question for those with children sleeping on a different level

illinigirlJuly 18, 2013

we are proceeding with our building plans- ranch with master on the first floor, a second bedroom for our special needs child to be near us on the first floor, and then 2 bedrooms in a finished walkout basement, and 2 bedrooms over the garage.

The master is at the opposite end of the garage. The only staircase up and down is near the garage. So the secondary bedrooms for the kids will be either over the garage or in the basement. I am leaning towards having them in the basement as I feel in case of fire they can escape more easily. I am planning on a security system so I will hear when doors open/close. I am going to install cameras in some rooms for the special needs child, if necessary I could install them in the other kids rooms to be used on an 'as needed' basis.

But either way, the secondary bedrooms will be a good distance from the master. In theory I'm fine with this, but is this a bad practice? In extreme emergency let's say i can't access the stairs because of then i'd have to go outside through the front door and to the back to access the kids from the back of the house through their windows or slider door (with heavy glass breaking object in hand). The kids will be 13 and 7 by the time the build is theoretically completed.

Is there a good rule of thumb or standard good practice for accessing the kids rooms who sleep on other levels?


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I believe that generally fire fighters prefer that no one reenter a building that needs to be evacuated because of a fire or other emergency.

I was more concerned about hearing a sick child in the night than saving them from a house fire. I believe house fires are less common all the time.

FWIW, I wouldn't put a camera in a 13 year old's bedroom. It would be failing to give him/her an age appropriate amount of privacy.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2013 at 9:16PM
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Seems to me there are two concerns to address:

1. Unpredictable disasters: fire, wind, rain, carbon monoxide, etc. If these happen at night, particularly after everyone is asleep, the level of difficulty to successfully deal with these challenges increases greatly. Few people are fully prepared for a disaster at 2 AM.
2. Unpredictable adolescent behavior: Sneaking in and out at night, letting who knows what in or out of the house, other conduct that is normal for young children and adolescents, and other behavior that is not so normal, such as reacting to parental discipline, disagreement, etc.

Since it's your family, I guess the good rules of thumb and standards of practice are yours to set.

I, for one, would never be comfortable with my young children sleeping on other levels of the house, particularly if they can enter and leave the house independently.

Good luck on your project.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2013 at 10:20PM
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Sophie Wheeler

It doesn't sound as though the home you are planning suites the needs of your family. Start over, and plan one that does. Either a single story with all of the bedrooms clustered together, or an upstairs master.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2013 at 11:47PM
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Sophie Wheeler

It doesn't sound as though the home you are planning suites the needs of your family. Start over, and plan one that does. Either a single story with all of the bedrooms clustered together, or an upstairs master.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2013 at 11:50PM
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Are you building both sets of bedrooms? I think the idea of having them in the walk out basement is okay. If you are doing both sets, if they do something that is "bad" as far as sneaking out, etc. They lose the privilege of a really nice room and get moved up to that over the garage.(I'm all about consequences ;)). As far as being far from them, they won't be "little" kids by the time you move in. I think a monitor in the hallway would let you hear if they need help if they get sick. They should also be at an age when they would understand basic fire drills and practice them.I think you'll be okay. Is it perfect? No, but very few of us can build the perfect house.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 8:31AM
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Where we are located it is pretty standard (and expected for resale) to have the master on the first floor and other bedrooms on the 2nd floor in a 2 story. That's what we're planning.

With that said, I have also thought a lot about what would happen if there was a fire and I couldn't get to the stairs. My husband is a firefighter so he's done several drills for our 3 and 4 year old, since they were 2 years old. They know the plan of what to do, where to go, and where we will all meet (a tree at our neighbor's house). He practices with them a lot and they do great. And he puts on his mask so they are not scared should they ever need to be rescued by a firefighter and won't go to him because of the looks of the mask. Might be overkill, but in his line of work he sees what can happen and I guess you can never be too prepared. I'd hate to have a tragedy happen just because we didn't spend a couple hours once every 1-2 months making sure our kids knew what to do.

In our new house we are planning on getting the ladders that you put out the window and practice practice practice, as I'm sure they'll be scared the first several times (I would be!). And we are designing the house to make sure that under their windows there is a roof of a patio in case they do have to get out, it's not just a straight 2 story drop off.

We're also planning on putting in an intercom system between all the rooms.

Hope that helps. :)

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 9:36AM
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thanks for the inputs so far. I hope their was no misunderstanding about my question though....I was asking about a safety standard for design/layout planning. Such as is having one set of stairs safe? Is it considered to be unsafe to have the kids sleep on other levels?

As far as behavior of children virgil is right that that is a matter of my own personal standard....and that is not what I'm asking about. I definitely agree with the poster who suggested that a loss of privilege could take place if rules are violated with regards to entry/exit of the home.

holly I'm not sure why you are suggesting this home plan isn't suitable for our family? We are in the design phase and this is why I'm asking about safety. I was wondering if perhaps the location of the bedrooms within the basement (such as closer to the stairway) would make a difference.

We originally thought we would only be able to have a 2 story with all bedrooms up because of my special needs child. When we came up with the solution of a den/bedroom area on the first floor near the master that opened up the possibility of a ranch home with other secondary bedrooms on a second floor and walkout basement level. For a home of this price market agrees this is a common layout. And my kids aren't babies anymore. They don't wake up at night calling for me anymore. We still have baby monitors in place for my special needs child and I have an extra one that could go near the other kids rooms on a different level so I could hear them calling for me if they get sick. Plus the oldest child would be able to help out the younger one or at least come and get me. They want to sleep in the same room but I don't know how long that will last. I won't plan on it. ;)

other thoughts?

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 10:22AM
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I have a ranch with 2 bedrooms in a walkout basement. When we moved in, the kids down there were 7 and 9 years old, and my youngest was upstairs with us. I worried about all the same things as you, but, 10 years later, have never had a single issue and have not regretted it. Their "new" bedrooms were so much safer in the event of fire than their old bedrooms in our split-level with its second-floor drop to the driveway below. In this house they just need to go out their ground-floor windows. We went over this many times with them, stressing that it was okay to use their desk chair to break the window!

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 10:39AM
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We went through this same cycle of thought when we decided on a 2 story - main floor master. We would have done bedrooms downstairs if it was a walk out but it's not so we didn't go that route. It is very common here though to have a 2 bedroom ranch (on main level) with another 2 bedrooms down.

We will definitely be going through the fire drills and have ladders for easier escape (although I am sure my boys will be scared to go through it at first).

As for stairwell(s). Our original drawing had a main stairwell up to the bedrooms and then there was a hallway that connected to a bonus room above the garage that then had it's own set of stairs leading to the garage. We ditched the garage bonus room but I thought I'd mention it as a possible option for you.

I do get antsy myself when thinking about fire and the like. I think that's just what parents do and for good reason - to drive having a plan for those emergencies. It is a factor that needs to be weighed. I think it may be more of a wonder for me because I grew up in a single story my whole life so this will be quite a shift.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 12:16PM
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No matter what your floor plan is, for little more than the cost of granite countertops, consider adding a residential sprinkler system if not already required by your jurisdiction.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 1:20PM
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mejjie said:
"We went over this many times with them, stressing that it was okay to use their desk chair to break the window!"

Why would they need to break a window? Shouldn't there be operable egress windows/doors if you have a walkout? Our walkouts always had operable double hung windows and sliding doors. I don't think a bedroom with windows that need to be smashed would meet egress/safety codes. As an adult, I wouldn't want to sleep in a room where I would have to use brute force to escape an emergency. Can you clarify your statement?

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 2:40PM
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I don't think the OP meant they wouldn't have egress windows and doors. I think they were just planning for the worse - i.e. the windows are stuck so it's ok to smash the window or do whatever needed to get out.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 3:56PM
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Yes, I meant what dreamhome said. We stressed to the kids that if they couldn't get the windows open they should just go ahead and break them.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 8:49PM
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Given the number of kids your post suggests (5 it seems), it will be very difficult to design a house with all 6 bedrooms on the same level. It might have been nicer to have say three on one level (with one being the master) so at resale, families of very young children could have their two youngest on the same level as they were (having a master and nice size room for two kids to share might also be workable). Our oldest went to the basement level for his room when he was 6 at the time our third was born (complete with baby monitor). The second born joined him in the basement level when child number 4 was born (second was 8). In our house, prior to addition, we did not have the space to have kids share rooms as the bedrooms were very, very small. A monitor in each hall (but not in bigger kids' rooms) is a great compromise. Of course, we rarely have masters on different levels from the majority of other bedrooms so the expectations of future buyers in your region would be very different than ours. Does a realtor in your area have any concern with splitting the bedrooms up among three floors?

Good luck with your planning.


    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 10:02AM
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thanks carol,
just to clarify we have 3 kids. current ages 12, 12, and 6. they would be 13, 13, and 7 by the time the house is completed. One of the 13yr olds has special needs and must sleep in a room near his room will be what doubles as a den for resale purposes. it won't have its own bathroom.

The other two children have the option of sleeping upstairs in 2 bedrooms over the garage (bonus space) or 2 bedrooms in the walkout basement. Those bedrooms will likely be more spacious because there will be lots of square footage downstairs- 2300 available, we may finish something like 1600-1800 of it. In my mind the upstairs rooms will serve as guest rooms with separate zoning so if not used can be shut off.

Also with the space downstairs (basement i mean) I'm planning on second laundry area which will be convenient. We love basements, and we live in our basements. With southern and western exposures the basement will feel just like a regular floor with plenty of light if we put the bedrooms in the right spots. In addition to 2 bedrooms down there, we plan on a second family room (a sort of media room), a bar area with kitchenette, and a play room for my special needs kiddo's sensory things. And I'm hoping to squeeze in a small exercise room and laundry closet so i don't have to carry their laundry up and down. Of course a full bath, maybe a second half bath depending on how the cost all plays out. It may not be necessary.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 2:25PM
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The kids will be 13 and 7 by the time the build is theoretically completed.

Instead of trying to make the house safe, make the kids safer. Teach them what to do in case of a fire. (and you should do it for the current house as well as the new one).

By the time I was 5 I had been taught what to do in case of a fire ... it's really easy. You get the heck out of the house and go to the designated gathering point.

My sister's house was on the back side of hill from the big Berkely CA wildfire. She had been in meetings all day, dashed home from SF to find that her sons, aged 9 and 6, were on the front lawn, watching the flames shooting up from the hill. But, they had put the cats in the bathroom, had the cat carriers out, had packed suitcases and retrieved the family's important papers (and their favorite toy).

They were ready to go, or go with cops or neighbors if necessary, taking the cats.

She was gobsmacked ... the boys explained that they had been watching the TV and the announcer had told people what to pack to get ready if they were told to evacuate. So they did.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2013 at 12:24PM
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lazy - that is awesome! At our house we go over repeatedly - we can get another XXX (treasured toy/blanket) but we cannot get another YOU! Do NOT wait for us or anyone else - GET OUT and we will all meet at the designated spot. Repetition is so important to try to override panic with pre-planned decisions. Heartbreaking to hear stories of kids found hiding in closets, etc. :(

illini-it sounds like you have a very well thought out plan that will serve your needs nicely. We are planning on eventually finishing off about 900 square feet of our 1700. The exercise area that we use a lot will not be part of that 900 but will have windows, etc. I am looking forward to daylight windows in the basement - so much more inviting and livable. We have small windows in our standard basement now and it does feel cave like at times.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2013 at 1:48PM
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In our area, it's pretty much standard practice to have a main level master with all of the secondary bedrooms upstairs.

BTW, we have 10 yo with special needs. He sleeps on a separate floor. The only thing I would be worried about is a fire. He might not know what to do. But your children should be taught what to do. You might want to get one of those window ladders for the 2 nd floor. An alarm system is also useful to alert you of any outdoor window openings. Our stairs are very close to our master bedroom.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2013 at 7:30PM
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We actually had a fire a few yrs ago so when we built this house I wanted my boys right next to me, since they were quite young. We built a ranch with 3 bedrooms and 2 bedrooms in the basement for our much older girls.

I loved having my young sons so close to me. Now, several years later they are old enough to be further away from me and also want more privacy. They have moved to one of the large basement bedrooms, which has nice, large windows and a walkout for escape. We have a wired fire, CO, alarm. I feel they are very safe.

I think the issue of sneaking out is exaggerated. I have been mothering kids now for 32 yrs and there are a lot of things I worry about more than that.

I would worry about having my kids upstairs away from me more than in a walkout finished basement. If they are old enough, even upstairs is fine. Just my 2 cents.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2013 at 8:36PM
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