Recently I noticed that someone found this site by querying what constitutes a bedroom in Seattle. This is a very good question, as I have noticed a number of listings do not calculate the number of bedrooms correctly. Therefore, for buyers, it is important to understand what actually is a bedroom – though a good real estate agent should point any deficiencies out when viewing homes.
Bedrooms are strictly regulated by both the building codes of the neighborhood where you live and Multiple Listing Service requirements. Ultimately there are three sources that have slightly differing version of what is a bedroom.
1) Building codes. We will talk about these in detail but if you want to build or remodel a new bedroom in your house, you need to follow these codes.
2) Tax appraisal codes. Tax appraisers have there own definition of what a bedroom is. For the most part, it is a superset of the building codes. There are some differences though – for instance a tax appraiser will call a room a bedroom even if it does not have a fire alarm. However, building codes require a fire alarm (wired to the house if new construction). Tax appraisal codes in King County also require a closet and heating. The property appraisal codes determine what your property taxes will be.
3) Multiple listing service requirements. While on paper these are very similar to the tax appraisal codes – also calling for a closet and heating – they are not necessarily identical. In general it is up to the realtor to properly disclose the number of bedrooms in the house. General realtors look to the tax appraisal information for guidance, but sometimes this information is not correct. If a realtor sees four bedrooms in the house, the realtor will list the house with four bedrooms.
Building codes may differ from town to town. What follows are the codes for Seattle, which have been derived from international codes and therefore may be similar to those of your city or town.
If you would like to read the codes for yourself, they are online at Seattle’s web site. Note that the information below comes from chapter 3 – building planning. Also note that in the code it is not called ‘bedroom’ but instead ‘sleeping room’.
If you live elsewhere, the easiest way to find the codes for your town is to go to its web site and look for residential codes. Note that most cities adopt the international standards and make amendments to them, but do not list the original standards on its site. In this case, a call to the town hall can usually clarify what the standards are.
Here is a summary of the codes for Seattle.
1) All bedrooms must have one operable escape or rescue opening. Almost always, this is a window.
2) The window can not be any higher than 44 inches from the floor. Many basement ‘bedrooms’ I see violate this.
3) If the window is below the ground level, a window well that follows specific codes must exist.
4) The minimum size of the window is 5.7 square feet, with a minimum height of 24 inches and a minimum width of 20 inches.
5) A smoke detector must be installed in the room. In new construction this smoke detector must receive power from the building wiring. This also applies if you add a bedroom to an older house.
6) No opening (door) is allowed between a bedroom and a garage.
7) The area of the window must not be less than 8% of the area of the room. So the window in a 14×14 foot room must be no less than 15.68 square feet. Note that this applies for all habitable rooms – not just bedrooms.
Most interesting, though, may be what is not required for a bedroom. Current codes do not state that a bedroom must have a closet, though typically they do. Nevertheless if a room meets the above requirements but does not have a closet, it can still be considered a bedroom.
While in general a room must have a closet and heating, the tax appraiser may make his/her own call in the case of old houses – which may have been built without closets.
However, other than for property taxes, the number of bedrooms stated by the tax appraiser isn’t as important. If the tax appraiser lists the home as having two bedrooms, it may not necessarily be listed with only two bedrooms on the market.
Multiple Listing Service requirements
In the State of Washington, bedrooms must have a closet and heating. Like with tax appraisals, it is up to the realtor to correctly list the number of bedrooms. Failure to do this properly may result in discipline by the MLS.
In summary, besides following building codes when adding or remodeling a bedroom, make sure that it has a closet and proper heating if you intend to sell your home in the future.