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Creating a New Basement Suite

Updated: Sep 9, 2022

In the previous article, I discussed operating a basement suite, in this article I will give some pointers on creating a new suite.

If you are proactive enough to be house shopping with a rental suite in mind, then you can take your time to find the right one. Most homes with empty basements are not well designed for a suite. The main considerations are the entry way, the utility room, windows and ceiling height.

The ideal house will have a separate entry way and a stairwell to the utility room. Sharing the entry with tenants is awkward at best and intrusive at worst. It becomes a common area that must be cleaned and secured. You will need to access the utility room from time to time the check the electrical, furnace, hot water tank and possibly the washer and dryer, and having to go through the tenant’s suite can be difficult.

You want a window in each of the rooms you will build and absolutely one for each bedroom.

Eight foot basements are the most common. Anything less than eight feet, or excessive plumbing and heating crowding the space, will lower the potential of the suite. Nine or even ten foot ceilings expand the possibilities and ultimately the feel of the suite. Finding a house with all of these considerations is next to impossible, but this guide can help you weed out the really poor ones.

If you already have the house, then you have to decide whether you can afford to improve some of the deficiencies listed above. Maybe build a separate entry or add a few windows. Nothing is impossible but the economics have to add up. You then will design a floor plan around your existing issues. Again, the entry, utility room, windows and existing plumbing will dictate much of the design.

Remember large square footage is not important to many basement suite renters. Because so many of them are single or young couples, they don’t need tons of space or six bedrooms or four bathrooms. They will be happier with quality over quantity.

Once you have a floor plan you like, you should run it by a contractor who can help you save thousands by adjusting the plan a little to allow for ease of construction. They can also point out improvements or things you may have overlooked and help avoid a big budget surprise.

At this point you should plan for items that will drastically improve the function of the suite and may cost a third of a retrofit later down the road. Exhaust fans, extra sound and thermal insulation, electrical and plumbing upgrades are easily dealt with at the early stages.

Once the layout, structural and the mechanical items are built, you can plan for the materials you will see. Most materials you will need involve the same labour whether they are low end crap or high end stuff. For example, if you spend $2000 for the cheapest kitchen you can find and pay the installers $2000 then an upgrade of $1000 will only add 25% to the total cost and may last twice as long.

There can be huge differences in the quality of some products. Flooring, paint, taps, bathtubs and showers are big examples of getting what you pay for. I know it’s tough to spend extra on something when you can’t see any obvious difference. It becomes much easier if you have someone you trust with knowledge of the product. It may be the supplier, someone with lots of rental properties or a contractor you trust.

Realistically, you don’t want your suite to look like a 5 star hotel. But if you don’t spend a little extra time and money creating a quality suite, you may end up like many landlords who give up after a few years because they find they are losing money on repairs and low quality renters.


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