Guest room in the basement: yea or nay?
May 24, 2014 8:11 PM   Subscribe

We're buying a house (hooray, and thanks for the previous helpful advice, AskMe!). It has a basement with no egress windows or doors. Our parents visit frequently. I'd like to get a sleeper sofa for the upstairs den to put them on when they come; both sets of grandparents and my husband would like to put a guest bed in the basement.

I think this is insane and they will be killed in a fire. My husband thinks I'm being overly paranoid and the basement is fine for occasional sleeping. What do you think, metafilter? A bed would be more comfortable for them but it just seems very dangerous to me.

(Basement is clean, finished, radon's been checked, etc. It's just the fire thing that concerns me.)
posted by gerstle to Home & Garden (23 answers total)
Is there a bathroom down there? My one concern with older folks sleeping in a non-bedroom situation is not having there be a staircase between them and a bathroom at night.
posted by jessamyn at 8:19 PM on May 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: There is a bathroom downstairs.
posted by gerstle at 8:24 PM on May 24, 2014

Is there any way to make an exit directly from the basement? Is there a window that could be enlarged? Otherwise, no no no. You are totally right. Nobody should sleep down there.
posted by mareli at 8:24 PM on May 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

I used to routinely sleep in a basement guest room with no egress window when visiting friends. Many other friends and relatives did as well. When the house burned, it was clear that had anyone been in that room, they'd have died. I no longer sleep, or put anyone to sleep, in a room without an egress window.
posted by not that girl at 8:26 PM on May 24, 2014 [31 favorites]

Equip your house with smoke alarms. Life is full of risks. This doesn't seem like an unreasonable one, to me.
posted by uncaken at 8:29 PM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Put in an egress window? Might not cost much more than a good sleeper sofa.
posted by amanda at 8:35 PM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is one of those occasions where you have to weigh the risks. Which is more likely-
1) Parents being trapped in a basement during a fire.
2) You walking in on parents having sex in your living room.

Both are pretty unlikely but number 2 is more likely than number 1. Put them in the basement. Leave a fire extinguisher at the top of the stairs so that they can blow themselves out if it will make you sleep better.
posted by myselfasme at 8:41 PM on May 24, 2014

I've had egress windows added in a basement. It was less expensive than I expected it to be. Perhaps this is something you could look into for your house, then you would have a safe bedroom for your guests that lets them have the privacy they might prefer.
posted by medusa at 8:42 PM on May 24, 2014 [11 favorites]

Your homeowners insurance may not pay out if you have a fire while code violations are in effect. If you're using a basement with no egress as a bedroom, even temporarily, a fire could not only kill your guests, but wipe you out financially as well as emotionally.

Your insurance and your local codes may vary, but you are right regardless. Seconding the air mattress.
posted by sageleaf at 8:49 PM on May 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

Putting in an egress window and making sure the whole basement is up to code is a great way to increase the value of your home. Since you've got a bathroom down there and it's finished, all you'd need is a closet in the room where you'd put a bed and it would be considered an additional bedroom. Take some time to run numbers, but if you can manage the expense at the moment, adding a whole bedroom by way of putting in an egress window might be a great thing in the long run. Talk to your parents about this idea - they might have some life experience to share about doing something like this - and then get a really nice air mattress for them to sleep on upstairs until the basement is safer.
posted by Mizu at 8:57 PM on May 24, 2014 [12 favorites]

There are reasons that building codes require bedrooms to have windows. Sure, you can take the risk that there won't be a fire while anyone is visiting, and you'll probably get lucky and the house won't burn down with your parents in it. Odds are certainly quite good.

But then, I'd bet your parents tend to visit around Christmas or other holidays, times when housefires actually become more likely. Still not *very* likely, and they'd probably be safe, but is it worth the risk?

Consider getting a murphy bed with a real mattress or a memory foam mattress topper for your sleeper sofa so that it doesn't suck, if that's the main objection to sleeping in the den.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:01 PM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Install an egress window. They're not too difficult to put in. Sleeping on a pull-out couch, while certainly highly preferable when the alternative is potential death by fire, is otherwise incredibly uncomfortable and would probably sharply curtail my visits.
posted by anderjen at 9:01 PM on May 24, 2014

I would rather walk in on people having sex in my living room than have them killed or maimed by a fire. Put in an egress window or have them sleep upstairs.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:26 PM on May 24, 2014 [9 favorites]

Egress window! Not horribly expensive, easy to accomplish.

The value of your house goes up, you can sleep well knowing your family is safe when sleeping, and hey, it makes the basement all around a safer place for anyone at anytime.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:37 PM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've had egress windows added in a basement. It was less expensive than I expected it to be.

I have an upcoming AskMe question about this, but at least from my preliminary research adding an egress window may not be all that prohibitive. It's definitely the best of both worlds in terms of privacy and safety.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:43 PM on May 24, 2014

You are absolutely not being paranoid. The inconvenience of sleeping in a living room is far preferable to being trapped in a fire. Putting in an egress window sounds like a great idea, whether anyone sleeps down there or not. An egress door would be even better, of course. Your concern is totally valid. Personally, I wouldn't budge on this one.
posted by Verba Volant at 11:06 PM on May 24, 2014

I'm sure that your city has code that makes it illegal for someone to sleep in a basement room that has no secondary exit. If you can afford it and people visit often, do the egress window. Sleeping in the living room sucks.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:55 PM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sleeper sofas are miserable for sleeping. It's entirely possible that your parents and in-laws just don't want to sleep on a fold out mattress. Between the folding mattress and the living room, my parents would go to a hotel.

Get an egress window.
posted by 26.2 at 12:57 AM on May 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

FWIW there actually are sleeper sofas that are quite comfy. They tend to use clever arrangements of foam as opposed to the old (and terrible) folding mattresses.

Nthing no. If something terrible happens you want to know that you did all you could.
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:06 AM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

My parents have a finished basement with two bedrooms and a bathroom but no egress windows in either room. I had to stay there for a couple of months after my divorce and every night I was afraid of fire. It's also weird waking up in a room with absolutely no natural light, and I would wake up periodically throughout the night wondering if I'd overslept. Really agreeing with installation of windows. My parents have had other guests stay there and it really frightens me, but after repeatedly talking to them about it, I'm glad to say they're having them installed this summer. Bonus, it is raising the property value, as without the windows those bedrooms could not be legally considered bedrooms.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 1:41 AM on May 25, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. They've all been pretty emphatic that it's fine, and I grew up in states without basements, so I didn't know if I was being excessively cautious. But if most of you agree with me I'm going to stick to my guns.

We plan to put an egress window in the basement eventually. We can't afford to do it this summer, and we're expecting twins in the fall so we'll be having lots of visits from the grandparents. I read several AskMes about sleeper sofas and people seemed to be in agreement that one brand (La-Z-Boy) was comfortable. I guess we'll have to figure out whether that's actually the case, or whether we should come up with a different plan.

(The den closes off and would be private, so the only issue is whether we could make them comfortable in there. If not we can get the kids a queen bed and kick them out to the den when grandma and grandpa come.)

Thanks again for the feedback, it is very much appreciated.
posted by gerstle at 5:15 AM on May 25, 2014

Get twin beds for the living room. Place them both sideways against the walls. Use them instead of a couch with a row of thick pillows the size of floor pillows along the back. During g-parent visits rearrange the living room so if they prefer the two beds are side by side and they can co-sleep.

After you can afford an eggress window you will have beds ready for the twins to use when they graduate out of the crib(s).

I'm of the school that believes with working smoke detectors there is nothing wrong with people sleeping in the basement, but if you are afraid that it is dangerous then it is not unreasonable to employ a solution that won't make you anxious. Feelings matter.

You may also want to avoid turning your basement into territory that belongs to the g-parents so that it is hard to shift them if they are getting more ubiquitous than you like. Pointing out to your husband that he prolly is not ready to start actually permanently living with his or your parents may make him more comfortable with the idea of parking guests precariously in the living room. This depends on the parents, of course.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:07 AM on May 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

As the dad of (now four year-old) twins, I'd like to respectfully suggest that anything you can do to make it easier for people like grandparents to support and help you is a priority. Just surviving the first six months is a struggle.
posted by werkzeuger at 11:55 AM on May 25, 2014

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