Is It Illegal To Have a Bedroom in the Basement?

A basement is a great location for a kid’s bedroom or a guest bedroom. In the case of the former, both you and your children will appreciate the space and the small amount of separation that a basement bedroom provides. But I’m afraid that with all these benefits, Is it illegal to have a bedroom in the basement?

Absolutely not, it’s completely legal and you have all the right to have a bedroom in your basement, but in case that you will respect the building code requirements. Because any room that has a closet or is attached to a bathroom is considered a bedroom, regardless of what you may call it on your permit application. Your building department is especially concerned about bedrooms, and it is easy to understand why.

Sleeping rooms are in use when we are in our most vulnerable state, so they must be set up for our protection. That’s why any basement bedroom must have an egress window that meets the minimum size and accessibility requirements.

A smoke detector is also required, and a radon detector is highly recommended (radon levels are highest in the basement). Bedrooms also must be comfortable.

Basement Bedroom Requirements

Emergency Escape (egress) Opening

An emergency escape and rescue opening commonly called an egress opening is required in all bedrooms and in most basements. Codes are very specific concerning the minimum clearances of the openings and how they can be accessed, as well as how they can be exited from the exterior.

Rooms that are not intended for sleeping typically do not need to meet egress requirements. You may use an operable window or you may use a side-hinged or sliding door as the escape opening.

Escape Opening Locations

  1. Provide at least one escape opening in every bedroom including bedrooms above, at, and below ground level.
  2. Provide at least one escape opening in most basements. You are not required to provide a basement escape opening if: (a) the basement area is not more than 200 square feet, and if (b) the basement is used only to house mechanical appliances.
  3. Provide each basement bedroom with an escape opening. You are not required to provide other escape openings in basements in addition to the bedroom escape openings.
  4. Open all escape openings directly onto an area that leads directly to a public way. This means that escape openings cannot open onto an enclosed courtyard or onto a similar area that does not lead directly and without obstruction to an area that is accessible by the public.
  5. You may open an escape opening under a deck or porch if: (a) the escape opening can be opened to the full required dimensions, and if (b) the space under the deck or porch is at least 36 inches high.
  6. Note that an escape opening may be required when converting a previously unfinished basement into finished space, especially if the finished space is a bedroom. Verify requirements with the local building official.

Locks & Bars on Openings: Do not cover or obstruct escape openings with locks, bars, screens, or similar devices unless they can be operated from the inside without tools, keys, lock combinations, and special knowledge, and can be operated with the same force required to open the escape opening.

Escape Opening Size

  1. Provide escape openings with a clear opening area of at least 5.7 square feet. This includes escape openings above and below grade level. You may reduce an escape opening at grade level to at least 5.0 square feet.
  2. Provide each escape opening with a clear opening at least 24 inches high and at least 20 inches wide.
  3. Locate the sill of each escape opening not more than 44 inches above the finished floor. Measure the sill height from the finished floor to the where the clear opening begins (the bottom of the opening).
  4. Measure escape opening height and width using the clear opening area. The clear opening area does not include obstructions such as window frames.

Window Wells

  1. Provide all below-grade escape openings with a window well.
  2. Provide each window well with at least 9 square feet clear opening area and a depth and width of at least 36 inches in each direction.
  3. Install a permanent ladder if the window well bottom is more than 44 inches below grade. Ladder rung specifications include a rung width at least 12 inches, a rung projection at least three inches from the window well wall, a rung vertical spacing not more than 18 inches apart, and a ladder may encroach not more than 6 inches into minimum window well width or depth dimension.

Canadian Minimum Requirements for Emergency Escape and Rescue Openings

ITEM IRC NBC
Required locations Bedroom
s and habitable basements
Bedrooms
Minimum Area 5.7 sq. ft. 3.77 sq. ft.
Minimum height or width 24 in. height, 20 in. width 15 in. for both
Maximum height of the sill 44 in. 59 in.
Minimum clearance in window wells 3 ft. x 3 ft. Front clearance greater than 22 in.
Additional requirements for window wells If depth greater than 44 in., a ladder must be provided. Any cover must be removable from the interior side.

Smoke Alarms and Carbon Monoxide (CO) Alarms

Working Principle

Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms are required in new construction.

  • Carbon monoxide alarms (A) are triggered by the presence of carbon monoxide gas. Smoke alarms are available in photoelectric and ionizing models.
  • In ionizing alarms (B), a small amount of current flows in an ionization chamber. When smoke enters the chamber, it interrupts the current, triggering the alarm.
  • Photoelectric alarms (C) rely on a beam of light, which when interrupted by smoke triggers an alarm.
  • Heat alarms (D) sound an alarm when they detect areas of high heat in the room. Also available are combination smoke/CO alarms and ionizing/photoelectric smoke alarms. The combination of ionizing/photoelectric alarms is recommended because they detect both smoke and light from fires.

Install smoke alarms in and near all bedrooms and on all levels of a home.
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