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Home renovations & basements

 

Important terms

Basement: the portion of a building below the first floor and is either partially or completely below gr​ade.​

Cosmetic upgrades: changes that are visually apparent and do not affect the structure or layout of a building. Examples include replacing flooring, painting, tile or kitchen cabinets.

Before you start

This page outlines information and permit requirements for home renovations including basements, kitchens, bathrooms, new or enlarged windows, exterior doors, as well as structural and framing changes.

Building code and Land Use Bylaw requirements for a basement development differ from those of a secondary suite. If you plan to have a self-contained dwelling unit (divided by a floor or wall) within the main residence that has separate living, cooking, sleeping and bathroom facilities, this is considered a secondary suite. For more information, visit calgary.ca/suites​.

Note: A recent change to the Alberta Building Code has updated the requirement for window wells, to provide a clearance of 760 mm (30") outside of a bedroom window. This change requires any proposed basement developments replace window wells which do not meet this requirement. As this change is considered an exterior renovation, a site plan is also required with your application to determine if the window well meets bylaw requirements. See the Egress Window Guidelines​ for more information.

Know the rules

Note: It is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that the work being carried out conforms to any restrictive covenants, caveats or other restrictions that are registered on the land title and meets all rules and guidelines of the Land Use Bylaw and Alberta Building Code.​

New window or enlarging a window

If you are adding or enlarging a window in your basement, a building permit is required. If the proposed window is located within a bedroom, egress requirements in the Alberta Building Code must be met. For a comprehensive explanation of these requirements, please see Egress Window Guidelines.

Note: Engineering may be required for structural alterations. Contact our Technical Assistance Centre for more information.

Land Use By​law rules​

Land Use Bylaw requirements for new windows:

  • One side setback must be clear of all projections (air conditioning equipment, window wells, cantilevers and bay windows).
  • A window well can only project to a maximum of 0.8 m into a side setback.
  • Window wells must not project into the 3.0 m side setback required on a laneless property.
  • A 3.0 m side setback from the back of walk is required for a corner property.

A development permit may be required if the above rules are not met.

If you will be adding or changing sizes of any windows that face a side property line, you must provide elevation drawings. The elevation drawings must be drawn to scale, show the entire side of the house where changes are proposed and include all the existing and proposed windows. Make sure to include all dimensions of walls and windows. There is a limited percentage of windows allowed on a side elevation, depending on the distance of the house to the property line and the size of the building face. Please note that proposed windows are not permitted within 1.2 m from the property line.

new window or enlarging a window
New window or enlarging a window
 

Building Code rules

When adding new exterior windows  to your concrete foundation wall, a professional Engineer’s structural review is required when one or more of the following applies:

  • The width of a new opening exceeds 1.2m (4’-0”)
  • The combined width of all new and existing openings in one wall exceeds 25% of the overall length of that wall
  • The width of solid wall which remains between an existing opening and a new opening is less than the width of either of those openings

Refer to Division B, 9.15.4.3. of the 2014 Alberta Building Code for more information.

New basement entry

A new basement entry requires a building permit.

Note: Engineering may be required for structural alterations. Contact our Technical Assistance Centre for more information.

Land Use Bylaw rules

When your proposed entry requires a landing, the landing must:

  • Not exceed 2.5 m².
  • Not be located in the 3.0 m side setback area required on a laneless property.
  • Not be located in a side setback area that is required to be clear of projections unless the landing is accessible from the rear and the front.
landing example
Landing example
 

Building Code rules

When adding new exterior doors to your concrete foundation wall, a professional Engineer’s structural review is required when one or more of the following applies:

  • The width of a new opening exceeds 1.2m (4’-0”)
  • The combined width of all new and existing openings in one wall exceeds 25% of the overall length of that wall
  • The width of solid wall which remains between an existing opening and a new opening is less than the width of either of those openings

Refer to Division B, 9.15.4.3. of the 2014 Alberta Building Code for more information.

Smoke and carbon monoxide detector requirements

Smoke detectors are required in all bedrooms and hallways servicing bedrooms. They must be hard-wired and interconnected throughout the house. If there are no hallways servicing bedrooms in your basement, smoke detectors are required within common areas.

smoke and carbon monoxide requirements
Smoke and carbon monoxide requirements
 

Energy efficiency requirements

Your renovation may be required to meet energy efficiency requirements under Section 9.36 of the Alberta Building Code. If the application for the building of the house was submitted on or after Nov. 1, 2016 any new renovations must comply with these energy efficiency requirements. If the application for the building of the house was submitted before Nov. 1, 2016 you do not need to comply with the energy efficiency requirements of Section 9.36 of the Alberta Building Code.

All renovations to your home must include building construction and mechanical components (furnaces, air conditioners, water heaters, etc.) that perform as well as, or better than, any similar existing construction or mechanical components that are in the home or that are being replaced. In addition to energy efficiency requirements, all changes must also meet applicable Alberta Building Code requirements.

New heating, ventilation, air conditioning and service water heating systems are always required to be properly certified.

New work and replacement of "like for like" mechanical components and systems normally requires building, gas and/or electrical permits. Please see the Alberta Permit Regulation and the Calgary Building Permit Bylaw for details.

When maintaining and repairing building components or mechanical components in homes, replacements are allowed as long as you replace the component with a similar material or part that performs as well as, or better than, what you are replacing. This includes exterior cladding, windows, doors, mechanical systems, etc.

Mechanical/furnace room requirements

Your mechanical/furnace room or laundry room is required to have at least one door with a minimum 32 inch opening. One pathway that leads from these rooms to the exterior of the house is also required to be 32 in.

Wetbars/kitchens

If you are intending to have a kitchen and bathroom in your basement, you must apply for a secondary suite.

A wetbar may be included in your development but it cannot have a means of cooking (i.e oven, stove, cooktop, microwave).

Obtaining permits after the work is complete

If your basement has previously been finished without proper permits, you may still apply for the permits after renovations have been completed.

The building permit application can be made by the homeowner. You must provide the same requirements as a new application and may be required to expose concealed framing.

Concealed wiring procedure

For an electrical permit, when the work has been concealed by drywall, you are required to follow the concealed wiring procedure. A homeowner’s permit cannot be issued for a home that has concealed wiring that was done without proper permits.

To have the inspection done, the owner must hire a registered, licensed electrical contractor. The electrical contractor will have to obtain an electrical permit and check that the wiring complies with electrical codes. However, the homeowner is still ultimately responsible for any previously concealed electrical wiring.

Concealed plumbing procedure

For a plumbing permit, when the work has been concealed by drywall, you are required to follow the concealed plumbing procedure. A homeowner’s permit cannot be issued for a home that has concealed plumbing that was done without proper permits.

To have the inspection done, the owner must hire a registered, licenced plumbing contractor. The plumbing contractor will have to obtain a plumbing permit and check that the plumbing complies with plumbing codes. However, the homeowner is still responsible for any previously concealed plumbing.

Note: There is a possibility the inspector may ask for drywall to be removed to complete their inspection. For further inquiries, please contact our Technical Assistance Centre.

Additional inquiries about building, plumbing, gas, electrical or heating, ventilation and air conditioning code or construction methods, building safety and fire regulations, please contact the Technical Assistance Centre. For all other inquiries (i.e. Land Use Bylaw), please contact our Planning Services Centre.

What permits do I need?

The scope of work being performed will dictate what permits are required. If a development permit is required, this must be applied for and approved prior to building permit and trade permit applications.

When is a development permit required?

Some examples of work requiring a development permit:

  • Making exterior alterations to a structure in or within 6.0 m of the floodway.
  • Proposing a new exterior projection that impedes a required free and clear side yard.
  • Making exterior or structural alterations to a non-compliant structure.
  • Making structural changes.
  • Proposing a development that does not comply with the Land Use Bylaw.

See know the rules for examples of different scenarios where development permits are required.

Existing structures requiring relaxation

If a structure has already been built and does not comply with the Land Use Bylaw, a relaxation application is required. The applicant applies for a development permit to weigh the impacts of the non-compliant structure and evaluate whether a relaxation is appropriate. When making this type of application, use the Relaxation of an existing structure requirement list.

When is a building permit required?

Some examples of work requiring a building permit:

  • Developing a new basement or renovating an existing basement that was previously completed.
  • Making alterations in a house that are more extensive than cosmetic upgrades.
  • Adding, moving or removing walls.
  • Making any structural changes.

When is a trade permit required?

Trade permits are required for electrical, plumbing, gas or mechanical work. This work will be inspected by safety code officers familiar with the applicable construction discipline, to ensure code compliance.

Types of trade permits​

  • Electrical permit: required for installing or modifying electrical systems, including moving lights or plugs.
  • Plumbing permit: required for installing or modifying plumbing systems, including new bathroom fixtures, even when the rough-ins are in place.
  • Gas permit: required if you are planning to have a gas fireplace installed, replacing a gas furnace or any other gas related work.
  • Gas fireplace installation permit: required to ensure proper vent and mantle clearances for a fireplace insert; a separate gas permit is always required for new gas connections.
  • Mechanical permit: required for installing or modifying heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

Do it yo​urself

As the homeowner, you are able to obtain homeowner's plumbing, electrical and gas fireplace installation permits. To apply for a homeowner's trade permit you must:

  • Be performing the work yourself.
  • Own the home (you must provide proof of ownership if the property has been purchased recently).
  • Live in the home.

You may be asked to show photo ID for verification.

Note: A homeowner is not permitted to install, alter or modify the main electrical service (which includes the main panel’s main breaker and the meter base). However, a homeowner is permitted to alter or tie into the main panel (with the exception of the main breaker) and may add a sub-panel to an existing main service, provided there is an existing main breaker.

See the homeowner plumbing guide and the homeowner electrical guide​ for tips on doing it yourself.

Working with a contractor

If you are hiring a contractor, they must have a valid City of Calgary business licence and obtain the proper permits. It is the homeowner’s responsibility to ensure these permits have been obtained. This information can be acquired by contacting the Planning Services Centre.

A homeowner may not apply for a trade permit on behalf of a contractor. If your contractor is performing the work, they must apply for the applicable trade permit.

If you have an inquiry in regards to building, plumbing, electrical or HVAC code, submit a Technical Assistance Centre Service Request or call 311. For all other inquiries (e.g. Land Use Bylaw questions), please contact the Planning Services Centre.

Risks when a permit is not obtained

If you, as a homeowner or contractor, do not have permits for work that has been started or completed, there could be consequences if you do not take action to correct the situation, such as:

  • Enforcement action issued by a City inspector.
  • A fine for building without a permit.
  • Having to undo work that has been completed.
  • Future legal and financial issues when selling your property or making an insurance claim.
  • Having to do more work than was originally planned and budgeted.

Note: As a homeowner, you are responsible for paying any penalties, even if you hired a contractor who assured you permits were not needed. If you are unsure if you need a permit, call the Planning Services Centre at 403-268-5311. Find out if your contractor has a City of Calgary business license with our Licensed Trade Contractor List.

Sample drawings

How to apply

Once you have determined which application(s) you will require, you can start to prepare the application requirements as outlined below. For building, development and trade permits, homeowners can apply in person at the Planning Services Centre, located on the third floor of the Calgary Municipal Building at 800 Macleod Tr. S.E. Business customers have the option to apply online through our ePermit system. For drafted examples, see the sample drawings section.

The requirement lists below are a comprehensive overview of application requirements. Please print and have all applicable forms and drawings completed prior to applying.

Building permits

Building Permit Checklist for Home Renovations & Basements ​​

  • Application form​: have this document completed when applying at the counter. List the address, applicant and contractor, if a contractor is being used.
  • Interactive fee calculator: input the developed area of the basement and/or the prevailing market value of any structural changes (new windows, entryways, beams, etc.) in the appropriate areas on the calculator.
  • Letter of authorization: if your building has a condo board, provide a letter from the board authorizing your work.

Trade permits

If you are applying for homeowner trade permits along with your building permit, these must be applied for in-person by the homeowner. There are no additional forms or drawings required to apply. See When is a trade permit required?​ for more information and to see if you qualify.

Homeowner trade permit fees

Development permits

If you do not have a copy of your Certificate of Title or registrations on title, these can be obtained through an Alberta registry or online here.

Development permit fees

Timelines

Most building permits for home improvement projects can be issued the same day as the application. However, sometimes a plans examiner will require a more in-depth examination of the application and the building permit is generally issued within a week.

Development permit timelines vary based on the type of application and the impacts to the community. Development permits must be approved and released before a building permit can be issued.

Homeowner trade permits can be issued instantly at the counter.

We’re committed to providing you with a timely response on your permit application.

Inspections

Book your inspections by contacting 311 and providing them with your permit number.

Generally, your project will require a rough-in and a final inspection for each building and trade permit pulled, though additional inspections may be required. You can contact 311 on the morning of your inspection to find out if it will be in the morning or afternoon.

The inspection process is dynamic and an inspection outcome depends on the construction method and site conditions at time of inspection. The information provided is not intended as an exhaustive list, but a generalized outline of the inspection process.

Inspections for building permits

Rough-in inspection requirements

  • Install and complete any structural changes.
  • Install and complete all wall and ceiling framing.
  • Install proposed windows and exterior doors.
  • Install and complete any HVAC changes.
  • Rough-in, install and complete all plumbing and electrical components required under associated permits.

Final inspection requirements (completed at the safety codes officer’s discretion)

  • The building should be completed. Although preferred, it is not necessary to have the wallboard installed for a final inspection.

Inspections for plumbing permits

Rough-in inspection requirements

  • Install and complete all plumbing drainage and venting.
  • Install waterlines and connect to the rest of the water distribution system.
  • Properly support all drains, vents, and waterlines.
  • Install the bathtub/shower valve.

Final inspection requirements

  • Install all fixtures and equipment and ensure they are ready for use.
  • Temperature of water at the bathtub and shower must not exceed 49 degrees Celsius.
  • Seal all piping designed for future fixtures with an approved plug or cap.
  • Provide a shut off valve with toilets.

Inspections for electrical permits

Rough-in inspection requirements

  • Have all wiring and interior of boxes readily visible.
  • Do not secure devices (plugs, switches) to boxes. Devices do not need to be installed for the rough inspection.
  • Remove vapour barriers and insulation where it’s covering any wiring. The exception is for wiring fished into walls.
  • Terminate all wiring into boxes and fixtures and remove outer jackets.
  • All wiring must be supported.
  • Cables may be terminated into the panelboard, but should not be on breakers.
  • Rough and underground inspections should be combined. Backfilling a trench may be granted with prior permission.
  • Never energize exposed wiring.

Final inspection requirements

  • Do not have any exposed live wiring.
  • Ensure all outlets, light fixtures and cover plates are in place.
  • Energize all branch circuits for inspection.
  • Complete the panelboard breaker directory.

A permit services report will be mailed to the owner after an acceptable inspection.

A development completion permit inspection may be required if a development permit is involved in your project. Contact the Planning Services Centre to determine if a development completion permit is required.

Call before you dig

Always call Alberta One Call before you dig: 1-800-242-3447. For more information or to submit a locate request, visit Alberta One-Call.

Disclaimer: This information has no legal status and cannot be used as an official interpretation of the various bylaws, codes and regulations currently in effect. The City of Calgary accepts no responsibility to persons relying solely on this information. Web pages are updated periodically.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​