As homeowners are looking to maximize their home’s value and floor plan, the option of adding a secondary suite is becoming increasingly popular in Alberta. In response, cities across the province have created guidelines and building codes for secondary suites to ensure they are safe for inhabitants. Edmonton was the first major city to pass a secondary suite bylaw in 2007, and Calgary followed suit in 2015 to make it easier, cheaper, and quicker to either construct a legal basement suite, or legalize an existing suite. Calgary further amended the Land Use Bylaw in March of 2018. If you are thinking of building a secondary suite in your home, here are some of the basics of what you need to know.
So, what exactly is a secondary suite?
A secondary suite is defined as a separate living space created within a main residence that was initially designed to accommodate a single-family. The most common types of secondary suites are basement suites and above-garage units, though in-law suites and garden suites are options as well.
To qualify as a secondary suite, the space must have its own exit leading outside and have solid core doors. The suite must also have its own heating and ventilation systems, as well as kitchen, living, sleeping and bathroom areas. There must also be one window in each bedroom that can be opened from the inside without the use of any special tools or keys. This window must be unobstructed and large enough so that anyone can fit through in the event of an emergency. Finally, the suite must have an interconnected smoke and carbon monoxide alarm system.
Areas such as the backyard, parking spaces, laundry rooms, and storage spaces can be shared with the primary residence. In Calgary, only duplexes and single-family homes can have secondary suites - semi-detached homes, townhouses and apartments do not qualify.
In addition to the requirements above, a secondary suite is only considered to be legal if the proper application and approval process is followed. This includes securing building and development permits before proceeding with work.
The benefits of developing a basement suite (or legalizing an existing one)
Basements are often underutilized, and serve only as a space for storage, so why not turn it into an opportunity for an additional monthly income? Getting rental income can help pay down your mortgage faster and allow you stay in your home well into your golden years by generating a passive income. If you’re not looking for renters, a secondary suite is a way to increase your home’s resale value and enables you to provide accommodations for extended family, aging parents and grown children.
Building a secondary suite is a win for renters too - it increases the city’s rental stock, so it’s more affordable to live. A suite in a home also offers something many apartments can’t - access to a yard and free parking. Furthermore, many homeowners live in beautiful, established neighbourhoods that give the renting population the opportunity to access schools, parks, and other amenities that they otherwise might not have had access to.
If your home is being built, ask your builder how they can integrate a secondary suite into your home’s layout. If you’re buying an existing home, consult with a remodeler who specializes in home additions or basement remodels. They will know the fine details of code requirements and how to work with your existing infrastructure.