We’re planning a new bedroom with an ensuite bathroom as part of our extension. My wife and I spent ages figuring out the location of the window to best capture the light. It also got us thinking – does a bedroom actually need a window to qualify as a bedroom?!
A bedroom must have a window to qualify as a bedroom. In this context, most states follow the International Residential Code (IRC) which stipulates a bedroom must have a minimum size, height, temperature control – and a window – to legally designate it as a bedroom.
Let’s dig down into the topic of windows in bedrooms in further detail, and discover what criteria make the room you sleep in a bedroom in the first place…
Does a Bedroom Need Windows To Be Considered a Bedroom?
Yes, a bedroom does need to have a window to be officially a bedroom. There are actually several criteria that a room needs to meet in order to be considered a bedroom.
Specific building codes vary from state to state; however, the requirement to have a window seems pretty universal. So, if you’re thinking of converting a room in your house into a new bedroom, you’ll have to make sure that you can install a new window, if necessary.
Most states simply follow the International Residential Code (IRC) which among other stipulations, lays out what’s needed for a room to qualify as a bedroom. Windows are listed in the criteria.
What other factors does a room need to be designated a bedroom? These stipulations vary between states, but you can be reasonably confident that the following IRC aspects need to be taken into account:
- Size. It must be able to take a twin bed, so the minimum size is generally given as 70 square feet (10 feet by 7 feet)
- Height. The room also needs to be at least 7 feet high. But what about loft conversions? These are still OK, provided at a minimum of half the room has a height of 7 feet or higher. Sloping eaves are fine to include in the room
- Temperature. The room has to have a source of heating and/or cooling (this code naturally varies between states, as there are great climate variations across the US). A portable heater or air con unit normally doesn’t count, and you’ll need something more permanent to qualify
Is it Illegal & Against Building Code To Have No Windows in Your Bedroom?
Legally, a room isn’t a bedroom without a window. To understand this point better, we need to realize why this code applies. Why is it so important that a bedroom has a window? After all, it is a room that’s designed to be slept in, and the blinds or drapes are often closed.
This is because under the IRC as used in most states, a bedroom needs two means of egress; in other words, two escape routes, one of which must lead to the outside. The bedroom door is one route, so the window becomes the second, outdoor-leading egress.
This creates a second issue: window size. Few of us would be able to climb out of a roof light or a small window, so a bedroom window that’s needed for egress has to be practical. It needs to be no higher than 44 inches off the ground, and measure at least 5.7 square feet.
Arguably, if a room has a second door that leads directly outside, it meets the two egress criteria. However, it would still remain to be seen whether your local planning department would be happy to classify this rather unusual space as a bedroom.
If you want to know more about bedroom doors and their legal requirements, take a look at our article.
Do All Rooms Have to Have Windows? (Even if They’re Not Bedrooms)
While bedrooms need windows, this isn’t an essential criteria for other rooms in your home. A lot of basements don’t have natural light, for example.
Also, if you have a small bathroom such as an en suite, it can be easier to layout the room if there isn’t a window. If you like to have natural light, think about installing a skylight, which saves wall space while still creating a brighter space.
Of course, there’s also desirability and liveability to take into account. Would a kitchen, a hallway, or a study be a pleasant place to hang out if it didn’t have a window?
Windowless rooms are also less efficient to run. Yes, you won’t lose heat to draughts around the window; however, you won’t get natural light, natural ventilation, or solar gain. All these essentials will need electrical alternatives.
Do Apartment Bedrooms Need Windows?
When it comes to the stipulation about bedroom windows, apartments are the same as houses. If a room is going to be used as a bedroom, it must have a window, no matter what type of home it is.
As you can imagine, if you live in a downtown apartment building, the need for external egress is incredibly important, so any apartment needs to be extra sure that it’s meeting all the building codes.
This can make things tricky if you want to expand your apartment’s accommodation. After all, you can’t simply convert the garage or extend outwards in an apartment! If you want to create an extra bedroom in an apartment, you can’t simply take a slice off another room and call it a bedroom, unless you can also install a new outside-facing opening and window.
Before embarking on any such project, speak to your local planning department for advice, as you’ll most likely need permission to add a window.
Whether you’re working on an apartment or a house, you’ll need to get your neighbors onside before installing a window, and if you have one, speak with your HOA (homeowners’ association). A new window may overlook other properties and will certainly change the external appearance of your building.
Creating a new window opening is no ordinary DIY job, and most of us would hire an expert contractor for this task. However, if you’re a boss-level builder, take a look at this short film to see how you install a window in a blank wall.
If you have a windowless space that you want to make more use of, think about creating a home office. You won’t have to install a window in a room used as a study (although a roof light will make it a nicer environment). As our article shows, a home office will add value to your property, as well as creating that valuable extra working-from-home space.
Summary: Do States Have Different Regulations on Windows in Bedrooms?
As we mentioned earlier, building codes do vary from state to state. It’s easy to see why: for example, a homeowner in Arizona will need to worry more about cooling ventilation than someone living in North Dakota, who’ll be more concerned with keeping things insulated and cozy.
Many states simply follow the IRC stipulations. Texas, for example, doesn’t have its own codes but sticks to the IRC.
Chicago is very specific: the window opening must be large enough for a firefighter in full gear to be able to climb through.
In New York State, the bedroom window has to be a minimum size of 8% of the bedroom’s floor area, and have measurements no smaller than 25 square feet. As you can imagine, this limits easy box room conversions.
Speaking of which, some places (such as Michigan) stipulate square footage of space per room user. So, if the requirement is 50 square feet of space per user, a bedroom for a couple or two kids would need to measure at least 100 square feet. Along with the window, room area is another major regulatory requirement when it comes to creating a new bedroom.
As ever, before embarking on a project, drop your local planning team a line: they’ll be more than happy to advise you. 🙂
Homeowner and property investor Larry James started Castle of Mine to bring you the best articles on home improvement, based on his years of experience in homemaking projects. Read more >