One of the last areas I look at during the course of an inspection is the interior. This section consists of all living areas including: bedrooms, living rooms, recreation rooms, and common areas such as hallways and lofts. This is generally really straight forward but there are issues that come up on an almost weekly basis.
There are a few rules a room must comply with to be used as a bedroom. Many people believe a closet is one of them,that is not the case. According to the International Residential Code the criteria for a bedroom are:
- The room must be a minimum of 70 square feet, but cannot measure less than 7 feet in either direction.
- The ceiling height must be a minimum of 7 feet for at least 50% of the room.
- The room must have a heating system supply register or radiator.
- The room must have an appropriately sized window for emergency egress.
There is no mention of a closet, in the early 1900’s closets weren’t even built in, people put their clothes in separate storage containers like armories, and dressers. Closets didn’t begin to be built in until the building boom after World War II. Builders wanted to delineate which rooms were meant as bedrooms versus dens and other living areas.
So when I inspect a home I check these criteria first. If any of them are not met, It should not be considered a bedroom. I should also note that basement bedrooms generally do not meet the emergency egress requirements. The minimum window size should exceed 5.7 square feet and must be a minimum of 20 inches wide by 24 inches tall – CLEAR AREA. Meaning, that when the window is in the open position the total clear area must meet these measurements. Also the sill height cannot exceed 46 inches in Wisconsin. One other dimension for basement egress is that the egress window must be a minimum of 20 feet from the other exit, generally this is the stairway to the main floor.
In the living areas we generally verify each window is operational and check the electrical receptacles for proper wiring, Mainly to see if un-grounded receptacles or reverse polarity are present. You can read more on that in this post: Home Maintenance – Electrical.
Another Item is settlement. Settlement cracking generally shows up at the corner of the doors and windows. I like to try to open and close all doors to see if they stick or are unable to be closed. I also take a few steps back to see if the top of the door slab is level with the door head. If not, this probably indicates settlement, either active, or past.
Now here is where most of the defects are found when it comes to living areas. The numerous rules with regards to staircases, handrails, guardrails, and stair rails have changed often over the past 20 years. Most of the changes have been made to the handrails and the baluster spacing requirements. I wrote a post about this last year that may be helpful, you can find that here: Handrail Safety.
The most common item is Baluster spacing at decks, and staircases. These spaces cannot exceed 4 inches and 4 3/8 inches respectively. Another item that comes up in older homes is guardrail height. People must really have been short in the 1900’s because I have found many guardrails only tall enough to trip someone. That’s definitely not the intended function. You can read all about these requirements in the aforementioned post. But one other item that is found on most homes is the handrail return. This is a fairly new regulation and is intended to prevent injury by folks getting caught on the open end of the handrail. The handrail must return to the wall on each end to avoid being caught by loose clothing, a purse, or a handbag/luggage strap.
To conclude this edition, any homeowner can walk around their home to spot things that are out of the ordinary. When it comes to living areas, little specialized knowledge is necessary, other than to know if cracking may be a structural issue of just shrinkage cracking from humidity or temperature changes. A cheap outlet tester can also be purchased at most hardware stores or big box stores for less than $5. I would not recommend doing your own electrical repairs, however. I hope you found this one helpful as well. Come back next week for the final installment Home Maintenance – Kitchens and Bathrooms.
Until then, AZ… Out!
Aaron M. Zuehlke is the owner and inspector at Zuehlke Inspection Service, LLC, a full-service home inspection company serving Southern Wisconsin. Specializing in Home inspection, Radon Testing, Mold Testing/inspection and Residential Thermal Imaging. He can be reached by email at Aaron@Zuehlkeinspections.com or by calling the office at 608-931-7485.