Saturday, November 20, 2010

Harry Potter's Bedroom

This is a rewrite of one of my very popular newsletter articles of March 2, 2002

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: 10th Anniversary Edition (Harry Potter)Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Widescreen Edition)I hope you saw the movie "Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone" (I think that was the name), read the book, heard about it from your children or TV. If not, be aware that Harry's bedroom was under the stairs. Using our imagination we will assume that Harry's bedroom was 6'-11" long, 4' wide, 6' tall at the high point down to 12" at the low point (below the slope of the stair). There is a French style door with glass and a light hanging from a cord with a pull string switch. Got it? Today we are going to have a little fun with Harry's bedroom.

A short time ago I received this e-mail from one of our readers:
I was working with this client and we looked at a house that listed 4 bedrooms. One of the bedrooms was in the basement. This room had a closet and a bathroom. This room did not have a window or an extra door (I thought that a below surface or even an attic that has been finished had to have an extra way out for safety reasons.) My client ask me when a home inspection is done would the inspector advise on the basement bedrooms? I told my client that I did not know but I would ask an Inspector. So, when a home inspection is done do you look at the rooms that has been label extra bedrooms with details with regards in an extra way out (like a window that a person could fit into get out? or an extra door in the bedroom) Would this fall into home inspection warning? to the client in regards to safety.
A Bedroom?

Be aware that we home inspectors, as a general rule, don't have any idea how the rooms are listed therefore if there is no furniture in the room we don't know what you may have called it.

Last week I inspected a very nice two year old home with a bonus room over the garage being used as a bedroom (it had a bed in it). There was a closet and one window which was 49" above the floor and roughly 2'-6" x 3'-0."

My former home had a room in the basement which I used as an office. It had a window which is 64" above the floor 2'-6" x 3'-0" and two large closets. There was a half bath (no shower or tub) immediately outside of this room. When I purchased this home it was represented to have 5 bedrooms, this being one of the five.

Door to Harry's Bedroom?
Was Harry Potters room under the stairs a bedroom? What about the other two? Well, I don't know about Great Britain, but I can address the issue if Harry lived in good old Winston-Salem or surrounds. There is some confusion, however. The state has standards for existing properties as does the city of Winston-Salem. Municipalities have their on standards which may be different from the state standards but usually more stringent, not less. Then there is the building code for new construction which any home constructed must met at the time it is constructed and it changes over time. It works like this, a home must meet the minimum standards set forth by the state and or municipality no matter when it was constructed but also must meet the building code requirements in force at the time it was constructed. I will address both as it relates to bedrooms. As we list these issues, you determine if either of the three bedrooms listed above meet the requirements. Do the bedrooms in your homes? What about the ones, as a Realtor, you have listed and called a room a bedroom?

First let me make it very clear that pre-listing or pre-purchase home inspections performed by independent home inspectors under the regulation of the North Carolina Home Inspectors Licensure Board ARE NOT CODE INSPECTIONS. We can and do however use the codes as a guide to what we do.

I will begin with the City of Winston-Salem Code for minimum housing standards which is fairly close to the state requirements (I have abbreviated these for ease of reading attempting to maintain the intent):
  1. A first bedroom shall have not less than 100 square feet. I don't believed Harry's is the Master so this may not be a problem.
  2. A second bedroom shall have not less than 70 square feet. Well, Harry's ain't the second. (Note the use of the word "ain't" making it very clear that I am not British but maybe closer to a good old southern redneck, although I might be offended if you called me one.)
  3. Each habitable room shall have at least 70 square feet. Oops, Harry failed this one. I knew them redcoats didn't know how to follow the rules
  4. At least 80 square feet of bedroom floor space shall be provided for the first occupant, 20 square feet for the second occupant, and 30 square feet over the number of two (children one year of age and under shall not be counted). I think Harry may have a problem here.
  5. Habitable rooms included to meet the minimum space standards shall be at least seven feet wide with one-half of the floor area having a ceiling height of at least seven feet six inches. That portion of any room where the ceiling height is less than five feet shall not be considered part of the floor area. Harry comes up a little short here, of course I believe he is short anyway.
  6. No basement space shall be used as a habitable room or housing unit unless: The floor and walls are impervious to leakage of underground and surface runoff water and are insulated against dampness. The total of window area and openable area in each room is equal to at least the window area sizes listed below pertaining to light and ventilation standards. Such required window area is located entirely above the grade of the ground adjoining such window area. Let me put it simple: If it leaks and doesn't have a window above ground its not a bedroom. I don't believe Harry had this problem, but I bet some of your past listing have.
  7. Access shall be provided to living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms without passing through a bedroom, except in a housing unit with only one bedroom. Hey, if you have to go through it to get to a kitchen or other bedroom, it ain't a bedroom so don't list it as one.
  8. Bathroom walls, toilet room walls and bedroom walls shall have no holes or excessive cracks. You thought those holes and cracks were cosmetic, didn't you. Surprise they aren't. What about that opening overlooking the den below?
  9. Doors shall be provided at all doorways leading to bedrooms, toilet rooms and bathrooms and at all rooms adjoining public spaces. That open loft space is not a bedroom.
  10. 12 square feet of closet space should be provided with each living unit for the first bedroom plus six square feet for each additional bedroom. The space provided should be, if possible, divided into separate closets serving each bedroom and having one closet located as to open directly off a hall or living or dining area. None of the minimum clothes closet space should be located within the kitchen. Where separate closets for each existing bedroom are not possible, a closet elsewhere within the living unit shall be acceptable only if the minimum clothes closet space for the dwelling unit is provided and the closet in question is reasonably accessible to the bedroom. Clothes closets should have a shelf and rod. Within each living unit, total shelf area or built-in drawer space of a least eight square feet should be provided for linens, This space should be increased two square feet for each additional bedroom. Did you know that linen areas and coat closets were REQUIRED and not just something most women insist on?
  11. Window areas in each habitable room shall be at least ten square feet and shall face directly to the outside Openable window area in each habitable room shall be at least one-half of the minimum window area, weathertight, no broken glass and have adequate locks and hardware. (I understand that the state requirement is now 8' and that the city will accept that even though the city code is more stringent. There is much more about windows which face walls, but your would be bored it I got into all of that.) Harry failed this one hands down. What about the sizes of the windows in the other two "bedrooms"? Does 2.5 x 3 equal 8? How about 10? Maybe where you learned math.
So much for the minimum housing standards. Be aware that the standards are different in different municipalities, but not usually less than the state requirements, and I think there is something happening now requiring all standards to meet state minimums. Now lets take a look at the current building code for North Carolina which effects new construction and any home constructed during its effective period. Note that this has and will change over time. A new code went into effect January 1st. Both the last code and new code can be used for this year and I am using the old code because I don't yet have a copy of the new one. There should not be much difference on this issue. Again I am abbreviating and attempting to maintain the intent. Note that the building code for new construction is more strict and more detailed than the minimum housing standards.
Now this is a WINDOW!
  1. All habitable rooms shall be provided with aggregate glazing area of not less than 8 percent of the total floor area of such rooms. One-half of the required area of glazing shall be openable. (Example a 10' x 10' room requires 8 square feet) There are exceptions to this openable and glazed area requirement related to mechanical ventilation and artificial light which gets complicated and I am not going into it here. Suffice it to say that you can have a bedroom which does not have to meet this specified glazed area and openable area requirement, but it must meet the egress requirement which will be addressed later.)
  2. Floor area cannot be less than 70 square feet and must be 7 feet wide in one direction. Ceiling heights must be 7' -6" for at least 50% of the required area, not more than 50% may have a sloped ceiling of less than 7'-6" high with no portion less than 5' high. There are some complicated exceptions to this which I will not get into here.
  3. Openings (windows/doors) from a private garage directly into a room used for sleeping is not permitted.
  4. Every sleeping room must have at least one openable window or exterior door approved for emergency egress or rescue, operable from the inside without a key or tool. If a window the sill height can't be more than 44" above the floor with a clear opening of 4 square feet with a minimum opening height of 22" and width of 20", total glass area of 5 square feet if a ground window and 5.7 square feet at a second story. Bars, grills, screens or other obstructions must be removable from the inside without the use of a key or tool. 
Jackie Kennedy's bedroom 1962
Harry's bedroom failed miserably, and the bonus room and my 5th bedroom have problems as well. What about yours? Think you should be a little more careful writing up your next listing? Do you think I should sue the Realtor who had my house listed? Remember these simple issues:


To the person who asked: You are correct, there must be a window or door in the bedroom in question, but that is not all and its not just about the "extra bedroom." Just because the current owner has a bed in it doesn't make it a bedroom. Be careful what you write up and what you lead your clients to believe.

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