How to Build a Secondary Suite in Ontario (2023)

If you’re considering creating a secondary suite on your property in Ontario, you’ve found the definitive guide.

Secondary suites, also known as accessory dwelling units (ADUs), are a popular choice for maximizing space on your property and unlocking additional income potential. In this post, we'll delve into the world of secondary suites, exploring the different forms they can take, and the steps required to build or fit a secondary suite on your property in Ontario.

Secondary Suite Overview

First things first, let's talk about the two main forms of secondary suites: separate buildings and shared buildings. When it comes to separate buildings, think of a detached garage or a standalone structure on your property that can be converted into a self-contained living space. And shared buildings involve creating a separate dwelling unit within an existing structure, such as a basement apartment or a converted portion of the main house. Both options offer unique advantages, and the choice ultimately depends on your property layout, needs, and personal preferences.

What doesn’t depend on your property layout, needs, and personal preferences is legalizing your secondary suite. Seriously. Sure, it might be tempting to skip the permit process and cut some corners, but let us tell you why going the legal route is absolutely crucial:

  1. Legalizing your secondary suite provides essential safety and protection for tenants. By meeting the necessary building codes, zoning regulations, and safety standards, you ensure that the living space is up to par with the required safety measures. This includes factors like fire safety, proper ventilation, and electrical and plumbing compliance.
  2. But it's not just about tenant safety—legalizing secondary suites can also bring financial benefits to homeowners. Property value appreciation is a key aspect to consider. When your secondary suite is legalized, it becomes a legitimate, recognized dwelling unit, which can potentially increase the market value of your property. This means long-term financial gains and a solid return on investment.
  3. Last but not least, regulatory compliance is a fundamental reason to legalize your secondary suite. By obtaining the necessary permits and adhering to the local regulations, you ensure that your property is in line with the law. This not only protects you from potential legal issues and penalties but also allows you to operate within the boundaries of the municipality's guidelines.

So, we’ve convinced you to build your secondary suite the right way. But how do you do it? What are the steps?

How To Build A Secondary Suite In Ontario

Step 1. Creating a Budget

When embarking on a project like this in Ontario, it's crucial to establish a budget that covers the necessary expenses. Consider factors such as construction and renovation costs, design and architectural services, permit fees, professional consultations, materials and fixtures, utilities and services, furniture (if you are going to rent it out as furnished) and appliances, contingency funds, professional fees, and financing costs. That’s a lot to consider, so developing a comprehensive budget ensures you have a clear understanding of all the financial aspects involved.

Step 2. Understanding Zoning Regulations

Building a secondary suite in Ontario involves grappling with zoning regulations that can seem overwhelming. Zoning bylaws and regulations form a crucial framework that dictates what you can and cannot do with your property, so deciphering these complex regulations alone can be challenging—and can really slow down your project. That's why it's crucial to seek professional guidance.

Professionals, such as the architectural technicians here at House of Three, possess the knowledge and experience to navigate the intricacies of zoning regulations quickly and thoroughly. We are well-versed in the local bylaws and regulations, ensuring that your project adheres to the requirements and limitations set by your municipality.

However, while it's not possible to cover all the specific zoning regulations here, let's highlight some important aspects you should be aware of as you begin this project.

  1. Residential Zoning: Most municipalities have specific zoning designations for residential areas. It's essential to check if your property is located in an area zoned for residential use and whether secondary suites are permitted within that zone. Some zones may allow secondary suites as of right, while others may require specific conditions or a discretionary approval process.
  2. Occupancy Limits: Zoning regulations often dictate the maximum number of occupants allowed in a secondary suite. This ensures that the suite is suitable for its intended purpose and doesn't strain community resources.
  3. Fire Safety: Fire safety regulations are of paramount importance for any dwelling, including secondary suites. These regulations may include requirements for fire separations, smoke alarms, fire-rated doors, and emergency exits. Understanding and adhering to these regulations is crucial to ensure the safety of the occupants.
  4. Accessibility: Accessibility standards are another vital consideration when building a secondary suite. Depending on your specific location and the nature of the suite, there may be requirements to make the suite accessible for individuals with disabilities. These requirements may include features such as accessible entrances, wider doorways, and accessible bathrooms.

While the points above provide a general overview, it's important to recognize that zoning regulations can vary across municipalities and even within different areas of a single municipality. If you want to learn more about zoning requirements, your best resources are:

  1. Municipal Websites: Visit the official website of the municipality or city—like the city of Kingston—where your property is located. Most municipalities have dedicated planning and zoning sections on their websites that provide information on zoning bylaws, regulations, and any specific guidelines for secondary suites. Look for planning or building department sections on the website.
  2. Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing: The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing in Ontario provides resources and information on various housing-related matters, including zoning and land use planning. Their website offers guidance on secondary suites and can provide an overview of provincial policies and regulations.
  3. Professional Advice: Seek advice from professionals such as the architectural technicians here at House of Three who specialize in designing secondary suites. We can provide expert guidance tailored to your specific property and location.

Step 3. Measuring the Space

Building a secondary suite requires a thorough evaluation of the available space on your property. This is where an architectural technician becomes a valuable resource because you can leverage their expertise to determine the feasibility and most optimal use of the space at your disposal. Let's take a closer look at the steps our team takes during this process:

  1. Site Visit: the technician will personally visit your property to conduct a comprehensive assessment. They will examine the existing structures, layout, and dimensions, including the main dwelling and potential areas where a secondary suite could be accommodated, such as basements, detached garages, or coach houses.
  2. Measurements and Documentation: Accurate measurements are fundamental to the planning process. The architectural technician will carefully measure the spaces where the secondary suite could potentially be created. They will document the floor area, ceiling height, wall lengths, window placements, and other relevant dimensions. Additionally, they may document the existing electrical and plumbing systems to ensure a thorough understanding of the property's infrastructure.
  3. Code Compliance Assessment: Compliance with local building codes and regulations is crucial. The architectural technician will analyze the space to ensure it aligns with the necessary standards. They will assess factors such as ceiling height, natural light, ventilation, egress, and other safety and health considerations. If any modifications are required to meet code compliance, they will identify them accordingly.
  4. Functional Analysis: Finally, your technician will conduct a functional analysis of the available space. They will consider how the area can be effectively divided into rooms or zones to accommodate the essential living spaces of a secondary suite. This includes evaluating the placement of bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, living areas, storage, and other necessary components.

Step 4. Developing A Plan

Once the initial assessments are completed, it's time to focus on determining the layout and design of your secondary suite. Drawing upon the insights gained from previous analyses, the architectural technician will collaborate with you to create the perfect space that aligns with your vision.

Taking into account the available area and any specific requirements, the technician will develop appropriate layouts that optimize the functionality and aesthetics of the secondary suite. They will consider factors such as room placement, flow, and utilization of space to create a design that caters to your needs.

Throughout the design process, the architectural technician will work closely with you, ensuring that your preferences and expectations are reflected in the final plan. By leveraging their expertise and your input, they will transform your vision into a concrete design, ensuring that the secondary suite meets your exact requirements.

Once you’ve reviewed the design and approved it, it’s time to submit your plan to the city.

Step 5. Applying For A Permit

Let's now explore the process of gathering the necessary documentation and submitting your permit application. Here are the key documents you will typically need:

  1. Completed Permit Application Form: Begin by filling out the designated permit application form provided by the municipality. This form captures crucial project details, property information, and your contact details. Make sure to provide accurate and complete information to expedite the application process.
  2. Site Plan: Include a site plan that illustrates the property boundaries, existing structures, and the proposed location of the secondary suite. This plan helps the permitting authority visualize how the suite fits within the property. A survey from a licensed surveyor may be required.
  3. Construction Drawings: Prepare detailed construction drawings that showcase the layout, dimensions, and structural elements of the secondary suite. These drawings provide a clear representation of your project and help ensure compliance with building codes and regulations.
  4. Architectural or Engineering Drawings: If required, these drawings may focus on structural elements, electrical and plumbing systems, building code analysis, or other technical details.
  5. Professional Certifications: The Ontario Building Code now requires a Schedule 1 form, Designer Information, to be submitted with your building permit application. This contains the professional information of the designer that were involved in the project, and indicates whether they are BCIN designers, architect or engineer. This demonstrates the expertise and qualifications of the individuals overseeing the design.
  6. Energy Efficiency Reports: Depending on the project, you may need to submit an energy efficiency design summary when converting a non-habitable space into an Additional Dwelling Unit.
  7. Proof of Insurance: Some municipalities, such as Kingston, may require proof of insurance for specific trades such as plumbers for the project, as part of their licensing program. There may also be insurance requirements for widening driveways to protect against potential liabilities.
  8. Permit Fees: Don't forget to include the necessary permit fees along with your application. The fees vary depending on the scope and value of the project. Check with the permitting authority to determine the applicable fees.

By gathering and organizing these documents, you'll be well-prepared to submit your permit application. Remember to consult the specific requirements of your local municipality or building department for any additional documents or guidelines that may be necessary.

Step 6. Contacting A Contractor

Once you have obtained the necessary permits for your secondary suite project, the last step is hiring qualified contractors to carry out the construction or renovation work. Choosing the right contractor is vital to ensure the successful and smooth execution of your project. Here are some key considerations when hiring contractors for your secondary suite in Ontario:

  1. Experience and Expertise: Look for contractors who have experience specifically in building secondary suites. They should be familiar with the unique requirements, regulations, and challenges associated with creating secondary suites. Ask for references and examples of their past projects to assess their track record.
  2. Licensing and Certification: Ensure that the contractors you hire hold the necessary licenses, certifications, and insurance coverage. Valid licensing demonstrates that they meet professional standards and comply with industry regulations. It also provides you with recourse in case of any issues during the project.
  3. Communication and Collaboration: Effective communication is essential for a successful partnership with your contractor. During the initial consultation, assess their responsiveness, willingness to listen, and ability to understand your goals and requirements. Clear and open communication throughout the project will ensure that your vision is accurately translated into the final result.
  4. Timelines and Availability: Discuss the estimated timeline for the project and ensure that the contractor can commit to the proposed schedule. Understand their availability and workload to avoid any potential delays or conflicts with other projects they are undertaking.

It is advisable to start contacting potential contractors as soon as you have obtained the necessary permits. This will allow you ample time to evaluate different options, gather estimates, and engage in detailed discussions to make an informed decision. Remember, hiring experienced and qualified contractors is crucial to ensure the successful realization of your secondary suite project and compliance with all relevant regulations and standards.

In Conclusion

Building a secondary suite in Ontario requires careful consideration of zoning regulations, obtaining permits, and working with professionals who specialize in creating functional living spaces. By following the necessary steps found in this article and collaborating with experts, you can ensure that your secondary suite project is executed efficiently and in compliance with local building codes.

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