Legalizing or Adding Secondary Suites

Whether you already have an existing secondary suite or are looking to create one, there is a lot to know when it comes to making it legal and there are lots of changes coming May 2020 to make this happen.  Below is important information you need to know before investing any money into this project…but keep in mind that the City of Calgary is waiving $900 in permit and registration fees until May 31, 2020 so don’t think about it too long!  More detailed information can be found on the City of Calgary website, I am doing my best to keep this as simple as possible!

What’s changing in 2020?

  • In June 2020, the City of Calgary will reinstate fees for the development permit ($471) and suite registry ($232).
  • Starting in June 2020, all secondary suites (regardless of construction date) will need to comply with the National Building Code - 2019 Alberta edition. The most notable change is that homes with a secondary suite will need to have a dedicated heating source, such as a furnace, for each unit.
  • All secondary suites must be registered with the City of Calgary by May 31, 2020 in order to avoid fines.

Legalizing an Existing Suite

Steps to take to ensure a smooth process….Step 1 is to review the rules and fees, Step 2 is to prepare a checklist, Step 3 is apply for necessary permits and Step 4 is to book an inspection.  Start with your checklist by reviewing the guidelines below.

Bedroom Egress Windows:

Gone are the days of transforming into a contortionist to fit through the basement window in case of an emergency…you have to actually be able to exit comfortably out of a window for it to be code!

  • Each bedroom must have at least one window that can be fully opened and used to escape during an emergency.
  • Security bars serving a bedroom window must be removable from the inside without the use of tools, keys or special knowledge. A large majority of security bars do not meet the requirements and are not accepted.

Smoke and Fire Protection:

The new codes require an excessive amount of smoke detectors that are connected together, although we feel safety is a priority, be prepared to get the ear plugs out if you burn the toast!

  • Smoke detectors must be installed at or near the ceiling on each floor level in the main residence and suite. They are also required in each bedroom, common space and any supplementary spaces. They must be interconnected, so the activation of one smoke detector causes all units in the home to sound.
  • Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors are required in each unit. They should be installed at the height specified by the manufacturer. 

Exterior Stairways and Protection of Secondary Suite Exits:

There are additional requirements to consider when the only exit for a suite is served by an exterior staircase.

  • If the exterior exit staircase is not fully enclosed with walls and a roof, the windows themselves must be protected.

Heating and Ventilation:

Definitely a bonus here for pre-existing secondary suites…the use of a single heating and ventilation system to serve both the main dwelling and the secondary suite is acceptable under the Alberta Fire Code.

Building a New Secondary Suite

In addition to the above noted, if you are building a new suite, below are some key guidelines to follow…additional exterior stairway and access guidelines can be found on the City of Calgary website. Building a new suite vs legalizing an existing suite will definitely be a larger investment.

Ceiling and Door Heights:

If you are over 6 feet tall you may want to reconsider a basement suite. The Alberta Building Code requires a minimum floor to ceiling height of 1.95 m for basement suites.

Entry and Exit Points:

The main residence and suite must have at least one exit that leads directly outside. This may be a door that leads to an exterior stair or a door to a common set of interior stairs that is separated from both the main residence and suite.


Secondary suites must have:

  • A supply of hot water and at least one kitchen sink, bathroom sink, toilet and a bathtub or shower.
  • A back-flow prevention device on the branch drain of the sanitary sewer line.


A common electrical panel can serve both suites, provided there are no shared branch circuits between the suites. It is recommended the electrical panel be located in a common area, or that each tenant has access to the electrical panel. ​

Installing a Furnace of Gas Appliance:

An independent heating and ventilation system that includes independent ductwork is required for secondary suites.

Several heating systems can be used:

  • A second forced air furnace may be installed for the suite.
  • Electric baseboard heaters or hydronic radiant heating may be installed with an independent ventilation system, like a heat recovery ventilator.

If a single boiler is being used for both units, separate zone controls are required for each unit. Heating equipment must include easy access to compartments for inspection, maintenance and cleaning.

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