Seattle Home Inspector's Blog



Bedrooms below grade need proper secondary egress.  In the context of remodeling a basement this needs to be taken into account if the rooms we are creating are to meet current requirements to be called a “bedroom.”

Many older homes that have windows into the basement were never designed for egress---simply to provide light and/or ventilation to the basement.

Since proper egress requires that windows have minimum net opening sizes, there are almost always going to be necessary changes to the foundation wall to meet these requirements.  Besides the opening size, the bottom of the opening can’t be more than 44” above the finished basement floor.  In the picture below you can see the nice egress window installed for this new basement bedroom.

Egress from a basement 

While the height off the floor is OK, the net opening size was only 14" x 33" and does not meet current requirements. The absolute "minimum" size for an opening that is 33" high would be 22" wide (because the window is at grade it can be a little bit smaller than if it was above grade).

Once we have made our opening and that opening is below grade, window wells at the exterior will be necessary.  This complicates the whole business of providing egress to the basement because there are minimum sizes for the well that must be met.  If it is over 44” deep it will need a ladder and it might even need some sort of guard to prevent someone falling into the well.

All of a sudden meeting the basement egress requirement has gotten even more expensive.

So let’s assume that you know there has to be proper egress and lets also assume that you know there has to be a proper window well at the exterior too.  In the following picture you can see that someone went to a LOT of work to build a very nice window well for egress that is actually big enough for two bedrooms.

Window well

There is only one rather costly problem.

It is the wrong width—28” from window to wall.  That minimum dimension is 36.”

So while they had the “idea” right, they obviously did not know all the specific requirements that would prevent them from having to tear it all out and start over.  It is also an indication of work being done without permits.



Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Comment balloon 53 commentsCharles Buell • September 08 2013 06:53AM


Hi Charles,

I'm glad I don't run into too many basements here. All seem to be converted to bedrooms.

They need to list this room as a study. Then the buyers can do what ever they want.

Have a great day in the seattle area.

Best, Clint McKie

Posted by Clint Mckie, Desert Sun Home, Comm. Inspection 1-575-706-5586 (Desert Sun Home, commercial Inspections) over 5 years ago
Sounds like you know your stuff, Charles. Looks like the seller (and contractor) did not.
Posted by Matt Kombrink, Your #1 Source For Real Estate (RE/MAX All Pro) over 5 years ago

Charles - Great post. Of course I had no idea as we do not have basements in our area either. Good to know though. 

Posted by Jeff Stevens, Jeff Stevens REALTOR®/Associate Broker (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New Mexico Properties) over 5 years ago

Informative post. I see agents very confused about this and also bonus rooms above in calling them bedrooms especially with the window issue.

Posted by Joe Pryor, REALTOR® - Oklahoma Investment Properties (The Virtual Real Estate Team) over 5 years ago

Hi Charles - We see a lot of homes with "non-conforming" bedrooms in the basement, usually older homes that have been converted to rentals. We're still allowed to count that bedroom in or marketing as long as we note its status as non-conforming, but we always point out to both buyers and sellers the legal exposure and personal risk involved, and have helped many find reasonably-priced contractors to provide legal egress windows.

Posted by Dick Greenberg, Northern Colorado Residential Real Estate (New Paradigm Partners LLC) over 5 years ago

Clint, they can call it what they want--but to list it as a bedroom brings with it some liability I should think

Matt, well I know where to look up the info---and the remodeler did not :)

Jeffrey, they are actually quite handy :)

Joe, there is no shortage of issues when it comes to egress

Dick, the whole concept of "non-conforming" is interesting.  It is typically "selective" and often seems to be an attempt to put lipstick on a pig.  For example, at every adoped code cyle there are many items that make almost every house "non-conforming" yet we don't list a house without AFCI breakers as being non-conforming.  A house is more valuable with more bedrooms it seems, so that one tends to get euphemized with the term "non-confroming" more often.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

I can't stand when people list rooms as bedrooms in the basement when they are so clearly not bedrooms.   This one doesn't conform to your code.  Our code in this area is less clear and we often think about the HUD standards.   When a client wants to list it as a bedroom when it isn't - I tell them that I just can't and if they want to list with someone else, go ahead.   I don't want to be on the front page of the paper when someone's child is killed because they couldn't escape.   I don't even like selling a home with no egress from the basement other than the staircase from the house.

Posted by Yvette Chisholm, Associate Broker - Rockville, MD 301-758-9500 (Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc.) over 5 years ago

People try so hard to make rooms that aren't bedrooms, a bedroom. They won't be able to sneak past it during inspection, little do they know.

Posted by Suzanne Otto, Your Montgomery County PA home stager (Six Twenty Designs) over 5 years ago

I can remember my grandparents having a basement, how cool it was down there in the summer. It was nice. No basements here in Florida... they would soon become downstairs swimming pools... LOL

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) over 5 years ago

Yvette, these requirements go back quite a ways.  Do you know which codes you follow in your area?  Something I need to add to the conversation about non-conforming is that the intention of non-conforming is to deal with older structures where when the rooms were built there were not codes in place to direct them.  The term should not be used to help a room "get by" when there were codes in place.  That type of space is not non-conforming, it is illegal.

As soon as a basement space has any living space added a means of secondary egress would be required and has been required for a long time.  Its not being there would not be "non-conforming" it would be "illegal" typically.

Suzanne, sooner or latter the piper is going to have to be paid---hopefully nobody has to die first.

Fred, yes, I could see where basements in Florida might be a problem.  You need the anti-basements there--the stilt houses :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

When I'm originating an FHA-insured mortgage for somebody with a basement, I have a list of additional questions just for them.  HUD doesn't think like the average homeowner when it comes to basements.

Posted by Raymond Denton, Foothill Ranch Specialist (Homesmart / Evergreen Realty) over 5 years ago

I was not aware of the regulation at all.  Very interesting.

Posted by Tim Lorenz, 949 874-2247 (TIM LORENZ - Elite Home Sales Team) over 5 years ago

Raymond, I would love it if you would come back in and post the list---it could be quite informative to all.

Tim, the window well?  The requirement for window wells has been around a long time.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

Very good post at least for me...This subject has been around for centuries and handled differently. Not handled properly and it causes mold, poor ventilation and lighting plus more....I always take note of lighting and ventilation when visiting homes. Today, you can hire local professionals who actually help you design a home to capture the wind, the sun, the air and the seasons just to your liking and function too...Former President Bush W. built his ranch this way....

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) over 5 years ago
So many things to think about when you have a basement. I'm also glad we don't have many basements in Hawaii.
Posted by Georgie Hunter R(S) 58089, Maui Real Estate sales and lifestyle info (Hawai'i Life Real Estate Brokers) over 5 years ago

I see so many home swith finished basements that do not meet any codes. I do wish owners would consider doing it right. 

Posted by Scott Godzyk, One of Manchester NH's Leading Agents (Godzyk Real Estate Services) over 5 years ago

Yeppers every home we had a finished basement in had to meet those guidelines and there is a good reason for it... SAFETY

Posted by David Shamansky, Creative, Aggressive & 560 FICO - OK, Colorado Mtg (US Mortgages - David Shamansky) over 5 years ago

This is excellent information for home owners that plan to do some work in the basement.

Have an outstanding week!

Posted by Roy Kelley (Realty Group Referrals) over 5 years ago
Although we don't have basements in Texas, this is a great post identifying the requirements that need to be met to constitute a bedroom. Thanks so much for sharing.
Posted by Rosie Moore (Serving Sugar Land, Richmond, Rosenberg, Missouri City) over 5 years ago

Charles, when I saw your title "Well?", I clicked anticipating a post on water wells.  As my dad would have said, "That's a deep subject--you may need a bucket." 

At one point I listed my parents home as a three bedroom, and received all sorts of "constructive criticism by "would-be realty experts" within the family.  Some must have thought I could not count, because they considered five rooms to be bedrooms. Others reasoned that the rooms had served as bedrooms, and that I shouldn't be so technical.  Furthermore, listing as a four bedroom would broaden the pool of prospective buyers and increase the value.  However, two issues required the listing be as three bedroom:

(1) a room under back porch only had an 18" x 18" non-opening window inside a 24" x24" x 24" well, and had no closet. 

(2)  The other room was on main level, with a closet and a 42" x 60" window; but the property was on a septic tank system approved for 3 bedroom.

To have marketed the property as more than three bedrooms could have caused my mother legal issues, and would have hurt my credibility with fellow REALTORS®.

"Well", how about doing a post on water well issues some time soon?  I'm ure you have some interesting input.

Thanks for a valuable post. 

Posted by Fred Cope, Looking For Homes With A Smile (Reliant Realty in Nashville, TN) over 5 years ago

Nice explanation.  No basements here in Florida however I am sure if there were there would be some of these unpermitted unsafe DIY jobs!

Posted by Gary L. Waters Broker Associate, Bucci Realty, Fifteen Years Experience in Brevard County (Bucci Realty, Inc.) over 5 years ago

I'm just shocked now that I've migrated from The Pacific Northwest that all jurisdictions do not have such well thought out code requirements. Down here, it may as well be Mayberry for all the care they give to these things. I'm a by-the-book kinda girl and it makes me crazy! My first thought is that the owner of the above 28" well may have come from the South ;-)

Posted by Jennifer Monroe, Real Estate REALTOR®/Broker in Beautiful Charlotte (Savvy + Company Real Estate) over 5 years ago

Without permits indeed!  The dimensions you cite are fire-code related and those codes happen because of fires!

But, I love the Redskin colors in the room!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 5 years ago

I look at the window to see if my fat tail can get through it...both in size and height.

For a listing I will leave a comment but not list the room as a conforming bedroom unless it will conform to our requiremens here.

Posted by Mike McCann - Nebraska Farm Land Broker, Farm Land For Sale 308-627-3700 or 800-241-3940 (Mike McCann - Broker, Mach1 Realty Farmland Broker-Auctioneer Serving Rural Nebraska) over 5 years ago

There's a LOT that has to be considered.  My parents have a basement, but all bedrooms are on the main floor for this very reason.  The only finished part of the basement has doors and windows above grade.

Posted by Tammy Lankford,, Broker GA Lake Sinclair/Eatonton/Milledgeville (Lane Realty Eatonton, GA Lake Sinclair, Milledgeville, 706-485-9668) over 5 years ago

If the owners did it right...then it could count.  Some people want to take a short cut and end up shooting themselves in the foot.

Posted by Ginger Harper, Your Southport~Oak Island Agent~Brunswick County! (Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage) over 5 years ago

Little isue in my area of SoCal since basements are very rare. We do see sub-grad bedrooms on homes built on the hills to take advantage of teh views - no doubt there are many that do not meet code requirements, including egress

Posted by Jeff Dowler, CRS, The Southern California Relocation Dude (Solutions Real Estate ) over 5 years ago

Richie, the codes exist for a lot more than just the superficial reasons that one might think.

Georgina, I suspect you have a lot of areas that would be difficult to dig a basement

Scott, it is not surprising really when people don't fully research what is necessary

David, finished basements can add value to a home---but often quite the opposite

Roy, thanks, I hope to---have been suckerpunched by the flu for a couple of weeks

Rosie, you are welcome

Fred, I see way too many unsafe bedrooms in basement---even with open flame furnaces in them

Gary, I suspect so

Jennifer, there are very few jurisdictions in the United States where these rules would not apply.  Now there are plenty of jurisdictions where the codes are not enforced or don't have the resources to enforce them but if the state has adopted them then they apply regardless of enforcement.

Jay, I knew you would like that :)

Mike, I find listing info "interesting" but if a room does not have legal egress, or the furnace is in it, or the headroom is too low, it does not get called a bedroom in the report.

Tammy as long as it has a secondary means of egress you should be good to go.

Ginger, I think someone is limping here for sure.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

Jeff, yes, basements are all too often less than ideal or an after thought.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

Charles- Great post.. homeowners need to think about safety when it comes to below grade windows

Posted by Scott Fogleman, New Home Team (New Home Team 804-573-9592) over 5 years ago

It is sometimes very hard to get people to understnd this.  I find the older gen is the most likely to challange me on this.


"Well it was good enough for us..."

Posted by William Feela, Realtor, Whispering Pines Realty 651-674-5999 No. (WHISPERING PINES REALTY) over 5 years ago

So interesting.  Most just call a basement either a chance for another bedroom or just call it a bedroom because it has a bed in it.

Posted by Jay & Michelle Lieberman, Creating Calm in the Buying and Selling Chaos (Keller Williams World Class) over 5 years ago

Charlie, Few things are more irritating to me and my buyers than going to a home that advertises a lower level bedroom and finding out it has one of those small windows high up that a ferret would be lucky to squeeze out, much less a full grown adult.  Bill

Posted by Liz and Bill Spear, RE/MAX Elite Warren County OH (Cincinnati/Dayton) (RE/MAX Elite 513.520.5305 over 5 years ago

Scott, and this is just the tip of the iceberg

William, sometimes it is better to be lucky than good as they say

Jay & Michelle, I see so many rooms with bedrooms that not only would I never call a bedroom but remind a client that the room should not be used as a bedroom

Liz and Bill, I feel your pain---I have seen the look in many a client's eyes when they come to terms with the inaccuracy of the listing and realizing they have made an offer on something less than what they thought.


Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

And I thought you were going to say deep subject.   Unfortunate fires and deaths led to stricter rules in my area for egress out of basements.

Posted by Cindy Jones, Pentagon, Fort Belvoir & Quantico Real Estate News (Integrity Real Estate Group) over 5 years ago

Being your own doctor will always cause problems. Not worrying about safety or the possibility of selling the home in the  future will always backfire.

Posted by Jimmy Faulkner, The Best Of St. Augustine (Florida. Homes Realty & Mortgage) over 5 years ago

No basements here so not an issue. The permit thing is another story. That is always a pain to deal with.

Posted by Bill Reddington, Destin Florida Real Estate (Re/max Southern Realty) over 5 years ago

Charles... please tell Jay those are not Redskin colors.... they are colors chosen by homeowners with bad taste :-)

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) over 5 years ago

This is the shortest and most mysterious blog title. When I clicked I had no clue what is in here:)


Permits are a very painful issue here in Valley. I'll never understand why not to do it right from the first time?!

Posted by Inna Ivchenko, Realtor® • Green • GRI • HAFA • PSC Calabasas CA (Barcode Properties) over 5 years ago
Very important issue and information for homeowners with below grade basements. Those measurements are ultimately important.
Posted by Jane Chaulklin-Schott, TeamConnect Luxury Homes - Orlando, Florida, 32836 (TEAMCONNECT REALTY - (407) 394-9766) over 5 years ago

Great explanation on regulations. There are very few basements here in Fresno but the do exist. I bet you'd find more violations with add-on garages though.

Posted by Audrey Hardy, Realtor-Exit Realty Consultants (Exit Realty Consultants) over 5 years ago

Oh well!

An "A" for effort, "F" for results. 

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 5 years ago

You wouldn't catch me sleeping in a prison cell like the one you have described.

Posted by Chris and Dick Dovorany, Broker/Associate at Premiere Plus Realty ( Homes for Sale in Naples, Bonita Springs and Estero, Florida) over 5 years ago

Luckily, I think more and more people are hearing about these codes that you mention, although I still see some " bedrooms" still installed incorrectly, and some advertised as " Non legal bedroom", or " Non complying bedroom", etc.

Posted by Jeff Pearl, Full Service Full Time Realtor (RE/MAX Distinctive / LIC in VA) over 5 years ago

Well! That does seem to be a problem.  Are these requirements state requirements or national requirements?  

Posted by Evelyn Johnston, The People You Know, Like and Trust! (Friends & Neighbors Real Estate) over 5 years ago

Great post! Thanks!

Posted by Drick Ward, "RealtorDrick" - Experienced Representation (NEPTUNE REALTY) over 5 years ago

Cindy, that is often how things get added to the code

Jimmy, there is a lot of shortsightedness out there

Bill, I have a post coming up about permits as an "investment"

Fred, I was thinking more of redskin potatoes myself:)

Inna, titles can be mysterious and still do the job I guess :)  Watch for my upcoming post on permits.

Jane, they really are---and may cost you the sale of your home

Audrey, yes those too---most non-professionals do not understand all the requirements for proper house/garage separation

Jim, over and over again :)

Chris and Dick, most people would not want to pay to have someone outside our bedroom door 24/7 to alert us and let us out in event of a problem :)

Jeff, now there are a couple of oxymorons :)

Evelyn, state.  Anyone following the International Residential Code (IRC) would be affected

Drick, you are welcome

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

I learned the hard way years ago on y first house that I owned. Always good to check the local building codes before starting and wil save you a ton of money. On the other hand a building permit would have help as well

Posted by Dan Spencer, Your Colorado Home Source (Aspen Lane Real Estate) over 5 years ago

Charlie, I have seen permitted homes with this little issue. I sometimes wonder who is really looking.

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) over 5 years ago

Dan, the part of the building codes that really save a person is the plans review part---a lot of a persons mistakes are going to get stopped dead in their tracks right there

Don, you and me :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

I'd to be trying to get out of the room in a fire. Good post as aways Charles

Posted by Juan Jimenez, The Richmond Home Inspector (A House on a Rock Home Inspections LLC) over 5 years ago

Whoops! That's not what anyone wants to hear this late in the game Charles.  :)

Posted by Tom Arstingstall, General Contractor, Dry Rot, Water Damage Sacramento, El Dorado County - (916) 765-5366, General Contractor, Dry Rot and Water Damage (Dry Rot and Water Damage Mobile - 916-765-5366) over 5 years ago

Juan, thanks---if builders would put themselves in the mind of the user of the space they might do this stuff differently.

Tom, nope---big repair.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago