Separating Utilities in Secondary Suites in Ontario

If you’re interested in constructing a secondary suite in Ontario and you’re wondering why and how properties with secondary suites deal with utilities, this article was written for you.

When it comes to constructing a secondary suite construction in Ontario, one encounters a critical decision-making point: the management of utilities. How do you manage the needs of multiple, independent occupants? This guide is crafted for those intrigued by the intricacies of this choice, particularly in properties with secondary suites.

Why Should You Separate Utilities?

When it comes to utility separation in secondary suites, two principles come to the forefront: comfort and safety.

Comfort in secondary suites means having the ability for each unit to have individual control over their utilities. Everyone should be able to feel separate and autonomous in their own home. But in a shared utility scenario, tenants might find themselves at the mercy of others' consumption patterns. By separating utilities, tenants gain the freedom to customize their living environment according to their preferences without affecting their neighbours.

Now imagine a scenario where the electrical system fails or is intentionally shut off. Even if one unit faces an issue, the other unit, equipped with an independent electrical supply, can still function, ensuring the continuous operation of essential devices like smoke detectors. So while not always a requirement, separating utilities can massively improve quality of life.

Are There Legal Requirements For Separating Utilities?

While there are no specific legal requirements in the building code in Ontario mandating the separation of utilities in secondary suites, practical considerations and financial implications may require you to separate them--and to be clear, the absence of legal mandates doesn't diminish the importance.

Separating The Water Supply In Secondary Suites

Perhaps the most vital utility, supplying water to a secondary suite requires careful consideration. For example, when existing plumbing is in place, it may be necessary to reconfigure the system to prevent interconnections between units in a secondary suite. This is critical for maintaining the autonomy of each unit's water supply. Plumbing alterations may involve installing valves or rerouting pipes to ensure that the water systems of individual units are entirely independent.

Another consideration is hose connections. Hose connections, or "hose bibbs," present an exterior aspect of the water supply that also requires careful consideration. To maintain separation, each unit should be assigned specific hose connections. Most property owners choose to install one hose bibb for each unit, ensuring that the exterior water access is exclusive to the respective tenants. This not only aligns with the separation of utilities but also prevents disputes over the usage of exterior water connections.

Beyond general water supply, the separation of hot water systems is also essential for meeting the specific needs of each unit. Installing separate hot water tanks for each secondary suite ensures that tenants have independent control over their hot water. This setup not only contributes to comfort but also prevents potential conflicts arising from shared hot water resources. Imagine trying to have a shower while sharing a hot water supply.

Separating Electrical Systems in Secondary Suites

The rewiring process is a fundamental step in accommodating separate electrical systems and a key component in ensuring the overall safety and efficiency of the electrical infrastructure of a secondary suite. It's often the case that older wiring systems may lack the necessary infrastructure for modern utility separation. To address this, property owners typically enlist the services of a contractor to rewire the electrical system—this is especially true when the original configuration did not include a kitchen.

One effective approach involves the installation of two separate electrical panels, strategically positioned one above the other. This layout not only fosters clear separation but also simplifies the management of each unit's electrical needs. Such a modernized electrical setup not only enhances safety measures but also facilitates a more simplified and efficient utility distribution system within secondary suites. For example, separating panels means that blown breakers in one unit will not affect the other.

Separating Gas Utilities In Secondary Suites

When separating gas utilities in secondary suites, a common approach is to strategically designate one unit as the primary gas user, while the secondary unit transitions to an all-electric system. This configuration, often influenced by cost considerations, helps streamline the utility setup without compromising on functionality.

When it comes to gas metres, as we've said above, typically only the main unit retains its gas appliances. Therefore, only the main unit is equipped with a gas meter. This ensures accurate monitoring and billing for gas consumption versus electric consumption in those specific units. This individual metering system prevents cross-billing issues and ensures that tenants are billed only for the utilities they personally consume.

Separating Heating In Secondary Suites

Much like separating gas utilities, it's common for the main unit to retain its gas furnace while the secondary unit is furnished with electric baseboard heaters or mini splits. Again, this is typically a method employed due to budget costs as you save refurnishing the main unit. However, in cases where the existing gas furnace is not usable, both units may transition to electric heating solutions.

Another crucial aspect of separating your heating is allocating space for these utilities. Some things to consider include:

Utility Type and Spaces: Designing separate utility spaces requires careful consideration of the type of utilities used in each unit and the space available in each unit. This ensures optimal safety, functionality, and compliance with building codes.

Hot Water Tanks: The choice between tank or tankless hot water introduces another dimension to utility space design. Each type requires specific accommodations, and planning should account for the space and infrastructure needed for the selected water heating system.

Electric Heat and HRV: If electric heating is part of the utility setup, the inclusion of a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) becomes crucial. Electric heat typically does not provide ventilation, and an HRV helps maintain air quality by exchanging stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air while recovering heat in the process.

Benefits To Separating Utilities

Increased Desirability for Future Owners: Utility separation has the potential to increase property value by shifting the responsibility of utility bills to tenants. This arrangement makes the property more attractive to future owners, as the separation allows for a clearer and more straightforward financial arrangement. Prospective buyers may find the prospect of reduced operational costs and increased tenant responsibility appealing.

Tenant Control and Amenities: Utility separation plays a role in attracting quality tenants by offering them control over their living environment. The ability to manage their own thermostat and having private laundry facilities within their unit are desirable features for renters. Such amenities contribute to tenant satisfaction and, consequently, attract wealthier tenants who are looking for a comfortable lifestyle.

Long-Term Cost Savings for Tenants: Separating utilities can also lead to long-term cost savings for tenants. They only pay for the utilities they personally use, promoting a more cost-efficient and fair billing system. This not only benefits tenants in managing their monthly expenses but also contributes to overall satisfaction and tenure.

In Conclusion

The practice of separating utilities in secondary suites is a strategic and beneficial approach that profoundly impacts both property management and tenant satisfaction. It has the potential to increase property value, attract quality tenants, and streamline maintenance processes.

Ready to Elevate Your Secondary Suite?

Don't miss out on the potential long-term cost savings for both you and your tenants. Take the first step towards a more efficient and tenant-friendly living environment. Contact us today to explore the possibilities and elevate your secondary suite experience.