Does a Bedroom Have to Have a Window?

Don't park Aunt Tillie in the basement when she drops in on you unannounced -- unless you're sure that spare bedroom meets local safety codes.

When you are selling, buying or renovating a house or apartment, don't overlook the requirement for habitable bedrooms to have a window. Tucking that kid dormitory under the attic eaves or refinishing the basement may seem like a simple solution to a need-more-space dilemma. But you may have to rethink spaces without windows.

Escape Hatch

The International Residential Code, IRC, is the most widely used set of codes for U.S. construction and some international building. The standards are used to determine local building codes. Bedrooms must have two means of egress in case of emergency, and one of those may be a glazed area -- window -- that represents a certain percentage of the size of the room. For the occupants to escape and firefighters and other rescue personnel to access the room -- in case of fire or another emergency -- the window has to meet certain size configurations and have the capability of opening to these dimensions:

  • 5 to 7 square feet for the opening 
  • No less than 24 inches high and 20 inches wide   
  • No more than 44 inches from the floor

An overhead skylight or a clerestory window near the ceiling may provide light and even air, but they are nearly inaccessible to a bedroom's inhabitants -- or too small to squeeze through -- so they won't meet safety codes.

Air and Light

A bedroom is not a cave, despite what your teen seems to think. Bedroom occupants need air/ventilation and light, and those generally come from windows. Sliding glass doors that open onto a light-filled space -- a patio, balcony, or deck -- provide light and air in the absence of a true window. That option also meets the safety requirement for a second means of egress. In an unusual space, such as a converted loft, walls that only rise partway to the ceiling allow light and air to flow into a bedroom space. Local codes may specify requirements for specific light and air provision in bedrooms, but renters and buyers have their own ideas. Meeting the safety requirement almost always results in sufficient bedroom ventilation and illumination.

Resale Value

Remove the doors and squeeze a crib into that closet. Convert the windowless dining alcove into Junior's crash pad. Renovate your attic or basement, but skip the expense of constructing proper windows, or installing skylights and dormers that open. You can't pass these solutions off as extra bedrooms when it's time to sell your home. The IRC defines a bedroom as a minimum of 70 square feet with a width of at least 7 feet and a height of 7 feet, 6 inches. A sloped ceiling, such as an attic bedroom roof, must have at least half its height at no less than 7 feet, 6 inches, and there must be two legal means of escape -- the regulation window and one or more doors -- and adequate ventilation and light. Real bedrooms -- vs. improvised bedrooms -- are selling points that add value to your home. Less-than-standard-regulation spaces don't count toward the purchase price.

About the Author

Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .