Legal Basement Suite Requirement Checklist

These days, more people are looking for ways to offset the cost of home ownership. Not only does a basement suite help reduce mortgage payments, it can also give homeowners a chance to own and live in a neighbourhood that would otherwise be out of reach financially. On a community level, secondary suites also provide more affordable housing choices, typically with minimal impact to neighbourhoods.


Bylaw amendments for basement suites in Edmonton & Calgary

Both Edmonton and Calgary are encouraging more opportunities for income suites. Proposed changes to bylaws for basement suites in Edmonton could allow for new income suites in other types of housing, such as duplexes and row homes. And as of March 2018, secondary suites in Calgary no longer require approval by city council — something that used to take up to 20 per cent of council’s time. Instead, applications are processed and approved by public servants in the planning department.

If you’ve been thinking about adding a legal basement suite, now’s a great time to do some research and take notes on Alberta building code requirements. We’ve put together a secondary suite checklist to help get you started.  


Legal Secondary Suite Requirements

In addition to this checklist, which summarizes the Alberta Building Code requirements for any secondary suite, don’t forget to check for municipality-specific bylaws (City of Calgary basement development permit or City of Edmonton basement development permit).

  1. Doors for primary entry/exit. A door that provides occupants with a primary means of evacuation in the event of a fire or other emergency is critical. 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. Doors serving the exit must be a minimum of 810 mm (32”) wide and 1.89 m (74-1/2”) high. Utility rooms, laundry rooms, furnace rooms and all other doors leading to the exit must also be at least 810 mm wide.
  2. Bedroom egress windows. While ‘egress’ sounds like the name of a graceful coastal bird, it actually refers to the action of exiting or leaving a place. In a basement suite, each bedroom must have a window that can be fully opened and is large enough to use as a secondary escape route should the main exit doors become blocked in an emergency. Other basement suite window criteria include the following:
    1. The window must have an unobstructed opening of 0.35 m² (3.76 sq. ft.) in area and a minimum height and width of 380 mm (15”).
    2. When a window well is required, a clearance of 760 mm (3.76 sq. ft.) must be provided in front of the window. If a casement-type window is used, it must swing open a full 90 degrees.
    3. Security bars on a bedroom window must be removable from the inside without the use of tools, keys or special knowledge.
    4. When adding new windows or increasing the size of existing windows, you must consider the impact on the affected wall’s ability to resist soil pressure in a concrete foundation. Safety code officers may require that you hire a registered engineer before making any structural changes and you’ll want to keep in mind Alberta Building Code restrictions on window opening sizes and configurations.


Between size requirements, configuration rules, and other safety considerations, it can be challenging (or downright risky) to choose windows and doors for your basement suite without some expert advice. Your Gienow Sales Consultant can walk you through the options and ensure windows and doors meet the appropriate requirements.

  1. Ceiling height. Living spaces within a secondary suite must have a minimum ceiling height of 1.95 m.
  2. Fire protection (walls and ceiling). The walls and ceiling between the main dwelling unit and the secondary suite must use ½-inch drywall for fire protection.
  3. Smoke alarms. All smoke alarms within both the main dwelling and the secondary suite must be hard-wired into an electrical circuit and interconnected so they will all operate in unison.
  4. Furnace and water heater location. Gas-fueled furnaces and water heaters must be enclosed in a room with fire-protected walls and ceiling using ½-inch drywall.
  5. Independent heating and ventilation (new suites only). Pre-existing secondary suites may use a single heating and ventilation system to serve both the main dwelling and the secondary suite; however, in new construction, independent heating and ventilation systems are required.

If you’re considering adding a legal secondary suite in Calgary or Edmonton, and need some professional advice regarding windows and doors, we’re happy to help. Book a free quote online and we’ll help ensure that everything egress-related is up-to-code and safe.


Book your FREE consultation today