With the demand for affordable housing and costs of home ownership on the rise in the GTA, more and more homeowners are looking to renovate their basements into a legal secondary dwelling to help offset mortgage costs.
A basement apartment is quite different than a finished basement that is part of the rest of the home. Basement apartments are considered as stand-alone residence, so there are important building and fire code requirements that must be considered.
The first step in converting your basement into an apartment is to understand the zoning and bi-law requirements for basement apartments or secondary dwellings in your municipality. Not every municipality allows for a basement apartment to be built, and those that do will have minimum frontage, parking, square footage, and set back requirements. A call to the city’s zoning or building department can answer all these questions with most municipalities also having this information available on their websites as well.
Once we confirm that a basement apartment can be built in your municipality, we must make sure that the basement apartment can be built to the Ontario Building Code. To add a secondary dwelling inside a house that was originally built as a single-family home, we must address a few requirements that are not present in a regular basement renovation.
Give us a call at 905-251-2250 or book a free estimate with one of our basement experts to discuss your project further.
Separate Entrance for your Basement Apartment
A basement apartment requires its own separate entrance. You may already have a walk-out basement, that may only require changing the doors to meet this requirement. The interior stairs to the basement may be located along the exterior wall of the home, in which case it may be possible to cut a new “above grade” entrance to access this staircase. But in most cases a new exterior concrete staircase and entrance is required.
For fire safety, you must have a fire separation between your second unit and the rest of the house. TA fire separation acts as a physical barrier to slow the spread of fire from one part of the house to another. The fire separation must be continuous and include protected openings, if necessary (such as fire dampers), to work properly.
When adding a basement apartment, the Ontario Building Code requires a 30-minute fire separation between units, as well as between units and common areas. To achieve a 30-minute fire separation in the ceiling, we use a thick fiber- type insulation between the joists such as Safe n Sound, in addition to 5/8” drywall (regular drywall is ½” thick). Other fire separation requirements are solid wood or metal fireproof doors with a self-closing device.
Age of your house
Building Code rules differ depending on the age of your house. If your house is more than five years old, it is classified as an existing house, and you have more flexibility under the Building Code when you make renovations. If your house is less than five years old, it is classified as a new building and under the Building Code it generally must meet new construction requirements.
You are also required to have minimum ceiling heights in all the rooms of your basement apartment. Meeting the ceiling height requirements can sometimes be a challenge in an existing house. A basement apartment is permitted to have a ceiling height of 1.95 m (6’ 4¾”) over the entire required floor area, including the route inside the unit leading to the exit.
Windows are a must in a basement apartment. The required size of the windows is determined by the size of the basement. Larger units will require more or bigger windows. Window sizes are also based on what type of room they are in. Where the window is not being used as an exit, minimum window sizes requirements are 5% of the floor area of a living and dinning room or 2.5% of the floor area of a bedroom. Windows are not required in basement apartment bathrooms, laundry rooms, or kitchens.
Windows that may be needed in an emergency as a secondary means of escape, must be large enough for a person to get through and be easy to open without the use of tools. In a basement, an egress window is required in each bedroom. It must have a minimum unobstructed opening not less than 4.1sqf with one side being a minimum of 18”.
This usually means that new window wells need to be dug out to accommodate new larger windows as part of a basement apartment renovation. A window well must be at least 1 meter (39”) wide to allow for escape in case of a fire.
Due to the listed requirements needed to build a legal basement apartment, the scope of work for such a project is much larger, especially with high-ticket items such as separate entrances, new windows, kitchen, and fire separation. These items are not required in a regular basement renovation; therefore, the cost of a basement apartment can increase to as much as twice the cost of a finished basement.
Our team at Bedrock Basements have expert knowledge of building codes for renovating your basement, whether for your personal use or as rental basement apartment. Contact us by phone or book an appointment online for a free estimate with one of our basement renovation experts.