Beginner's Guide to Residential Duplexing

WHILE THE PROSPECT OF FINDING AND DUPLEXING a home might seem daunting at first to the uninitiated, it’s a much simpler process than you’d think. In the tri-cities and Guelph, the majority of bungalows (of which we have an abundance, built in older suburban areas in the 1960s and 1970s), most raised bungalows and two storey homes, many side-splits and back-splits and now even some semis fit the criteria you’ll be looking for. In terms of features and attributes which lend themselves most easily to duplexing, here’s what to look for first:

  • High basement ceilings. Some older homes will be excluded here, but we look for an absolute minimum of 6’5”.

  • A lower level layout which could accommodate at least one bedroom, one bathroom (a minimum of three-pieces), a living room and a kitchen. Extra storage space is ideal here, too!

  • An existing double-width driveway, or the potential for one.

  • This one is important – a means of secondary egress in the basement. For a property to qualify as a legal duplex, you must be sure to abide by municipal fire code. This is typically accomplished by enlarging one of the existing lower level windows. Current regulations mandate a total window surface area of not less than 3.8 square feet, with no one side under 13 inches in length. If you’re putting in a new window anyways (most will need to), consider going a little larger than the bare minimum to give your tenants an easier time in the case of an emergency!

WHEN IT COMES TO NAVIGATING the planning and permit process with your municipal government, there are three main steps:

  • Hire a draftsman (BCIN accreditation) to complete drawings on your behalf. There are two sets of these – a plan of the existing structure, and a plan which outlines the post-construction layout, specifically detailing the positioning of the kitchen and bathroom, proposed unit separation, etc.)

  • Submit your drawings along with a permit application to the city.

  • Once the permit is granted, it’s a good idea to call out a city inspector to the site before you begin construction. This can serve as a kind of ‘pre-inspection’, and if the inspector recommends any changes to the plans it’s always easier to make those fixes before you start, rather than to try to change a finished product.

All in all, the average cost of a duplex conversion from start to finish will sit in the $50,000 to $80,000 range. A good rule of thumb for this is to take the cost of a standard residential renovation and add $15,000 to that amount. This covers the cost of the drawings, permits, fire rating and installing a new laundry.

It’s important to rely on the advice of professionals, too. You can’t overstate the value to be found in having a good working relationship and a foundation of trust with a Realtor and a contractor. A knowledgeable Realtor can help to guide you to the ideal candidate property for duplexing, while a capable contractor will ensure that your vision comes fully to life.

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Erik Erwin

Sales Representative


75 King Street South, Unit 50

Waterloo, ON  N2J 1P2 | Canada

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