LIVING DOWN UNDER

With proper planning, your new basement apartment can be a smooth and uneventful project. There are many requirements that must be met; most of them are established by the Building Code in your area and your Municipal by-laws.

Zoning & Criteria

Depending on the area, your municipality may no longer permit basement apartments. For example, in a R2-3 zoning, or a semi-detached or duplex, you may be able to add a basement apartment only if the required lot size is met. If more than 50% of the basement is below grade then it is considered a cellar and cannot be made into a basement apartment. Basement zoning by-laws (unamended) have been in place since 1979.

Your plan must include provisions for the health and safety of the occupant, such as a separate entrance or fire resistance rating board between the floors, to give 45 min. fire safety if above or adjacent to another dwelling. The fire and safety requirements may differ depending on your location and layout of your basement apartment. The fire dept. may be asked to look over your building permit request, if it is questionable.

A building permit for new construction would be approx. $6.89/sq. ft. and for an established basement $1.97/sq. ft. A plumbing permit is also required for a new kitchen or bathroom addition. For new supply lines or drain piping, a design must be submitted with the permit application. The cost for this permit may be approx. $60.00 for the first 7 fixtures and $4.00 each additional fixtures installed, depending on the municipality.

Basement Apartment Legalities have had many changes occur through the 1990’s. In 1994 basement apartments were considered legal as long as they met the building, fire and planning standards.

When the Progressive Conservatives replaced the NDP in Ontario in 1995, they returned to the municipalities the right to decide through their own zoning bylaws. The issue of new apartments added to houses may differ in each municipality, therefore do not assume one rule applies to all.

Another basement apartment requirement permitted by the PC Government was the two-unit house, to be grand-fathered if the units were “used or occupied” on or before Nov. 16/95. This also had to comply with the new fire code by July 14/96 and meet municipal planning standards. Grandfathering was also applied to a house issued a building permit to construct or alter a second unit on or before May 22/96.

In summary, basement apartments built after July14/96 must comply with the Building Code and apartments existing on or before that date must comply with the Fire Code. Certain properties and municipal zoning standards must be complied by both groups. In determining whether a basement apartment is legal: a) obtain facts of significant dates concerning laws that came into effect, b) obtain fire department certificate, c) obtain hydro certificate.

Realtors as well as purchasers should be concerned with securing the evidence that a second unit is legal. Along with fire and hydro clearance certificates, an inspection by proper authorities should be performed as well.

Basement Apartment Concerns

Dealing with Dampness

It is strongly recommended to deal with any moisture problems right away. Areas of concern are, grading of the land around your house. The ground should be sloping down and away from your home. This will allow the water to drain away from the foundation and prevent it from seeping in. Correcting the grade of land can easily be done by building up the soil around the foundation and checking the path of drainage. Rain gutters, are another potential leak area, they may not be far enough away from the house. Check run off and re-position downspouts if necessary. Other more serious problems, such as a crack in the foundation may require an expert in the field. If you are not sure of the origin of the problem, or know how to rectify it, you should consult a professional waterproofing contractor. This will ensure that the problem is fixed correctly and permanently.

Providing a Window

An egress window is required by law for a new basement project, especially if there is rear bedrooms involved. Requirements for an egress window include being able to open high and wide enough for an adult to pass through. They also must have window sills that are less than 42 inches above the finished floor to permit easy departure. These windows often cause drainage problems because they are set in lower than ground level. To correct this problem, gravel based window wells and retaining walls can be used. If the window well is high, then a permanent ladder can be left in place for safety.

Ceiling Height

When finishing the ceiling, there may be many pipes, ducts and beams to hide or go around. This issue is not easy to solve if you have less than 8 ft. of height. Be sure to check your local building codes and ceiling height for minimum requirements. The only other alternative in having a finished ceiling that doesn’t provide enough height would be to break the concrete floor and go down to gain height. This type of solution would be very labour intensive and costly. The decision will depend on your budget and the time permitting.

Design Factors

A basement apartment design will be influenced by the location of stairs, columns, utility equipment, windows, doors, ceiling heights and floor area. The help of a designer or architect can rectify most obstacles or structural changes to accommodate a budget or look desired.