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Ask Val: Definition of a Bedroom

This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Val Sotillo, Northern Virginia-based Realtor and Falls Church resident. Please submit your questions to her via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!

Question: Is it legal to list a room as a bedroom if it doesn’t have a closet?

Answer:  That’s a common debate! Of all the misconceptions about bedroom requirements, closets may be the most common. There are no requirements in Northern Virginia that a bedroom must include a closet. You’ll be surprised at what else is missing from the requirements for a legal bedroom in Virginia.

Who Makes The Rules?

Fairfax County doesn’t have any local requirements for bedrooms and defaults to the current version of the Virginia Residential Code and Virginia Maintenance Code. In these codes, bedrooms are classified as “habitable rooms” and mostly found in Chapter 3: Building Planning of the Residential Code.

Here are some requirements for bedrooms that apply state-wide:

  • Dimensions: Must be a minimum of 70 sq. ft., with no horizontal dimension under 7 ft. For example, in a rectangular room, if one side measures 7 ft, the other side must be at least 10 ft.
  • Ceiling Height: Ceilings must be at least 7 ft tall. In rooms with sloping ceilings (i.e. upper level of Cape Cods), any area of the room underneath a ceiling less than 5 ft high cannot be counted towards the minimum dimensions.
  • Emergency Escape: A bedroom must have two ways to exit: one that leads to the rest of the home and one that leads directly to the outside. In most cases, the outside egress will be a window with minimum requirements that include not being more than 44 inches off the floor, minimum 24 in height, minimum 20 in width, minimum 5.7 sq. ft. total opening, and if in a basement, a minimum window well of 9 sq. ft. and ability for window to open fully. It is illegal to have locking bars or grates covering an egress window.
  • Heating and Ventilation: All rooms must have a window that can open to the outdoors and the open area must be at least 4% of the total floor area. Must be capable of maintaining a minimum room temperature of at least 68 degrees and have access to a heat source. Portable heaters do not count as an adequate heat source.
  • Windows: Referred to as “glazed area” and must equal at least 8% of the floor area, meaning you can’t have a huge bedroom with one window.
  • Ventilation: Outlets: Per the Virginia Maintenance Code, bedrooms must have at least two separate electrical outlets.

 What The Code Doesn’t Include

According to the Building Code office of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, the following common assumptions of bedrooms are not actually included in the code:

  • Doors: The code makes no mention of having an actual door or second point of egress (Fairfax County has a local requirement for two points of egress). Presumably, this allows for an English Basement with one point of egress, not connected to the rest of the home, to be considered a legal bedroom.
  • Lights
  • Closets

What else do you think should be added to the minimum requirements for a bedroom in Virginia?

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column, please send an email to [email protected]. I hope to hear from you soon!

Val Sotillo is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland with Real Living At Home, 4040 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite #10C Arlington, VA 22203, 703-390-9460.

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