up to the grade level. Also, the width of the area one steps out to from the window must be as wide as the window and a minimum of 36” from the area to the grade level.
Finally, it’s also required that 8% natural light be provided in habitable rooms. Otherwise, it’s a dungeon! Stay safe!