What is a bedroom? Why does it affect your septic system?
This may seem like an odd question requiring a simple answer. But, in fact it is one of the most widely misunderstood and misinterpreted parts of a home. More to the point is why does it matter and and to whom does it matter? The question of what is a bedroom affects those who are:
- building a new home,
- renovating or adding an addition to their home, and
- buying an existing home from either a private seller or a Realtor.
Let me start by relating this to an issue that arose a few weeks ago. I received a phone call from a client looking for some advice. He had recently decided to finish the second level of his Cape Cod style home. His intention was to use the finished spaces as an office and hobby room. This seemed simple enough.
However, when he went down to the local building department to pull a permit he was informed by the sanitarian that the space he was finishing was considered to be a potential bedroom, even though he had no intention of using either space as a sleeping area.
But here is where the big problem comes into view. He was then informed that in order to finish these new “bedrooms” he would also have to enlarge his current septic system.
Obviously, that was not what he was expecting to hear, nor had he anticipated the cost of such a project.
First, why did the sanitarian consider the spaces to be bedrooms?
In this case, the sanitarian determined that they had easy access to the bathroom on the first floor. Therefore, in his estimation, he determined that the 2nd floor spaces could be used as bedrooms, private areas for sleeping.
Even if the current owner was going to use them as an office and a hobby room, if he ever sold the home, the spaces would be considered a 3rd & 4th bedroom and could be used as such by new owners.
Second, what did that have to do with the size of the septic system?
Many falsely assume that the size of a septic system is related to the number of bathrooms in a home. This is not true! A septic system is determined by the number of bedrooms in a home.
For example, if your home was originally built as a 3 bedroom, then the septic system was most likely designed to meet the anticipated capacity of the dwelling (6 people; 2 per bedroom).
Now, if you add a 4th bedroom, or what the building official or health code considers a bedroom, your septic system must meet the needs of 2 more people. To meet the requirement, you may have to increase the capacity of the septic system at considerable expense.
Septic Systems and Additions To Your Home
The lesson is that, if you have a septic system, you must consider it’s current capacity when you are thinking about adding a new addition or renovation that could be considered a bedroom.
This is also a good reminder to Realtors. There have been a few cases where Realtors have put homes on the MLS where the number of bedrooms didn’t match the septic system capacity. i.e: The Listing was 4 bedrooms but later the buyer discovers that the septic system is only rated for 3 bedrooms. The results? The seller and the Realtor could be sued by the buyer.
The best way to avoid this potential problem is to verify the records at the town hall. Most health departments should have information on record via a septic design or “septic as-built.”
Look for a follow up blog in a few days where we will talk more about Bedrooms and how they are determined by vague health code requirements.
I do not wish to touch my existing septic system. I am closing in my garage to make it an apartment. I would like to add a septic system for this room as it seems to be the less expensive way to go. Do you know of any reasons that this will not be allowed?
There are a few factors involved here. Depending on your town, your septic system may need an alternate location for a leaching field. This may make it especially difficult to host two separate septic systems, each with their own alternative location for leaching fields. We recommend that you contact your local zoning department first to be sure that you’re allowed to add the apartment. They may also be able to give you some direction regarding the septic system. Otherwise, you would need to contact the health department for your area to determine if your plan is feasible.
Can finishing part of the basement to create a family room , would be considered as a addition of another bedroom by city/health department?
Hi Kristina. If you come down the stairs directly into the family room so that there’s no privacy, it shouldn’t be counted as a bedroom. It’s always best to check with the town anyway.
Thank you for this article. We are in this exact situation – buying a house listed as 3bd, actually is 4. The house had a septic inspection leach field fail, and the sellers agreed to get it fixed but kept the existing 3 bedroom septic specification, only updating the leach fields.
Oh no! We wish you the best with getting it all straightened out and up to date. 🙂
We ran into this problem and are now being sued for marketing it as a 4 bedroom when the septic tank is rated for 3 bedrooms. We built our home and the original plans mark that the 4th room is an office (closet, window, and door). We have not made any additions to the home and were unaware that this would even be an issue until a year after our home was sold. Are we or our agent liable and do the buyers have a case in Ca?
Hi Susan. I’m sorry to hear you had trouble with this. We don’t know enough about California laws to answer your question. We suggest you contact a local lawyer and wish you the best with your case!
If I were to build a home where 6 people would live and one area was built for 4 bedrooms and an in law suite with two bedrooms, what type of septic certification would I need? And if a lot is already certified for 2 bedroom, can it be recertified for more than 2 bedrooms? This would be in either VA or WV.
Hi Wanda. We’re not familiar with the laws and codes for VA or WV. We recommend that you reach out to a local civil engineer. Best of luck!
My house was 3 bedroom when I bought it. Septic is a 1500 gallon.
I converted a bonus room to a fourth bedroom. Septic tank is large enough but how do I recertify it to a 4 bedroom?
Hi Reijo. I’m not positive who would be most helpful. If you have the information for the company who installed the septic tank, you could try contacting them first. If not, perhaps try the Department of Public Health.
I just received a septic permit report from the county’s health department. How can I tell how many bedrooms the septic is installed for? The report has number of users as 4.
Hi Sandra. If the exact bedroom count is not on the report, then it would be best to contact the Health Department since there may be information we’re not aware of.
i am look to buy a home that has 5 bedrooms listen with a 4 bedroom perc septic tank, i am in for an additional expense of expanding the septic system?
Hi Morris. There are a lot of unknown variables here that make it difficult to give you a definite answer. If you’re buying a home that has these pre-existing conditions, possibly not. But there are many other factors to consider. You can contact the local health department for more specific feedback. If you need more assistance, feel free to give us a call or email.
we just finished building a new 4 bedroom home, just found out today that the building permit and septic system only was for a 2 bedroom. The builder owned the lot and sold as a package. We had no idea until today. any suggestions?
Hi Ed. That’s unfortunate. I’m sorry you have to experience this. At the very least, you’ll need to have a discussion with your builder. You’ll probably need to enlarge the septic system. That’s probably not an easy thing at this point, and it also doesn’t make sense to try to get rid of 2 bedrooms. We suggest contacting your attorney as well.