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Lose One Dream, Find Another - Aging Well With Marjorie
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Lose One Dream, Find Another

Lose One Dream, Find Another

We had a dream of building our new house in such a way that we could turn the second floor into a second unit. At some point in the future, it might serve as a rentable unit in case we needed income, or into a suite for a caregiver should we need that. We’ve decided we have to amend our dream.

Second unit dream

On making its tour through city officials, our application for a building permit ran into a snag. Well, not so much a snag, as a list of requirements for a second unit we would have to meet. We thought we had covered them, but we would need to submit plans in greater detail.

In case you’ve ever considered adding a second unit, the time to put pieces in place is when you are building it, rather than trying to add them later. Here’s what you have to consider.

  • a separation between the units (floor/ceiling assembly in our case) having a 1-hour Fire Resistance Rating (FRR) and a Sound Transmission Classification (STC) of 50 or better
  • all supporting construction with a 1-hour FRR
  • each unit with its own power supply and panel
  • each unit with its own HRV
  • each unit with its own water heater
  • each unit with an exit separate from the other
  • each unit with its own hard wired smoke alarm with battery backup, interconnected with each other.

Our hearts sank at the thought of submitting revised plans, mostly because of the delay this would create, and also to some extent because of the construction costs for a second unit. There went that dream.

Secondary suite dream

The city building review person was very helpful in describing the somewhat lesser requirements of a secondary suite:

  • slightly reduced fire-separation and sound-transmission requirements (e.g. walls constructed with drywall, but must be smoke-tight)
  • secondary suite no more than 80% of the floor area of all stories in the dwelling, or a maximum of 80 square meters
  • a solid wood core door between the units, fitted with a self-closer and a weather strip
  • each unit with its own HRV and duct work, OR a shared non-ducted heating system each with its own control
  • all the other requirements still apply.

Again, we would have to show a set of revised plans, helping with costs but still adding to delays we were not willing to tolerate. It seemed more practical to us to let go of our original dream and develop a new one.

Other options

We had always considered the possibility of someday renting out rooms, for company and for some assistance as we age. This form of home sharing might be where we finally land. We do know that three is the maximum number of rooms we could rent out. How lucky that we have three rooms planned for the second floor, and an exit handy to the second floor.

Another option would be to add a second unit or secondary suite by building on the outside of our house some day. That way, we don’t have to do anything now to make it happen. An entire family could live in the main house, while we resided in the add-on.

Perhaps someday Halifax Regional Municipality will allow a separate second structure on a residential property, suitable for a young person starting out, or for an older person at the other end of life. That would make it easier to orient a living situation to more sunshine or perhaps locate it closer to the street.

With an aging population, we need to create a wider range of housing options. My husband and I have been testing the waters, and it feels like we finally have land in sight.

  • Donna longard
    Posted at 12:27h, 08 August

    Margorie, Have you started demolition? So exciting!

    • Marjorie
      Posted at 09:14h, 31 August

      Due to start any day now!