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Windowless Bedrooms Sound Bad, But the Alternative is Worse

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Every state has a different definition of what is considered a “bedroom” but in most states that definition includes at least one window. There is a fire safety aspect of the law, windows allow for a second “egress” from the room in case of emergency. This is also why many states have codes saying that windows have to be a certain size and can not be too far from the floor. Natural light has also been proven to be incredibly important for humans and since people spend so much time in a bedroom giving them access to light is an important feature. 

There have been a few who have suggested that maybe not all bedrooms need windows. One is Warren Buffet’s partner Charlie Munger, who donated money to the UC Santa Barbara campus under the stipulation that a dorm be built with his design which includes windowless bedrooms. Idea for windowless bedrooms was one of practicality, not having every room have a window makes it easier to pack more into the same space. Munger’s solution to the lack of light were artificial windows that could be programmed to mimic the light patterns of the sun.

The proposal was immediately shunned by the media, calling these bedrooms akin to prison cells. Ultimately the plans are not likely to go through, a report done by the schools concluded that the bedrooms brought a health and safety risk and called for a redesign. But Munger isn’t the only one thinking about windowless bedrooms nor is he the only one to be vilified for the idea. 

In a recent blog post, To Save Downtowns, We Need to Embrace Windowless Bedrooms, journalist Matthew Yglesias explains how adding a few bedrooms to the middle of the building could make office to residential conversions more feasible. There is a widespread call for empty office buildings to be repurposed into homes. The country needs (way) more housing, especially affordable housing and these buildings are in dense urban areas, exactly where we want to put housing. We can reduce our reliance on cars, revitalize downtowns, and help mix households of different income levels in a way that would help upward mobility. 

Unsurprisingly, this blog post also got a lot of hate, including this article in The Nation with the pedantic title We Cannot Countenance Windowless Bedrooms. The author rails against the idea of windowless bedrooms, citing that allowing bedrooms to not have windows would create “the commodification of sunlight as an amenity, something you pay extra for like marble countertops or a walk-in closet.” Now, I agree that sunlight is much more than an amenity but let’s not forget that we are not talking about windowless apartments, we are talking about windowless bedrooms. Many people spend very few of their waking hours in their bedrooms and I would guess that they would prefer to have more light in other areas of their apartment like their family rooms, kitchens or even offices than in their bedrooms.

Plus, as much as it sounds good to get on a high horse and condemn windowless bedrooms, let’s remember that this argument is only semantics. Windowless rooms like offices and dens are completely legal and we all know that most of them get used as bedrooms at some point. So making windowless bedrooms illegal will not change the fact that many people already live in them.

We are at a difficult place as a society. We have a huge need for housing, one that is driving people to live in their cars or on the street. In addition, tearing down old buildings because their floor plates are a bit too large for residential conversion is an environmental mess. Faced with these problems, we have to think about possible concessions. If we can provide more houses for those that need them by relaxing our requirements for windows, then maybe we should at least consider it and not label anyone who brings up the subject a heartless Nazi. No one prefers to live in a bedroom with no windows…unless of course the alternative is no bedroom at all. 



It is easy to think that a window means sunlight but in cities with tall buildings that is not always the case. Here is a great map that shows the average shadows in each season for every street in New York City. 

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