How to Transform Your Basement into a Secondary Suite

The Weiss-Johnson Blog

Mortgage prices steadily increase year after year, so it’s no surprise that more and more homeowners are looking for ways to earn some extra income to help pay for their mortgage. Adding a secondary suite in your home’s basement is a great way to make some extra money, and we have some excellent information on what you need to build a proper, legal suite in your home.

It’s important to note that building a secondary suite is only permitted in specific single family homes that fall in accordance with your municipal zoning bylaws. Before you begin, make sure to consult your municipal administration office regarding your plans.

The basic outline for the requirements to build a secondary suite is as follows:

  1. CEILING HEIGHT
    The minimum ceiling height for secondary suites is 1.95 meters. This requirement aligns with what is currently acceptable for unfinished basements, so this height is usually in line with existing homes.
  2. EXIT
    As a required safety feature, your secondary suite must have a direct exit to the outdoors. Your basement suite should either have stairs leading to an exit, or an exit built directly through the foundation with stairs outside leading up to ground level.
  3. BEDROOMS
    Each bedroom in any secondary suites in your home must have at least one window with an unobstructed opening of no less than 0.35m2 and a dimension of at least 380mm to serve as an alternate exit in case of emergency.
  4. FIRE PROTECTION
    You must provide fire protected walls and ceiling between your secondary basement suite, the main dwelling portion and around exits by using ½-inch drywall. This is necessary for all occupants to evacuate safely in case of fire.
  5. SMOKE ALARMS
    Both dwellings must have interconnected smoke alarms that are hardwired into an electrical circuit, and must operate in unison.
  6. FURNACES & WATER HEATERS
    Any gas furnaces and water heaters must be enclosed in a room complete with fire-protected walls and ceiling by using ½-inch drywall. Keeping heating equipment in open living areas runs a high risk of fire and health hazards.
  7. HEATING & VENTILATION SYSTEM
    A new secondary suite must be served by an independent heating and ventilation system. This is required due to studies demonstrating that smoke migration between secondary suites and the main dwelling can occur quickly if common ductwork is used for both areas of the home. Other pollutants, like cigarette smoke, are also easily transmitted between floors if common heating and ventilation systems are in use.

For more information, please visit the Alberta Municipal Affairs website or view the Alberta Building Code here and the Alberta Fire Code here.

Weiss-Johnson Heating, Air Conditioning and Home Comfort can assist you in the addition of a secondary suite within your home. From heating and cooling options to required mechanical trades, our fully-trained and professional staff can help you through construction, installation and service.

Questions? Let us know!

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The Weiss-Johnson Blog Team

We are the Weiss-Johnson Blog Team! All blog posts are written by a collective of WJ employees. Each one of our articles is designed to inform our customers of all the happenings in the world of home comfort! Thanks for reading!