When it comes to below grade and first floor sleeping areas there are strict rules for egress. It seems this subject is a moving target, even when discussing the matter with two different municipality code inspectors I have gotten two different answers. This can also result in significant changes in the value of the home. If a basement bedroom no longer qualifies as such, the difference in value can be significant especially if the home changes from a 3 bedroom to a 2 bedroom. So Let’s discuss first what defines a bedroom then what Wisconsin’s requirements are for below grade egress.
Lets just get this out of the way straight off… A closet is not a requirement for a room to be classified as a bedroom. In Fact, closets weren’t even a regular design feature prior to World War 2. Now that that is out of the way, what constitutes a bedroom?
- Size – bedrooms must be a minimum of 70 square feet but cannot measure less that 7 feet in either direction.
- Ceiling height – the ceiling must be a minimum of 7 feet for at least half of the bedroom area
- Heating supply – all rooms used for sleeping must have a form of heat supply.
- And a window – all bedrooms must also incorporate an adequately sized window to the exterior.
As stated earlier this requirement has changed over time and a lot of inspectors even municipality inspectors do not know the most current requirements and there are plenty of them. These requirements are taken directly from the current Uniform Dwelling Code, SPS 321.03(6)
Basements and ground floor sleeping areas:
- Shall be provided with 2 exits, one being the stairs or ramp to the upper floor and one being a window or door to the exterior.
- The exits should be located as far apart as practical.
When a window is used as the second exit there are more specific rules that must be adhered to:
- The window must be operable from the inside without the use of tools or special knowledge.
- The nominal size of the window clear opening must be a minimum of 20 inches wide by 24 inches in height.
- The lowest point of the clear opening can be no greater than 60 inches above finish floor and if this elevation is greater than 46 inches, a permanent step must be installed to bring the step within 46 inches of the clear sill height.
- The clear sill height opening cannot be greater than 46 inches from finish floor with no step or platform.
- If the second exit from the basement sleeping areas is a window, an egress type window must be located in each bedroom. SPS 321.03(5)(b)4.d.
One of the most fuzzy aspects of this requirement is whether or not the egress window is required in EACH bedroom if there is also an exit door to the exterior. According to the most recent standard, no, it’s not. But, is it a best practice? I would say yes, for sure.
So there are a lot of rules for egress requirements. When I inspect older homes with bedrooms added below grade the first thing I do is check for egress compliance. It is true that these standards have changed over time, but it is very important for the safety of the occupants that adequate egress exists.
I hope this post was informative. As always, if you have any home related questions, please send them to me via the email address below. I will always help as much as I can.
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 also manages several rental properties through Zuehlke Properties, LLC. He can be reached by email at Aaron@Zuehlkeinspections.com or by calling the office at 608-931-7485.