Renovation | 30.04.2016

Thinking About Adding a Income or In-Law Suite?


Have you been thinking about adding an income or in-law suite to your residence? As Canada – and other countries in the developed world – brace for the ‘gray tsunami,’ many of us are thinking about how we see ourselves aging and how we can ensure the continued enjoyment of our homes as long as possible.

You may be an empty-nester or one of the ‘sandwich generation’ of caretakers – seeing your kids out of the house, then finding yourself with one or both of your aging parents coming to stay. Perhaps you’re simply confronting the reality of savings or a pension that just doesn’t go as far in our economy as you had hoped and you would prefer to find a way to stay in your home rather than downsize.

One of your options is to create an income suite in your current home. From watching reality TV you may think that this can be created in 30 minutes… It looks so simple… Real reality is that things are a bit more complicated than the shows make it out to be.

Here are some things to think about if you are considering adding an In Law Suite…

  • First, you want to go to or call, your municipality permits department and check out the rules and regulations as they vary from city to city.

  • You should then find a good contractor who you can work with. If they are good at what they do, they will save you a lot of headaches. They will use qualified sub-contractors, including design people (with a BCIN#) who can design and create plans and drawings.
  • Your contractor will then go to City Hall and get a Building Permit which you MUST get. There are so many insurance ramifications associated with an income suite, so you want to make sure you are covered and the unit is legal.  The City Inspector that is sent to your home will insure the project meets the Building Code.  In addition to this, the Licenced Electrical Contractor will take out a permit with the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) and all electrical will also be inspected by the ESA.
  • Other items that are important and will be addressed during the renovation are:

    a) Proper fire and sound separation between the suite and the rest of the house

    b) Sufficient lighting for each room

    c) Fire egress (it usually means cutting a larger window opening in your concrete basement wall if the suite is in the basement)

    d) The heating system must be rebalanced so the increased heating requirement of the new suite does not make other rooms in the house cool

    e) Plumbing must be properly connected to the sewer system which has a whole set of challenges and must be done properly, or the consequences can be dire

    f) If someone will be living in your basement full-time you will want to have a test done for Radon
    (Radon is a radioactive tasteless, odorless, colourless gas that forms naturally when uranium breaks down in soil. The Health Canada website can give you all the information you need, including the names of qualified contractors who can do the testing and remediation if required).

This type of renovation requires a significant commitment from the homeowner, financial and emotional; but if the project is done right, it can be just the solution for adding a little income or giving a comfy new home to a family member.