When Does a Closet Become a Room?

When is a closet a room?

In most cases, interior closets are included within the total finished square footage. But, when the closet measures 12 x 20, and does not have any heat/air ducts, is it a closet or is it really a separate unheated room? Should it be counted in the total finished square footage, or should it be included within the unfinished category? According to ANSI®, the space must be heated and cooled by a central HVAC system and a closet typically serves a specific bedroom/space. If you really look through ANSI® there is not an answer to this question and like much about measuring square footage, “it depends” applies. Depending on the agent or appraiser that measures the space, it may (or may NOT) be included within the total square footage. Since it’s not specifically addressed in our “standard,” who can say for sure? But, according to the intent of the rule, if a closet is that large and does not have an HVAC vent, it is really not a fair comparison with other spaces that should be included within the heated/cooled living area.

So, when is a closet a room?

Yes, it depends on who you ask. Almost like those converted porches at the back of the house where they added carpet and one wall, but there’s not any heat/air vents. Some experts count it and some don’t. And, the difference in value is probably about half (or less) the value of the finished space. As usual, it depends plays into that calculation as well. Just remember when you are trying to determine rooms or spaces that should be included with the finished living area or what appraisers call “GLA,” always think of the apples to apples rule. If you were looking to buy this house, would this space function the same? If both houses were 2,000 sqft and one house had a closet that was 240 sqft (without an air vent), does that space “function” the same as the rest of the house? Is it useable space to the same degree/level as all the other space – does it provide for an apples to apples comparison? If it does, include it. If there is any doubt, ask for a second opinion; or, when in doubt, leave it out. GLA or GBA makes a big difference in value.

The ANSI® standard has about eleven pages (5 pages of “rules” and 6 sketches) for a topic that is extremely complex and controversial. There is just no way to answer every measurement question within this limited text. Far too many measurements are subjective. When you’re measuring square footage,  apply the apples to apples rule whenever the situation presents itself. You’ll be correct most of the time.

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Hamp Thomas

Hamp Thomas, founder and president of the Institute of Housing Technologies. He is also the president of Carolina Appraisers & Real Estate. Leading expert on residential square footage and its influence on the home valuation process. Instructor, Appraiser, Realtor and Author. He is the author of “How to Measure a House” based on the ANSI® Guideline; the American Measurement Standard, Death of an Industry-Real Estate Appraisal, etc. & offers continuing education courses (for agents and appraisers), and numerous other real estate courses, webinars, and YouTube videos.

2 Responses

1. Retired Appraiser says:

Answer: A closet becomes a room when the AMC threatens to withhold your fee until you make the change on the report.

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2. The ANSI ‘answer’ is yet another reason we should not deal in absolutes…as a general rule.

By their metric none of the bedrooms in my house upstairs or downstairs are rooms; My living room remains a room but the kitchen becomes suspect. Dining room would clearly be eliminated. Tough now it appears that one of the two finished bedrooms up in the livable attic now becomes a room as well.

The WALL furnaces downstairs are in the living room and a common hall by the kitchen, back bedroom, family room and back bath. The upstairs area is served by a combination window vented air conditioner and heating unit.

I think a better answer might be based on where the room is located and whether it has any exterior windows? Is it accessed only from a bedroom? Is it a mud room type of unheated area between a garage and a three hour fire door to the rest of the house?

Regardless, If it is stuck in the middle of everything else, it is living area (in my opinion). I had a 1920’s built apartment complex in an older part of Los Angeles near USC. Each one bedroom had a LARGE closet area between the hall and bathroom. Long ago I think these were simply separate ‘dressing rooms ‘ or areas in an era where even one bedroom apartments had formal dining rooms, with built in buffets and living rooms had Murphy beds.

In any case, the young couple clearly used it as the babies bedroom (about 8 x 10); other tenants used it as computer rooms, junk rooms, etc.. I identified it as ‘closet area’ but pointed out the additional utility and compared it with other apartments that had “small dens” reported. These were likely similar areas. The market seemed to treat these as better than normal one bedrooms, but less than two bedrooms. It was as much GLA as any closet would be. It was also part of the net rentable area.

Here again heat was by a wall furnace out in the living room or dining room, near the old floor register for the gravity heating system the units were designed with..

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When Does a Closet Become a Room?

by Hamp Thomas time to read: 2 min