Secondary Suites in Calgary - A Few Tips

Thinking about adding a secondary suite to your home?  Or, perhaps purchasing one that already has a suite?  The best advice I can give is “be careful”.  If adding one to your existing home, do it right.  Improperly done, without the right zoning and required permits can put you, your tenants and your investment at risk.


1)  City council has been debating secondary suites for a long time but until changes are mad, if you have an R1, R-C1, or R-C1L you won’t be able to add a secondary suite without a long and uncertain Land Use Amendment application.  Check with the city first.

2)  Apply for a permit from the City of Calgary.  Then wait.  And hope for the best.

3)  You must have a lot that is big enough.  Generally this means 13 meters wide by 30 meters long.

4)  Basement widows must be large enough for an adult to get out from in an emergency.  This means an unobstructed opening of a minimum of 0.35m2 (3.8 ft2 ) with no one side being less than 380 mm (15 inches).  The window shall be openable from the inside without using tools or the need for special knowledge. Usually, only slider and casement type windows meet this requirement.

5)  All rooms must have a minimum ceiling height of 2100mm (82.5″) over a certain amount of floor area, depending on what the room is used for. For example, a living room needs at least 10 m2 (108 ft2) of ceiling height of at least 2100mm; some portions of the room can be lower or higher..

6) The secondary suite must have their own balcony, deck or patio of at least 7.4 m2.   

7)  If you are building a new suite, you will need a separate heating and ventilation system for each unit. If your suite was built before 2006 you might be able to continue using a single heating/ventilation system for both suites.  Legalizing an existing suite can be a challenge.


8)  Furnace rooms must have a layer of 1/2″ gypsum board on both sides of the walls and the ceiling. Depending on the room, it may need some or all of the ductwork, wiring and plumbing to be removed and relocated so the floor is completely protected.

9) Smoke (fire) separation between the main dwelling and secondary suite must be installed (meaning, add a half inch fire rated drywall on ceiling/walls/common area/exit).

10) You need at least one smoke detector in each suite, plus at least one in any common areas, such as laundry rooms, corridors or furnace rooms. Smoke detectors must be permanently wired to an electrical circuit in such a way that when one alarm is triggered, all alarms will sound. Smoke detectors must be hard wired, not battery operated alarms are allowed.

In summary, it's not as simple as putting a new door to your basement and collecting rent.  If this is done properly, to code, and with permits, adding a suite will increase, not decrease your property value in most cases (contrary to popular opinion).

This is simply a starting guide.  More information can be found on the City of Calgary web site here -

Or, contact the City of Calgary’s Development and Building Approvals Department at 403-268-5311.

No comments

Post Your Comment:

Data is supplied by Pillar 9™ MLS® System. Pillar 9™ is the owner of the copyright in its MLS®System. Data is deemed reliable but is not guaranteed accurate by Pillar 9™.
The trademarks MLS®, Multiple Listing Service® and the associated logos are owned by The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) and identify the quality of services provided by real estate professionals who are members of CREA. Used under license.