A non-conforming bedroom, as the name suggests, is a bedroom that doesn’t conform to the regular definition of being a bedroom.
For example, there are some rules that need to be followed that will make your bedroom a conforming bedroom (such as the number of windows, the height of the ceiling, etc.).
In a non-conforming bedroom, these rules are not followed.
What Is a Non-Conforming Bedroom?
A bedroom is called non-conforming when it doesn’t fulfill the basic rules laid out for bedroom construction.
Non-conforming bedrooms are illegal rooms disguised as bedrooms. A bedroom should include a window and closet according to The International Residential Code.
For a regular conforming bedroom, it needs to follow the below five rules (failing to do this makes your bedroom non-conforming):
Two Ways to Get Out (Egress the Bedroom)
In a regular bedroom, one way to egress would be the door with which you enter the room and the second would be a window.
The window should be large enough so that anyone can use it to get out of the bedroom in case of an emergency.
Many basement bedrooms only have a door and there are no windows, which makes it a non-conforming bedroom.
Escape/Emergency Exit (Apart from the Door)
If the main door to the room is locked, there must be another route to get out of the room in an emergency.
The room must have an escape window or door that is 24 to 44 inches above the floor or another opening.
The exit window should have a minimum height of 24 inches and minimum width of 20 inches. Also, it should open from the inside without any keys or tools.
Height of the Ceiling
For a regular conforming bedroom, it is required that at least half of the ceiling of a bedroom be at least seven feet in height; however, the remaining section might be less than that.
If the height of your bedroom is ceiling is less than 7 feet, you have a non-conforming bedroom.
If you have below-ground or partially below-ground windows, you need to have window wells for the bedroom to be considered conforming.
Window wells are areas right outside your window that allows sunlight to come and also allow the windows to be opened for ventilation.
But more important than that, it also allows the windows to open completely so that people inside the room can exit in case of emergency, or can be rescued.
In case you are using grills and covers to cover the window well, you have to ensure that there is a minimum opening area required by your local building codes.
So if you have a bedroom in your basement, you definitely need window wells outside at least one window, or else the bedroom would be considered non-conforming.
Size of the Bedroom
The bedroom should feel like a bedroom and not like a closet. Your bedroom will be considered non-conforming if the size of the room is less than 7 feet in any horizontal direction.
This is also important as it allows enough space to keep a regular bed in the room.
This is also what makes many bedrooms in the basement non-conforming, as there is not enough space.
Why Are Non-Conforming Rooms Used as Bedrooms?
Here are a few of the explanations for why non-conforming rooms are used as bedrooms:
- To make money renting it out. Landlords will benefit from renting out rooms that are not legally bedrooms, despite the danger of being detected by the city.
- To raise the house’s resale value. All other things being equal, a four-bedroom home is more likely to sell for a higher price than a three-bedroom property.
- Lack of understanding of the coding standards. A conforming bedroom and a non-conforming bedroom appear similar to the eye. However, the distinction can be made more evident upon investigation. Ask your inspector if you have any questions regarding safety standards at your next scheduled inspection.
What to Do if You have a Non-conforming Bedroom?
In case you have a non-conforming bedroom in your basement (or anywhere else in your house), you should never refer to it as a bedroom.
For example, if you’re listing your property for sale, you should not count the non-conforming bedroom as one of the bedrooms.
A lot of people do this because it helps them get a better valuation – of course, a 3-bedroom house would fetch more than a two-bedroom house, even if one of the bedrooms does not conform.
in case you have a room that is built with the right specifications (such as the ceiling height and the size of the room is sufficient), you can consider making the modifications to convert this nonconforming bedroom into a conforming bedroom.
For example, you can install windows of the right size or increase the room size (if possible).
And finally, if there is nothing else you can do to change the structure of the room, you always have the option to not make it a bedroom and make it something else – such as a small study or a basement gym.
Is It Legal to Have a Bedroom Without Windows?
As I mentioned, for a room to be considered a bedroom, you need to have at least one window.
Also, this window needs to be big enough so that it can be used as an emergency exit or a rescue exit in case of an emergency.
In case you have a room that has no windows, you can either get a window installed and then make it your bedroom, or you need to think of other ideas to use the room.
In case you’re getting a window installed in a basement bedroom (which I’m assuming would be below ground or partially below ground), make sure you also get the window wells outside the window.
What Makes a Basement Bedroom Conforming?
A basement bedroom is a conforming living space if it complies with the following criteria:
- It’s dry, clean, and well-lit. This means that the walls, floors, and ceilings are made of materials impervious to moisture and mold.
For example, plasterboard or drywall would be suitable, while wood paneling—that can soak up moisture—would be unsuitable.
- A nice bathroom for the bedroom is a must. This means a toilet, sink, shower, and bathtub with floor space of at least 0.3 square meters (3 square feet).
- The bedroom closet must have external access (not through the bathroom). An additional ventilation opening in the bedroom leads to the exterior.
- A mechanical room or storage closet. You can vent this, or it can have a separate ventilation system.
Advantages of Non-Conforming Bedrooms
If you’re thinking about using a non-conforming bedroom, you may not know that it comes with some advantages.
If you live in a non-conforming bedroom as a student, you are probably low on funds. Swapping to a conforming bedroom can be expensive if it involves any renovations.
A bedroom is a personal space. It is where you should be free to sleep, work, relax, and be yourself.
If you share a room with someone, there will always be limitations on what you can do. Non-conforming bedrooms may allow you to enjoy privacy if properly insulated.
3. Use of Lost Space
As the global population rapidly increases, the need for living space is growing. The demand for housing is rising, and a bedroom, even one that is not conforming, is a valuable space.
If you live in a small home, it may be easier to renovate your non-conforming bedroom. By re-purposing a non-conforming room, you can gain valuable square footage without putting in a lot of money.
Disadvantages of Non-Conforming Bedrooms
Because they are non-conforming, the bedrooms have their share of disadvantages.
Non-conforming bedrooms can be dangerous if not properly constructed. If you live in a basement, it should be properly insulated and ventilated.
Otherwise, your life might be at risk. Also, consider whether you want to make the switch if you live in a high-rise building.
A fire could easily spread if there is inadequate ventilation.
The air in non-conforming rooms can be stale and filled with harmful gases. If you don’t have enough ventilation in your room, you could inhale unhealthy fumes and particles.
If you’re a smoker or Living with one, your non-conforming room should also have a good ventilation system.
Non-conforming bedrooms have high temperatures in the summer and are cold during the winter because of their poor ventilation system.
To prevent this, consider adding an electric blanket to your bed.
4. Lack of Comfort
A non-conforming bedroom might feel small or cramped, especially if you have a partner. Creating a private space is difficult if you share the room with someone.
What Is the Legal Size of a Single Bedroom?
In the United States, a bedroom should be at least 70 square feet large. In Canada, on the other hand, a small single bedroom should measure at least 7 square meters (75 square feet).
A large single bedroom should measure no less than 10 square meters (108 square feet).
If you’re living in a condominium, remember that it’s the unit—not the individual room—that must meet these standards. To avoid confusion, check with your local building authority.
Can You Reside in a Non-Conforming Bedroom?
It depends on the location. Some jurisdictions may be more forgiving than others when it comes to a bedroom that is non-conforming (i.e., not designed as a bedroom).
If you’re renting, the lease will outline whether to use the space against the original intention.
You should be aware of some city regulations. If there are no such laws in your town or city, you may decide to create a non-conforming bedroom.
Does Having a Non-Conforming Bedroom Increases House Value?
Ideally, it should. But not as much as a conforming bedroom.
In most cases, if you have a properly furnished bedroom in the basement, it would add value to your property.
A non-conformed bedroom may or may not add enough value. So if you have a non-conforming bedroom and it can be modified easily (say just by installing egress windows), it’s definitely worth considering.
You should also check with your local county assessor’s office, who does the valuation.
In conclusion, a non-conforming bedroom is one in which the resident has no easy means of egress in an emergency, making it illegal for it to be used as one.
To ensure that your room is safe, conforming bedrooms follow all legal requirements, including the use of exit windows in case of an emergency.
Several additional criteria might be considered when determining whether a basement bedroom violates any local ordinances.
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