Basement suites provide value to tenants and landlords alike—they often represent more affordable rentals, while allowing homeowners to partition their properties into numerous eligible units. But for a basement suite to be legal in Alberta, it needs to meet specific electrical requirements. These standards help ensure that basement suites are functional and safe for their occupants.
Our team at 4-Star Electric has provided residential electrical services like home lighting, electrical panel upgrades, and more to a huge variety of properties in the greater Calgary area—including countless basement suites. We know all about what it takes to make these suites into legal rental units, so read on for a primer on what you should take into account and how you should approach the work!
What Qualifies As a Basement Suite?
Basement suites are a type of secondary suite—defined in Alberta as self-contained living units within homes that include at least one kitchen, bathroom, and separate entrance.
Due to these requirements, secondary suites are often located on the ground floor of a home (where they’re sometimes called garden suites) or within the basement, which is where the name basement suite comes from.
The Benefits of Basement Suites
Often Larger than Other Suites
Since basement suites tend to take up most or all of one floor in a home, they usually have larger square footage than apartments in similar price ranges. This creates more room for renters and their belongings, and can be a great way for landlords to add value to potential tenants.
Access to Outdoor Areas
Secondary suites located on the ground floor or in the basement of a home often come with access to patio or backyard, which gives tenants the ability to entertain outdoors in nice weather.
Basement suites are generally more affordable than apartments and other rentals, since the tenants often live underneath the landlords themselves or share the property with other renters. Some basements also have lower ceilings or fewer windows, which are also factors that can reduce the rent.
Additional Income for Owners
Homeowners who convert their ground floor or basement to a secondary suite can use the rent from their tenants to help pay off their mortgage. It’s also common for them to put money aside for repairs and other emergencies.
Electrical Checklist for Legal Basement Suites in Alberta
Alberta has had specific building code requirements for basement suites since December 31st, 2006. These requirements cover many areas of a suite, including HVAC equipment, emergency exits—and, of course, electrical needs. Here’s a checklist of electrical features to examine when you’re trying to determine whether a basement suite is legal:
Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Alarms
Any home with a legal secondary suite needs to have interconnected smoke and carbon monoxide detectors installed to cover both units. These units need to be present in every bedroom and hallway, and must satisfy both the Alberta Edition of the National Building Code and the CAN/ULC-S531 standard that governs smoke alarms.
All electrical outlets should be equipped with Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters—except in the bathroom, where they should have Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters. These devices help prevent electrical shocks and fires by automatically stopping the flow of current when they detect electrical faults such as surges.
All stairwells and hallways leading to outdoor exits in a legal basement suite are required to have adequate lighting. While the term “adequate lighting” is somewhat ambiguous, this generally means that there must be enough lighting for people to safely exit the suite in case of an emergency.
Power Meters & Electrical Panels
Separate power meters and electrical panels are not required for basement suites in Alberta. However, all homes require at least one power meter, and disconnecting it is illegal.
It’s also worth noting that while a basement suite doesn’t need its own electrical panel, having one is useful. That’s because having additional people living in a basement suite places additional load on the home’s electrical system, increasing the risk of overloading a single electrical panel or circuit breaker.
How to Make Electrical Upgrades to a Basement Suite
Sometimes, homeowners need to make electrical upgrades to their homes before they can legally rent out the basements or ground floors as secondary suites. Remember that only a certified electrician can service or upgrade your home’s electrical system—including wiring, electrical panels, and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
4-Star Electric has helped countless homeowners make the necessary electrical upgrades to create legal basement suites in their homes. Contact us now to learn more about how we can do the same for you!
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