Second Storey Second Suites - Do They Work?

The vast majority of second suites are located in the basement – for good reason.  It’s often the “extra space” that’s available to create extra income in the home.

Generally, I recommend people purchase single storey bungalows to create their basements suites. This is for several reasons:

- Basements are typically larger in bungalows than 2 storey homes

- Lot sizes are usually wider (to accommodate parking)

 Separate entrances to the basement are common

Single storey bungalows are most ideal for basement second suites

Single storey bungalows are most ideal for basement second suites

However, that’s not to discount two storey homes (homes with a basement plus 2 floors) having a second suite on the second floor. That arrangement can work as well. The main benefit of this setup is that the stigma associated with “basement apartment living” is not there, and likely contains better natural lighting.

In some cases, it might be more financially viable to purchase a 2 storey home compared with a bungalow for various reasons.

Which Types Of 2-Storey Houses?

These can be applied in all types of 2-storey houses in any location where second suites are permitted.  Ideally you’d want a larger home (who doesn’t?).  A larger home will give you the necessary footprint for all the spatial requirements of each room.

Often in core parts of the cities, you have older homes where basements are so low, your only choice is to use the main floor and 2nd floor of the home as the 2 unit home.

Semi-detached homes also work, and they often come in two flavors: narrow or wide. Space is always an issue with the narrow ones. In narrow semis, all 3 levels (basement, main floor and second floor) can be used for the 2-unit home, as long as there’s enough height in the basement. These are typically “vertically split” on the main floor, and shared between both units.

Options for second floor second suites on detached homes

Options for second floor second suites on detached homes

Options for second floor second suites on semi-detached homes and townhouses

Options for second floor second suites on semi-detached homes and townhouses

Topping Up The House

Another option we may not have considered is adding on a second storey. Good locations would be outside of the city core, in neighborhoods where single storey bungalows are common. This is ideal because of the generous footprint and lot sizes of these homes. In these cases, don’t be the first one in the neighborhood, unless you’re willing to take on the risk of being rejected by the city. Of course It doesn’t hurt to apply if you already own the home.

Try to go into neighborhoods where precedent has already been set

Try to go into neighborhoods where precedent has already been set

There are 2 ways to build a second storey on top of a single storey. The first is the conventional one, which is done onsite. The second method is to have it factory built. There are pros and cons to both, but the biggest issue with building onsite by far, is weather conditions. You don’t have to deal with that when it is built in a factory.

In Toronto, there’s a company called Modular (modular.ca), where they will take measurements of your single storey home, and build your second floor piece by piece in the factory, come out and install it on top of your home in a matter of days.

The installation is typically the “building envelope”, which basically are the framed walls (interior and exterior), roof structure, and wall sheathing.  To ensure that the harsh Canadian winter doesn’t do damage to the new structure, building paper and roof shingles are typically applied immediately after. You can then take more time with the exterior work and interior finishes.

Top-up completed by Modular Home Additions Ltd. - photo courtesy of modular.ca

Top-up completed by Modular Home Additions Ltd. - photo courtesy of modular.ca

Top-up completed by Modular Home Additions Ltd. - photo courtesy of modular.ca

Top-up completed by Modular Home Additions Ltd. - photo courtesy of modular.ca

Cost wise, there’s not much difference between building onsite or in the factory. What you do save is time – a lot of it, by having it done in a factory. And we all know time equals money, especially when it comes to real estate investing. It can be a matter of days compared to months.

Most of these projects are homeowners who simply want more space in their homes, but you can certainly apply this to second suite renovations as well.

Things To Consider For A Second Storey Second Suite

When you decide to use a second storey as a second suite instead of the basement, there are a few things to consider that may be different.

Egress – Windows and door egress requirements are now different. For windows you need to ensure that it meets the egress requirements for 2nd floors. In terms of entrances, most of these arrangements will require you to have a shared entrance somewhere, and split from there. Often this is in the front of the house. Keep in mind most cities won’t allow you to have 2 doors facing the street.

Size – We discussed this earlier, and typically with 2 storey homes, the floor space may be limited. This is something you need to be clear of early on. Living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens and bedrooms are all required spaces that have minimum sizes.

By-laws – Each city may have its own little restrictions on overall size that may affect the feasibility of the unit. For example, some cities will have minimum sizes, while others have a maximum size. Some will say it can only be a maximum of 650 square feet, or only 40% of the gross floor area, etc. Know the rules in your area.

So What Do We Do With The Basement?

Glad you asked.

Again, some of these homes are older in core areas, and may not have the necessary height anyways or may have water leakage issues. So you might leave it empty or for storage of items where a bit of moisture is not an issue.

If it’s dry and has decent height, you can have it as a finished family or recreational room for the main floor occupant.

Now if you have a lot of height, this is where things get interesting. If your home is zoned in an area that allows triplexes, you may even consider turning that basement into a third unit. These are things worth considering and thinking about up front before even making the purchase of a home. Know the home’s potential, and what the rules are for that property in your city.

In the near future, I’ll write a more detailed article about converting a single family home into a triplex, but I’ll leave you hanging for now. Thanks again for reading!

In the meantime, here's what you can do with the basement

In the meantime, here's what you can do with the basement