Reuben's Home Inspection Blog


"Non-Conforming Bedroom?" How About "Not A Bedroom"

Last week I wrote about how bedrooms don’t need closets to legally be called bedrooms.  That post got me thinking about this similar but opposite topic.  If a room doesn’t have a proper means of egress, why call it a non-conforming bedroom?

I’ve only heard the term “non-conforming bedroom” applied to bedrooms in the basement that have very small windows that would be tough to get out of.  As I mentioned last week, there are a ton of requirements for bedrooms – ceiling height, natural light, ventilation, heat, electric outlets, etc.  Why not call a bedroom non-conforming if it doesn’t have any one of these things?

Another phenomenon I’ve noticed is that bedrooms only get labeled non-conforming if the windows are really tiny, and the bedroom is in the basement.

What about a basement bedroom with huge windows but tiny window wells that don’t allow for proper egress?  Or deep wells without ladders?  Or large basement windows that aren’t quite large enough to meet egress requirements?  These never get labeled non-conforming… yet they certainly don’t conform.

Egress WindowsEggess Window Well

Another one is bedrooms on the first floor that don’t have proper egress windows – just look at about half of the old ramblers in Bloomington and you’ll see what I mean.  Some of these windows would be almost impossible for anyone to get out of.  I’ve never seen these houses listed as “zero-bedroom” houses.

I would love it if the real estate community could figure out exactly what makes a bedroom a bedroom, and be consistent with it.  Stop calling rooms ‘non-conforming’.   It just confuses people when I come along and say that none of the bedroom windows are ‘conforming’.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections – Email - Bloomington Home Inspector

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections


Comment balloon 22 commentsReuben Saltzman • July 14 2009 06:58AM


There is so much confusion on this issue.  Thanks for bringing this up and addressing it.  I've come to expect just about anything nowadays when the listing states there is a "bedroom" in the basement. 

What about a bedroom on the second floor of a home where the ceiling is only 5 ft. high and I have to crawl on my knees to get inside the room?  How about 4 ft. high?  If it has a closet and a window, then I guess its OK to call it a bedroom...

Posted by Dan Quinn, Dan Quinn (The Eric Steart Group of Long & Foster Real Estate) about 11 years ago

I have seen some bedrooms that were non conforming to human habitation. The term bedroom is often used quite liberaly and It would be nice to have all follow the same standards. Part of the problem is there are just to many  variables to consider so that  leaves us with common sense.

Posted by John Combs (Alan Deblat Real Estate Corp.) about 11 years ago

Reuben I think it is a marketing thing. Listing a house as a 4 bedroom 1 non-conforming, sounds better then a 3 bedroom plus storage room.

Posted by Dan Callahan (Callahan's Home Inspections) about 11 years ago

Reuben, I wish too that there was uniformity in the way things are listed.  I had one the other day where the house was "listed" as having 3 bedrooms even though none had a source of heat.  When the house was built it did not have heat to the rooms and the tax records had always shown the house as having 3 bedrooms so who is going to change that?  For me regardless of what the listing says I always want to communicate to the buyer that they may be buying something that is not "accurately" described in terms of "current" codes----this way they know what the safety issues are regardless of what the room is called.  I really don't think there is any way for this to get resolved across the board----with new construction it should be more cut and dry.  In my reports if I have a room that has been listed as a bedroom and it is "egregiously" NOT a bedroom----I will change the number of bedrooms and just call it a "room.":)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 11 years ago

Reuben, bedrooms in my market must have a point of egress large enough to escape and a closet. Additionally for newer construction, if this bedroom is on a lower level (basement), the lower level must have a exit to the outside. It it doesn't meet this criteria, it is probably a den. No such thing as a non-conforming room here.

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA about 11 years ago

A source of heat, a window and a closet all are what makes a bedroom a bedroom, now I had not ever heard of ceiling height. I can see that counting as some attic bedrooms and basement rooms do have this problem.

Posted by Mary Strang about 11 years ago

As you point out, there is no such thing as a "non-conforming" bedroom. It's just another space.

Posted by John Mulkey, Housing Guru ( about 11 years ago do need a closet to call it a bedroom...and you can't call anything a bedroom or include a bath if there is no egress window, patio door "means of escape" on the lower level....maybe it's a Wisconsin thing...Can't imagine labeling rooms at random bedrooms without closets....

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Real Estate Agents - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) about 11 years ago

Some of the comments here get to the crux of the problem.  The Real Estate community has one definition of a bedroom and then there is the Code definition of a bedroom.  For example there is nothing in the code that requires a closet, and yet in newer construction you should not be calling a room a bedroom if it does not have a smoke detector and the circuits are not AFCI protected.  From a code perspective it would not likely be possible for most people to know whether it is a "legal" bedroom or not----if they are not real familiar with codes and codes over time.  I can understand why the real estate community wants to "short-hand" the term bedroom.  Perhaps one camp or the other needs a new word for "bedroom":)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 11 years ago

Most bedrooms in Europe do not have closets. They use free standing wardrobes instead.

Posted by Norma Brandsberg (Marks Realty Co. Inc., Lynchburg, VA, 540-586-9496) about 11 years ago

In Texas if its called a bedroom it must have a closet. This is due to some homes being on septic systems. Typically the county uses the number of bedrooms to determine the necessary size of septic tank and field.

Posted by Betina Foreman, Realtor, C.N.E., with WJK REALTY (WJK Realty) about 11 years ago

Personally in my inspections I do not get too deep into number of bedrooms or what makes a room a bedroom. An old house was built with a different set of codes or even none at all. New stuff should be code compliant and that is relevant to my inspection in that context.

Egress is important, but what do you say when the house was built 100 years ago with small windows. Tell the client the seller has to fix it? No way, that's just not reasonable.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) almost 11 years ago

Dan Q - Great points.  I've never heard a bedroom called non-conforming because of low ceiling height.

John - Common sense would be nice, but it just not a consistent thing!

Dan C - Yes, it's definitely a marketing thing.

Charles - good talking to you today!  I don't identify how many bedrooms are present in my inspection reports, but I let people know what today's requirements for egress are, and I let them know if their windows 'conform' to today's standards.

Michael - you say that bedrooms in your market must have a point of egress large enough to escape; how is this defined?  Also, what is an exit to the outside?  A large window?  If so, how large?  


Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 11 years ago

Mary - and that's just half of what's required!  

John - that's one way to look at it.  I'd be fine with this term going away.

Sally & David - you say that you DO need a closet to call a room a bedroom; where does this requirement come from?  The building code?  

Norma - I recently inspected a home with no closets, just free standing wardrobes.  That's what prompted me to write the blog about closets.

Betina - where does that requirement come from?  The building code?

James - I don't get in to much detail about bedroom requirements either.  I don't report the number of bedrooms, but I do tell people not to use certain rooms as bedrooms if I think that an average person couldn't climb out of the window.  I also tell my clients what today's requirement for an egress window is.

For the record, I don't ever tell my clients that the seller has to fix anything.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 11 years ago

Looking at this from a buyers side when we were searching for a home.

I informed our realtor that we were looking for a 3 + bedroom home, the first 5 we were shown all had nonconforming bedrooms. Many were listed as 3 bedroom when in reality they were 1 or 2 with a nonconforming room. Call me crazy but I did not feel good about paying more for a property because the sellers decided to list it as having more bedrooms that it actually did.

Posted by John Harrison, CPI (Harrison Home Inspection LLC) almost 11 years ago

Basement rooms without an Emergency Escape and Rescue opening makes a good bedroom for that mother-in-law you don't get along with! 

While the most important issue is safety, it's also a tax issue.  Don't wanna be paying taxes on a 3 bedroom home when it's only a 2 bedroom.

Posted by Erby Crofutt, The Central Kentucky Home Inspector, Lexington KY (B4 U Close Home Inspections&Radon Testing ( almost 11 years ago

There will never be a day when the matter of what constitutes a proper bedroom is actually addressed. I call it what ever it's listed as on the listing and then report on it's condition. What else can we really do?

Posted by Suesan Jenifer Therriault, "Inspecting every purchase as if it were my own". (JTHIS-Professional Home Inspection Team) almost 11 years ago

A "non-conforming" bedroom is just a lie.

I don't mess with them.  Either it's safe to use as a bedroom or it's not safe to use as a bedroom.

BUT, a basement room without a window  might be a good place for your mother-in-law! (insert smiley here)

Posted by Erby Crofutt, The Central Kentucky Home Inspector, Lexington KY (B4 U Close Home Inspections&Radon Testing ( almost 11 years ago

Our areas consider bedrooms to have closets.

However, I also have to deal with ceiling heights, smoke alarms, and emergency exit windows. I do tell my Client of the discrepancy if the place is being sold with four bedrooms but only has three. The reason is because bedrooms add anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 to the cost of a home here. That's a serious bit of money if my Client buys it and then tries to sell it two years later, only to have someone else tell him that it's not a four bedroom, just three.

In this day and age where anyone can sue anyone for any reason, and with up to 5½ years of liability for home inspections here in California, I'd just as soon not get drawn into a lawsuit over the number of bedrooms and the money involved.

Posted by Not a real person almost 11 years ago

Russel - do you identify how many bedrooms are present?  I don't have anywhere in my report that says which rooms are bedrooms or how many there are.  Why bother?

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 11 years ago

Thank you for sharing your blog; we need Real estate Professionals to share their comments and information regarding their markets and experiences. Thanks again from beautiful Sunny San Diego.

Posted by Paul Gapski, 619-504-8999,#1 Resource SD Relo (Berkshire Hathaway / Prudential Ca Realty) over 7 years ago

When a home that has nonconforming bedrooms is marketed as and compared in value to one that has conforming bedrooms by the real estate professionals -- that seems to be unethical.  A 4-bedroom home with 2 non-conforming should not be of same value as the 4-bedroom conforming (no matter the age of).  The value of the non-conforming home should be less than the conforming (based on how much it would take to make the rooms Legal). The Real Estate professionals should be held accountable in how they market homes (though I know it is intended to drive values up), especially since consumers (buyers) are not aware of current code and are trusting the marketing, comps and MLS of the realtor.  Sellers are also mislead into thinking their home (that is nonconforming) is of higher value then it should be. 

If a conforming room is valued at $10,000 each, then the non-conforming should be valued at $10,000 minus the cost to make it conforming. Simple, but not done.

I would hope, for the sake of the buyers who are accounting on the inspectors to represent them (and not the realtor) -- that the Inspectors note in their inspections when a bedroom or room is not to code. Because non-conforming bedrooms are rooms that unlawfully serve as bedrooms, as the occupant (or rescuer) would lack an easy escape (or access) in case of emergency.

Posted by Mimi Mitchell, Investor (self) over 2 years ago