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Backyard bliss: home suite home

Karen and Mike
Karen and Mike

Backyard suites are becoming increasingly popular across Canada due to the social, environmental, and economic benefits to owners, renters, and the city as a whole. A backyard suite is a second residence located behind or beside the primary residence on the same lot.

Karen and her husband Mike have lived in their bungalow home on a Crescent in Killarney for nearly three decades. It’s the kind of neighbourhood where neighbours chat on their front porches, watch each other’s kids run around in the park across the street, know to which house a loose dog belongs, and share birthday cake with everyone on the block.

In 2016, Karen and Mike had an 850 square foot, two-bedroom backyard suite built on top of a two-car garage. Originally, the suite was intended as a new home for Mike’s parents, but when circumstances changed, the couple found another tenant — Mike’s cousin’s former partner Shirley.

Shirley lived on the same block since 1988 and is close with the couple. Following her separation, Shirley moved into the suite.

“I watched the suite being built and came to see it when it was finished,” says Shirley. “The location is central and convenient. I could just see myself in it.”

Moving into the suite allowed Shirley to stay in the neighbourhood she loves, close to her workplace at a hospital and close to her family doctor and dentist. Shirley lived there without a car for over two years, instead opting for cycling, transit, and Uber to get around. She has now resided in the suite for over six years.

Karen and Shirley rave about the benefits of their living situation. Shirley hems Karen’s clothes. Mike brings Shirley his famous fresh baked bread and desserts. Shirley helps maintain the garden in the backyard and watches Karen and Mike’s dog Crunchie when they are away.

Shirley adds, “When my mom went into care, I had my mom’s dog. Mike and Karen were kind enough to let the dog age here in my suite, which was lovely.”

Shirley also has lots to say about the benefits of living in a smaller place.

“I don’t want to be doing too much house and yard work anymore. I’d rather be doing the hobbies I enjoy,” she says. “It’s also true that the bigger your place, you will find more and more stuff to fill it. We moved my mom and dad from a house they lived in for 50 years, and the stuff they accumulated was overwhelming. I don’t want to do that to my son. This place is practical. It’s more than enough space.”

Karen echoes Shirley’s sentiments. Her love of small homes was one of the reasons they built the suite.

“I’ve got a whole bunch of little books on smaller homes, I’m intrigued by small, and we always talked about keeping things small,” says Karen. “We went to Council in 2015 for approval to develop the suite,” says Karen. “Some neighbours were in support and some neighbours were against the idea.”


In the end, approval for the land change was granted, followed by development permit and building permit approvals. Karen had design features included to alleviate neighbour concerns across the alley, such as mylar film on some of the windows to create more privacy.

“It actually brought us more in line with the rest of the block in terms of height,” says Karen, noting that over the years, the neighbourhood changed, and mostly two-story structures replaced many of the bungalows. “Once it was built, nobody had an issue.”

The design, originally intended for Mike’s aging parents, included a wide staircase and the power setup necessary to add a chairlift (if ever needed), a shower instead of a bathtub for ease of access, and door frames that could accommodate a wheelchair (if ever needed). It also features a skylight and a balcony, so its tenants have access to the outdoors without having to go downstairs.

Karen and Mike’s daughter Veronica has intentions of moving back into her childhood home to raise her family if she has children with her partner in the future. Shirley plans to stay until that happens, and then the backyard suite would transition to Karen and Mike.

“Veronica’s memories are here. She loved growing up on this Crescent, and she loves this house,” says Karen. “So, we said we will make it work.”

In November 2023, Council approved City funding for the Secondary Suite Incentive Program to encourage more homeowners to build backyard and basement homes. Funding support is also being provided through the Housing Accelerator Fund. The program team continues to develop the program.

If interested in learning more, visit or sign up for our email list for updates on the program.

Did you know?

  • Backyard suites are sometimes referred to as laneway houses, carriage houses, garden suites, or garage suites.
  • Calgary currently has nearly 200 backyard suites.
  • The City is seeing 25 per cent more applications for backyard suites this year than in 2023.

Categories: Building, Community, Development