What Qualifies as a Legal Bedroom in Virginia?

The definition of a legal bedroom in Virginia is typically determined by local municipality zoning codes as generally established by the International Residential Code (IRC). The definition can vary by jurisdiction, building type and zoning for a particular lot. The requirements for a legal bedroom can be confusing and often times misunderstood by consumers. A universal requirement and general starting point for a bedroom is a safe means of egress in the event of a fire – exit door and window. Occupants must be able to safely exit in the event of an emergency and first responders must be able to easily enter.

Often times, people can confuse other characteristics used to determine a bedroom’s legality. For example, one common feature in a bedroom is a closet, but it may surprise some to learn that a closet is not required to define a legal bedroom in Virginia. A closet is simply considered a general feature of building practice and convenience.

Bedroom (1)

Below is a list of considerations that can be generally used to help determine whether or not a bedroom can be considered legal in Virginia. This is only meant to be a guide. Please consult your local jurisdiction’s zoning codes and a licensed professional on the subject matter for a specific ruling on your particular situation and to ensure compliance with all applicable and current regulations.

State-Wide Requirements
Here are some requirements for bedrooms that apply state-wide:

1. Means of Egress:  A bedroom must have two ways to exit: one that leads to the rest of the home and one that leads directly to the outside. In most cases, the outside egress will be a window. A bedroom egress window must be at least 5.7 square feet. It can be no more than 44 inches from the room floor, unless there is a permanent step installed. In addition, it is illegal to have locking bars or grates covering an egress window.

In order to be considered a legal bedroom, its sole entrance must not be through another bedroom. The bedroom must also have access to a bathroom without going through another bedroom.

2. Closet:  Contrary to popular belief, Virginia has no closet requirement for a bedroom.

3. Square Footage:  The minimum size of a bedroom is 70 square feet with a minimum of 7 feet in one direction to disqualify certain spaces like a hallway. If more than one person occupies the room, then there must be 50 square feet per occupant.

4. Ceiling Height:  Ceiling height must be no less than 7 feet in a certain percentage of the room.

5. Heating and Ventilation:  Every bedroom must have access to natural ventilation (i.e. to the outside air), and must have a heat source to maintain a certain minimum temperature (usually 68° F). Portable heaters do not count as an adequate heat source.

6. Other Possible Considerations: The bedroom window(s) may have glazing (glass) requirements – total glass area in relation to floor area. The area of the window(s) when open may also have a specific requirement in relation to floor area. Bedroom areas must have a minimum number of electrical outlets. If the home is not connected to a public sewer system, then this may impact the legality of the bedroom, because a home usually cannot have more bedrooms than the septic system is designed to accommodate.

Hopefully, this article provides some useful information if you happen to be considering the requirements for a legal bedroom. Please don’t hesitate to contact me for more information, or if you should need the contact information to your local jurisdiction’s zoning department.

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