City approvals are required for existing secondary suites. Secondary suite requirements from the Alberta Fire Code may be used to bring an existing suite to an acceptable level of safety.
Below are some of the different criteria to consider for your secondary suite, for further information please see our Secondary suite code questions & answers advisory.
Contact the Planning Services Centre at 403-268-5311 for more information about secondary suites and backyard suites.
Bedroom egress windows
Each bedroom must have at least one window that can be fully opened and used to escape during an emergency.
- The window must have an unobstructed opening of 0.35 m2 in area and a minimum height and width of 380 mm. See the acceptable window style illustration below for examples and additional requirements.
- When a window well is required, a clearance of 760 mm must be provided in front of the window. If a casement-type window is used, it must swing open a full 90 degrees. See the window well illustration below for more details.
- Security bars serving a bedroom window must be removable from the inside without the use of tools, keys or special knowledge. A large majority of security bars do not meet the requirements and are not accepted.
Acceptable window styles
Shaded areas illustrated below represent unobstructed openings that must be 0.35 m² with no dimension less than 380 mm.
Casement window: Casement windows must open a full 90 degrees when a window well is required.
Horizontal sliding window
Vertical sliding window
Inward swinging awning window: must hold open at 90 degrees unassisted
Adding or increasing window size
Adding new windows or increasing the size of existing windows in a concrete foundation impacts the wall’s ability to resist soil pressure.
- The Alberta Building Code restricts opening sizes and configurations. For example, a single window may be 1.2 m in width while two windows, spaced less than their average width apart, are considered one large opening. When adding multiple windows in one wall, the maximum width of all window openings that exceed any of the above requirements must be designed by a professional engineer registered in Alberta. This is typically called a lateral support design. It must include the engineer’s details andrecommendations on how to provide adequate support for the openings, in accordance with Part 4 of the Alberta Building Code.
- Safety codes officers can require that a registered engineer be hired to make any structural changes or alterations to your property, based on the size and complexity of the project.
Smoke and fire protection
Preventing the spread of smoke and fire is essential for safety. The Alberta Building Code requires the installation of a smoke tight separation between the main residence and suite.
- A smoke tight separation is constructed by installing a minimum of 12.7 mm (0.5 in) thick drywall on the ceiling and on both sides of wall studs that separate a suite from main residence. All drywall joints must be taped and filled with drywall compound to provide a smoke tight joint.
- Any services, such as pipes or ductwork that pass through a protective separation, need to be tightly fitted and sealed with a drywall compound. In retrofit situations, existing furnace rooms may have many obstructions that make smoke tight separation difficult to construct.
- One option may be to remove all existing HVAC ducts to ease the installation of drywall. Once the separation is constructed, new holes may be cut to install ductwork.
- Doors installed in smoke tight separations must be solid core wood at least 45 mm thick and have a self-closing device.
- Smoke detectors must be installed at or near the ceiling on each floor level in the main residence and suite. They are also required in each bedroom, common space and any supplementary spaces. They must be interconnected, so the activation of one smoke detector causes all units in the home to sound.
- Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors are required in each unit. They should be installed at the height specified by the manufacturer. The CO detectors should be located within 5 m of any bedrooms, interconnected and permanently wired. One detector should be centrally located in the main residence and the suite, and one CO detector is sufficient. A CO detector that is a combined smoke detector and carbon monoxide unit is permitted at the owner’s discretion.
Cross-section illustrating smoke detector and carbon monoxide locations
Exterior stairways and protection of secondary suite exits
There are additional requirements to consider when the only exit for a suite is served by an exterior staircase.
- If the exterior exit staircase is not fully enclosed with walls and a roof, the windows themselves must be protected. This is achieved by installing fire-rated glass block or wired glass in fixed steel frames. This is required for all windows located within 5 m vertically, 3 m horizontally or 10 m below the exit staircase. This will protect the basement exit from being compromised if a fire occurs.
- It is important to know that only fixed windows can be fire-protected in this way. Bedroom windows must be operable.
Protection of secondary suite exits
There are additional requirements to consider when the only exit for a secondary suite is served by an exterior staircase. If the exterior exit staircase is not fully enclosed with walls and a roof, the windows themselves must be protected. This is achieved by installing fire-rated glass block or wired glass in fixed steel frames. This is required for all windows located within 5 m vertically, 3 m horizontally or 10 m below the exit staircase. This will protect the basementexit from being compromised if a fire occurs. It is important to know that only fixed windows can be fire protected in this way. Bedroom windows must be operable.
Protection of secondary suite exits option A: uncovered entry
Protection of secondary suite exits option B: covered entry
Heating and ventilation
For pre-existing secondary suites, the use of a single heating and ventilation system to serve both the main dwelling and the secondary suite is acceptable under the Alberta Fire Code.
The redesignation of a piece of land typically takes between three to six months; however, the process may be prolonged further if there are difficult policy or technical issues that need to be resolved.
If you require a development permit, these timelines vary based on the type of application and the impacts to the community. Development permits must be approved and released before a building permit can be issued.
Building permits for secondary suites require a more in-depth examination and will take approximately one week for issuance.
We’re committed to providing you with a timely response on your permit application.
All inspections for residential construction, electrical, plumbing and gas fireplaceinstallation permits can be booked online using our 311 app or calgary.ca/311online. When choosing the service type, scroll down to Inspection and choose your project. You will need to provide your permit number, address and contact information
Inspections for building permits
- Install and complete any structural changes.
- Install and complete all the wall and ceiling framing.
- Install proposed windows and exterior doors.
- Install and complete any HVAC changes.
- Rough in, install and complete all plumbing and electrical components that are required under associated permits.
- Have requested documentation on site.
- Do not install interior drywall or other finishes.
Final inspection (completed at the safety codes officer’s discretion)
- The building should be completed
Inspections for plumbing permits
- Install and complete all plumbing drainage and venting.
- Install waterlines and connect to the rest of the water distribution system.
- Properly support all drains, vents, and waterlines.
- Install the bathtub/shower valve.
- Install all fixtures and equipment.
- Temperature of water at the bathtub and shower must not exceed 49 degrees Celsius.
- Seal all piping designed for future fixtures with an approved plug or cap.
- Provide a shut off valve for toilets.
Inspections for electrical permits
Please visit Inspections for the required tasks that must be completed prior to rough-in and final inspection of your project.
Permit Services Reports are produced once a permit is closed. The report is a summation of any outstanding inspection outcomes and explains the permit closure condition(s). Permit Services Reports are available upon request to property owners and permit holders. To request a Permit Services Report please call 403-268-5311.
Note: Although preferred, it is not necessary to have the wallboard installed for a final inspection.
A development completion permit inspection may be required if a development permit is involved in your project. Contact our Planning Services Centre to determine if a development completion permit is required.
Call before you dig
Always call Alberta One Call before you dig: 1-800-242-3447. For more information or to submit a locate request, visit Alberta One-Call.
Disclaimer: This information has no legal status and cannot be used as an official interpretation of the various bylaws, codes and regulations currently in effect. The City of Calgary accepts no responsibility to persons relying solely on this information. Web pages are updated periodically.