Is your “bedroom” safe for sleeping?
Originally appeared in Bay Area News Group publications on June 20, 2014
“Safety is something that happens between your ears, not something you hold in your hands.”
– Jeff Cooper
Few buyers think about safety when purchasing a home. Some items, like “trip hazards” outside the house, or hitting one’s head walking down stairs to a lower level, are worth noting. Nothing, however, compares to the danger and possible disaster of you or family and friends being badly burned or dying of carbon monoxide poisoning. This is something that can happen in rooms used as bedrooms that are unsafe for sleeping.
In 1995, I wrote an article, “What Is a Bedroom?” It is available on my web site. Local building department rules may differ by locality and codes I referenced back then may have changed, but the basic precepts remain the same. Today’s mandatory installation of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors help, but cannot be relied on to mitigate dangerous circumstances.
Two ways out
A bedroom must have at least two different exits. One way can be a window; the second generally is through the entry opening or door to that room. This is the primary feature to look for when evaluating bedrooms in a home you are thinking about purchasing.
As our area has a majority of older houses, it is important to check the functionality of bedroom windows. Many times they are painted shut and can only be opened after laborious paint removal. In some instances, sash windows may have missing ropes and weights or casement windows may have broken or missing crank handles.
Buyers and some agents often underestimate the potential danger of windows that are inoperable and they are not fully aware of why all bedroom windows must be working when a buyer takes possession of the property. If you are awoken by fire or smoke blocking the entry to your bedroom, the only other way out may be through the window.
Window size/distance from floor
Another overlooked item is the distance from floor to window sill and the window’s dimensions. Competent home inspectors comment on this in their reports.
These requirements are to allow you to exit and fire rescue personnel to enter. Accordingly, the maximum floor-to-window sill height is 44″. If it is significantly higher, you may not be able to evacuate without an inside ladder. Fire rescue could possibly injure themselves when entering through the window by misjudging where the floor is, especially if there is heavy smoke and limited visibility.
Many Bay Area homes were built with window sills that exceed this height and have been sold and resold numerous times. The point is to be aware and prepared.
Bedrooms created from garages often do not meet the guidelines of a sleeping room. Be careful to check this out, especially noting the number of exits, window size and sill height. If done under permit, rarely the case, this should not be a problem.
Window too high off the ground
I have seen and sold many properties with bedrooms two or more stories above ground and none had a fire escape. In these situations, how does someone leave through the window if that is the only option? This is a rarely asked question.
If it was you, the choice would be possible death by doing nothing or death/serious injury from a long jump. This is why I strongly suggest to my buyers, or to another agent’s buyers if I am listing agent, that they purchase a fire escape rope ladder.
Hot water heaters and furnaces are not allowed in bedrooms nor can they be accessed through a bedroom. Any exceptions must be verified by the local building department.
Next to garage
Over the years, I have seen many a room that was staged as a bedroom with a door opening into the garage. This is not allowed because of the danger of carbon monoxide gases.
It is not unusual for rooms in a basement to be set up for sale as a bedroom. Nevertheless, a quick perusal may reveal either no windows or those that do not meet specifications discussed above. The same is true for proximity to gas appliances and the lack of at least two ways out in case of fire.
“In-law” units are common in the Bay Area, although most are not authorized and registered with local authorities. Various jurisdictions are in the process of legalizing them with the theory that they already exist and, by doing so, they will be adding to the known housing inventory. This is not to mention significant fees that will accrue to city or county coffers.
Unfortunately, there is little, if any, discussion of the safety concerns regarding sleeping rooms. In many cases, these in-law sleeping rooms either cannot be altered to meet safety standards, or doing so will be expensive, making it unlikely that homeowners will spend the money.
The number of bedrooms in a home has a definite effect on comfort and value. Nonetheless, the key aspect of a bedroom is safety for those who sleep there. Remember that when purchasing your next property.