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Ask Eli: The Definition of a Bedroom

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This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Eli Tucker, Arlington-based Realtor and Rosslyn resident. Please submit your questions to him via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!

Question: Is it legal to list a room as a bedroom if it doesn’t have a closet?

Answer: Ahhh, the great bedroom debate! Of all the misconceptions about bedroom requirements, closets may be the most common. There are no requirements in Arlington (or in any other Northern Virginia localities) that a bedroom include a closet. You’ll be surprised at what else is missing from the requirements for a legal bedroom in Virginia.

Who Makes The Rules?

Arlington County doesn’t have any local requirements for bedrooms and defaults to the current version (2012) of the Virginia Residential Code and Virginia Maintenance Code. In these codes, bedrooms are classified as “habitable rooms” and mostly found in Chapter 3: Building Planning of the Residential Code.

Summary of Bedroom Requirements

  • Dimensions: Must be a minimum of 70 sqft, with no horizontal dimension under 7 ft. For example, in a rectangular room, if one side measures 7 ft, the other side must be at least 10 ft.
  • Ceiling Height: Ceilings must be at least 7 ft tall. In rooms w/ sloping ceilings (i.e. upper level of Cape Cods), any area of the room underneath a ceiling less than 5 ft high cannot be counted towards the minimum dimensions.
  • Emergency Escape: Must be “at least one operable emergency escape and rescue opening” aka point of egress to the outside of the home. In most cases this is a window with minimum requirements that include not being more than 44 inches off the floor, minimum 24 in height, minimum 20 in width, minimum 5.7 sqft total clearing/opening, and if in a basement, a minimum window well of 9 sqft and ability for window to open fully.
  • Heating: Must be capable of maintaining a minimum room temperature of at least 68 degrees
  • Windows: Referred to as “glazed area” and must equal at least 8% of the floor area, meaning you can’t have a huge bedroom with one windo
  • Ventilation: All rooms must have a window that can open to the outdoors and the open area must be at least 4% of the total floor area
  • Outlets: Per the Virginia Maintenance Code, bedrooms must have at least two separate electrical outlets

What the Code Does Not Include

I contacted the Building Code office of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to confirm that the following common assumptions of bedrooms are not actually included in the code:

  • Doors: The code makes no mention of having an actual door or second point of egress (Fairfax County has a local requirement for two points of egress). Presumably, this allows for an English Basement with one point of egress, not connected to the rest of the home, to be considered a legal bedroom.
  • Interior passage: The code makes no mention of not passing through one (bed)room to get to a bedroom.
  • Lights
  • Closets

In all of my conversations with the Virginia Code office, they made it very clear that the code is meant to provide a minimum, non-restrictive set of requirements, but normal construction practices are assumed such as a bedroom having a door and being accessible from a hallway, not through another room.

What else do you think should be added to the minimum requirements for a bedroom in Virginia?

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column, please send an email to [email protected]. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at

Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with Real Living At Home, 2420 Wilson Blvd #101 Arlington, VA 22201, (202) 518-8781.

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