Building Code Standards for Creating a New Bedroom Out of Unused Attic or Basement Space

Adding an extra bedroom to your house is a home improvement project that will increase both the value of your home and its marketability to others. While many homeowners will create new bedrooms by building an addition to their homes, others will create bedrooms out of existing floor space. Under utilized rooms such as attics, basements, parlors, and porches are the kinds of spaces that often are turned into extra bedrooms.

However, it’s worth remembering that just because your family is now calling the attic or porch a “bedroom” doesn’t mean that an appraiser or Realtor may agree with you. Defining what constitutes a bedroom is done for both safety and value, and a bedroom that doesn’t meet certain building standards can’t be classified as a bedroom at all.

According to the International Residential Code (IRC), there are certain features a room must have before it can be called a usable bedroom. Many of these features have to do with both safety and livability.

Minimum room proportions

Harry Potter’s old bedroom under the staircase was a little too small by most of today’s building code standards. Most city building codes describe usable, habitable bedroom space as having 7.5 feet of head space with a minimum room dimension of seven by ten square feet. Rooms carved out of attics, porches, closets, and basements might not have the headroom needed to qualify as a true bedroom.

Minimum standards for egress

Habitable bedrooms must have at least 2 exits, at least one of which must be a door. The second exit can be a window that also must be a minimum dimension. The IRC sets the minimum opening area at 5’7″ with a minimum opening height of 24 inches and width of 20 inches. Your own city’s Building Code may require larger openings, especially in basement rooms.

In certain cities including my home town, rooms that are accessed by walking through a bedroom can not be classified as a habitable bedroom either, unless the home predates building code. To be considered a true bedroom, it must open up into a common room or hallway.

Minimum standards for lighting, electricity, and ventilation

Newly constructed homes are required to have a certain degree of lighting, electricity, and ventilation in a bedroom. While your city’s Building Department won’t require these things if you decide to move the kids up to the attic, for their safety, updated electrical, adequate ventilation and egress is advisable. If you plan on marketing that space as habitable bedroom space, then these standards must be met.


Building codes don’t require a bedroom to have a closet, but from a marketing standpoint a closet is what makes a room an actual bedroom. If the room doesn’t have a closet, then your Realtor and potential buyers probably won’t see the room as a habitable bedroom either. If your home is an older one that was built before closets were in common use, then the lack of a closet isn’t quite so much of an issue.

Because building standards do vary from city to city, there really isn’t a “one size fits all” approach when it comes to defining a bedroom. If the goal is to create a little extra sleeping space for your family, then it really doesn’t matter much if a ceiling is a little too low or there isn’t a closet in the room. However if you plan on marketing the house in the future as having plenty of bedroom space, then it’s best to check with your local Building Department before remaking that basement or attic into a bedroom suite.




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