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How to Add a Legal Bedroom to Your Finished Basement

Jul 15, 2017 10:34:00 AM

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For many homeowners, basements are where they do laundry, store goods, play ping pong and tinker. Or, if barely meeting the definition of finished space, a basement may be a hangout for teens and old furniture, but not a place to sleep.

Yet if you need an extra bedroom, it may be most practical to add one in your basement if it is reasonably dry and can be upgraded affordably for better lighting and warmth.

But keep in mind that when remodeling instead of simply redecorating a basement room for use as a bedroom, at least one window may need to be altered as an escape route.

Defining Finished Space

The definition of "finished basement" is subjective and varies widely among real estate professionals and homeowners.

Some people may consider a basement divided into rooms as finished even if its concrete walls are only painted instead of being insulated and finished with wall board. The floor may also be painted rather than being covered with carpet or vinyl.

Ceilings may be open with pipes and duct work painted instead of being hidden by dry wall or a lightweight metal grid filled with acoustic tiles.

To be finished for purposes of pleasant sleep environment, a basement should have a bathroom. But for purposes of meeting code, a basement bedroom requires a legal egress window -- an escape route in case of fire.

Meeting Egress Window Code

To meet building code, an egress window must be easy to open and big enough for escape or for a firefighter to climb into the house. Otherwise, the space isn't safe and can't be considered a bedroom for resale purposes.

Most times when remodeling, you need a construction permit from the local government's building department. A bedroom project requiring a permit likely won't allow for legal acceptance (grandfathering) of an existing window as being an exit if it isn't the right size or height above the floor.

The International Building Code says that an egress window must:

  Provide an escape space of 5.7 square feet when it is open
  Be 24 inches tall
  Be placed with its sill no further than 44 inches above the floor and           Open from the inside without tools or keys.

In other words, an egress window allows quick, easy escape.

As Handyman magazine notes, code requirements also include window wells -- their dimensions, an affixed ladder or stairs for exit and a design that allows the window to open fully. The magazine adds that side-hinged casement windows or sliding windows are the best choices for egress. Casement styles require the smallest amount of wall space.

It's difficult to exit through a top-hinged awning window (you'd have to crawl out). Double-hung windows also don't work well for escape, because half their height is blocked by glass. They would have to be nearly 5 feet tall to provide a large enough opening.

Visualizing Improvement

Before you get to the point of hiring a contractor and getting the concrete saw buzzing, take a breather to think about how you want your whole basement to function. Consider the tasks and activities you want to accomplish in the space and its overall style and flow.

The floor plan and décor of your basement will affect the new bedroom's placement and look. Conversely, you need to think ahead to how a remodeled bedroom may guide your finishing choices for the remainder of the basement.

When choosing the bedroom location, you should check for dampness problems  and receive waterproofing instructions -- if not services -- from a home improvement professional. Do this before adding insulation, wallboard, closets and built-ins, such as shelving.  

When visiting the paint store, keep in mind that natural light often is limited in basements. Consequently, a lighter color scheme works best. In addition, your basement may not be the space for dramatic accent walls. Keeping color combinations simple may be the best choice for amplifying illumination and mood.

Hiring Professionals

Unless you are a seasoned do-it-yourselfer or construction professional, it's best to hire professionals for remodeling work. This is especially true if a project includes structural changes, such as adding windows or removing walls.

So, consider engaging construction professionals to make sure changes are properly engineered and pleasantly designed. Renovating your home renovates your life. You need to do it right.

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