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For the longest time, I knew in the back of my mind that my basement room violated fire code. I had some readers ask about creating a makeshift bedroom such as converting a garage or attic to living space to rent out or live in so they can rent out the room they’re living in.

fire escape

fire escape

In a perfect world, the room you’re renting out shouldn’t violate the fire code.

I lived in my basement room for the longest time with a feeling that it wasn’t fully code compliant. I recently did some code research and determined that my basement room violates the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code section for alternative means of egress. Specifically the code states:

Secondary Means of Escape. The secondary means of escape, other than an existing approved means of escape, shall be one of the means specified in through it shall be an outside window or door operable from the inside without tools, keys, or special effort and shall provide a clear opening not less than 5.7 square feet. The width shall not be less than 20 inches and the height shall not be less than 24 inches. The bottom of the opening shall be not more than 44 inches above the floor.

Since my basement room doesn’t have a bulkhead door leading to the outside, the only secondary means of escape is window. However, the window is more than 44 inches above the floor.

Where as most bedrooms have a door and a window that meets the aforementioned requirements. An attic space may have a window providing a secondary means of escape, but it also poses an additional requirement of a fire escape if the living space is too high from the ground floor.

Since I was living in the basement and knowingly living on the edge for violating fire code, I assumed full responsibility for any evasive actions that might be needed in a fire emergency.


To be code compliant, I would need to install a bulkhead door, but that’s not going to happen as it involves foundation work. When I’m renting out this basement room to a roommate, I’ll need to disclose that and make them agree to a waiver that the basement room lacks a secondary egress. In the event of an emergency evacuation, the only reasonably means of egress is through the only door. It will be handy to have a fire extinguisher in the basement to contain any small fires if it comes to that.

Lastly, what I quoted is one small excerpt from the NFPA 101 that pertains to my basement room. The code covers nearly all variations of arrangements of habitable space, you’ll have to do some research just to be sure the room you’re renting out is compliant with code.

Photo Credit: Bob M

{ 1 comment }
  • Kristina December 19, 2016, 10:35 pm

    Are you serious that your solution is to have them sign a waiver? You realize that will not cover you if someone was to die in a fire? This is horrible advice to give out. You are flouting the fire codes and laws. I hope you have a good attorney.


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