Should I duplex?

Should I duplex?

January 25, 2022 Off By Kyle

We asked this same question several years ago.  I will try to be as unbiased as I can.  Here is the research I did and the experiences I have had along the way.  (Please note, we duplexed our home, and we rented to a family friend for largely under market rent.)

What are the Pro points first?

  • You can make money from your home
  • You can write off some expenses for your home (tax benefits will be another article)
  • You can greatly increase the market value of your home

Every decision has to have some Cons, so here you go:

  • If you choose to live in part of the house, you are sharing your personal space.  This may or may not be ideal.
  • While you can write off some things, the selling of your home will be taxed as a Capital Gain (for the rented portion)
  • As a landlord you are bound by Tenant Laws of Ontario.  Again, this may or may not be ideal.

So, first of all.  If you decided you still want to research how to do this, there are a few things you will need to remember when you are trying to either buy a new home and duplex it, or duplex your current home.  Here is some of the many points you will need to consider.

  • Each unit needs its own separate entrance.  You may be able to get around this with a shared entrance, but this will require more fire proofing and other details.
  • Each unit needs its own Washer/Dryer hookup, whether or not you provide the actual washer/dryer is up to you. But legally the inspector will need to see the electrical and plumbing hookups.
  • Each unit will need to have a 30 minutes continuous fire proofing.  What this means is if there is a fire, it will take 30 minutes before it spreads to the adjoining unit.  This is usually accomplished with 5/8″ Fire Rated Drywall.  (This can get tricky, I will write a future article about this). So it will require some heavy renovations before separating the units.
  • Both units need to have interconnected Fire Alarms.  The code stipulates each alarm must have a visual component.  There is only a few options for this, and of course, they are the most expensive types of fire alarms.  (This will also be spoken about in a future article)
  • Any basement units will need an Egress Window on each floor.
  • There is specific light requirements for each type of room.  So if you plan to make say, a basement apartment, your bedroom will need a certain size window, and your living room will require a different size.  (This will be spoken about in a future article too)
  •  If you share a furnace air system, you will need to install an “in duct smoke alarm”.  This will require a licensed HVAC Technician to install and document.
  • There must be a minimum of 1 parking spot for each unit

There is a few of the standard requirements.  I will write a future article outlining how to fill our the form if you wish to apply for a permit in Kitchener Ontario (Canada).  This is where we duplexed our home.  Each city will have some sort of documentation on their website as to specifics.  But Kitchener is a General Guideline as it closely follows what the Ontario Building Code follows.

I researched a few other cities in our areas, here is what I found.  In Waterloo, on top of the requirements of the Ontario Building Code, they require a yearly fee to keep your Duplex status.  They are alittle more picky with requirements as in the past many home owners made less than ideal living conditions in there homes for University Students.  We decided to stay clear of this city.

Guelph was also on our list of possibilities.  However, house prices were alittle more than Kitchener.  Also, they had a few extra requirements for Duplexing, such as requiring a common door somewhere in the house that connected one unit to the other. They also required a permanent ladder in place near any egress window above a certain height.

I tried to find information for the city of Cambridge, as house prices were much cheaper, however found very little.  After we got underway with our Kitchener home, the Kitchener Inspector told me, the reason I never found any clear direction from the city of Cambridge was because they do not allow Duplexing in Cambridge Ontario.  Mystery solved!

In the end we chose Kitchener, because houses were reasonably priced (this was 2019) and the city had a wonderful guide setup online to help you plan a duplex renovation.

Not every style of house will work for duplexing.  We mainly looked at two styles.  (I must have looked at close to 100 homes).  A “raised bungalow” and a “back split” were the easiest to change.  These allowed a basement entrance of some sort.  And usually the footprint was even, allowing for a suitable size basement apartment.  In the end, our home was a 5 level back split. The nice thing about a “raised bungalow is the footprint is usually semetrical.  Meaning, if you have a bathroom on the first floor, likely you can mimic a bathroom under it on the ground floor as your plumbing will be there.  You would only loose alittle space for a mechanical room, and possibly due to a staircase.

In the end, assuming you have found a good tenant, this is a great way to pay down your mortgage while you live in your new home.  Of course, if you are careful in your planning, you can find a way to easily change the home back to a one unit dwelling in the future, if you decide you want the house back to your self.  Do your research first though, you will likely need a building permit, several inspections, and likely a separate Electrical Permit to add the necessary electrical to a second kitchen. Check your municipality’s website, and see if they have any information in duplexing your home.  Usually they have a sort of “Consulting Visit” in there package, so make use of their help when designing your duplex.

Check back for more great information and things we learned while duplexing our home!