Secondary Suites with a Difference

Housing diversity grows.

When we hear “secondary suite,” we usually imagine a dark, cramped basement unit. But they don’t have to be. Technically, a secondary suite is a self-contained living space within the property of a house designed for a single family. Nobody says it has to be downstairs. 

Take this backyard, or laneway house, as an example. Hardly a typical basement suite, but this type of secondary suite is gaining popularity everywhere.

They’re also called garage suites, granny suites, carriage suites or garden suites, with the City of Calgary using the all-encompassing term “backyard suites.”

The number of backyard suites built in Calgary is not known, as backyard suites are grouped in with other secondary suites, such as basement suites. But according to an article published in the Globe and Mail, the number of completed legal secondary suites in Calgary continues to rise slowly; 105 were built in 2012, 111 in 2013, 118 in 2014 and 124 suites were completed from January to November 2015.

Another innovative solution is garage suites. Some of Calgary’s newer neighbourhoods have garage suites built into the original design, ready to adapt to the life cycle of homebuyers. Perhaps it’s a nanny suite when the kids are young, later a teenager’s dream room or a guest house for visiting relatives, a place to welcome aging parents or extended family, or a way to earn extra rent money.

Older, innovative urban developments on former Canadian Forces Bases have also included garage suites. They exist throughout Garrison Woods, Garrison Green and Currie Barracks.

Laneway houses are often a win for established communities, as they diversify housing stock without demolishing existing buildings.

If you’re interested in adding a backyard suite or laneway house in Calgary, visit The City of Calgary’s permit pages for everything you need to know.


And if you want more inspiration, check out these photo galleries:

Avenue Magazine, “Calgary Laneway Challenge

The Globe and Mail, “Calgary architects look to kick start shift to laneway housing

Calgary Herald, “Inside Vancouver’s remarkable laneway homes

Lanefab Design/Build Gallery

May 9th, 2016
Updated: January 3rd, 2018

Laneway homes are only allowed in communities that have been zoned for secondary suites.