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Design Considerations For Garden Suites

During the design phase of your suite project, there are some important considerations that you should take into account in order to maximize your square footage. This article provides some tips and ideas for small space design for garden suites.

Typically, garden suites range in size from 400 to 900 square feet. That being said, under Edmonton’s newest regulations, you are now permitted to have a tiny home garden suite (as long as it is on a permanent foundation and meets building code requirements), and you can have a suite up to 1,399 square feet (as long as you meet coverage requirements). You may also choose to have a basement in your garden suite, which doesn’t count towards your square footage. So, there’s a lot of variability in suite size!

Regardless of the size of your suite, here are some important considerations that should be addressed early in your suite journey:

1. What is your purpose?

Think long and hard about why you are building a garden suite. Are you building purely for rental purposes? Are you planning on downsizing and ageing in the suite? What about upsizing from your 850 square foot bungalow to fit your growing family? Maybe you’re building for a family member who has mobility challenges? The “why” behind your garden suite will dictate a number of important design considerations. For example, if you’re building for ageing parents, you may choose to build a fully accessible, single storey suite, whereas if you’re building a rental suite, you may want multiple bedrooms spread over two stories.

2. Lot constraints/opportunities?

You’ll want to consider lot constraints/opportunities at two scales:

  1. Constraints/opportunities presented on your lot

  2. Constraints/opportunities presented around your lot

Constraints on your lot may include mature trees, power lines, or challenges like a steep grade. You’ll also want to consider view lines – are there views you want to protect with the suite? Maybe there are views you want to avoid? Finally, the size and width of your lot can act as a constraint or opportunity, depending on what you want to achieve with your suite. For example, if you have a large pie-shaped lot, you may have enough room to retain your existing garage and build a suite beside it.

Looking at the broader context, you’ll need to think about your proximity to transit and amenities. If you’re steps away from an LRT stop and in a parking reduction zone, you may not need to provide additional parking for the suite, which could mean more living space.

3. Orientation?

Thinking about where to situate your suite is critical. How do you want it to interact with the sun? How will the suite affect shadowing? Maybe you’re planning on eventually subdividing your property into two narrow lots, so you want to push the suite as far as possible to one side of the lot?

4. Interior vs exterior stairs?

You may notice that many older suites in Edmonton have exterior stairs. This is because stairs and landings used to eat into your living space. This is no longer the case.

Stairways, landings, and elevators are now exempt from your floor area calculations. Given our northern climate, most people are choosing to build interior stairs for safety and practicality reasons. We typically recommend you build interior stairs whenever possible.

5. One vs. two storey?

This comes back to your purpose. Since many people are still familiar with the term “garage suite” there is an assumption that the suite has to simply be built above a garage. This is not the case. Under Edmonton’s regulations, you can orient your living space in five basic ways:

  1. Garage on the bottom, suite directly on top.

  2. Garage on the bottom with some living space on the main floor, and up top.

  3. Two story suite, with no attached garage, living space on the main floor and second storey. Optional parking pad or independent garage.

  4. Single storey suite with attached garage.

  5. Single storey suite, with no attached garage. Option parking pad or independent garage.

*Note: If you do not have an alley, you can still build a suite, you are just limited in height to 4.3m (single storey).

6. Inclusive Design

Inclusive design is also referred to as universal design, or barrier-free design. It is defined as "…a design approach that allows the unit to be used as a primary residence for resident, regardless of age or existing or potential physical limitations” (City of Edmonton, Inclusive Design). We encourage everyone to design to these standards so that your suite is adaptable, accessible, and visitable by all people, regardless of their age or mobility. There are seven criteria that need to be met for an inclusive design suite, which you can learn about here.

City incentive also exist for meeting Section 93: Inclusive Design Standards. These incentives include an additional 10m2 of living space on the second storey of your suite, and a parking exemption.


Small Space Design Considerations

1. Maximize natural light

Additional windows can help create a more open and comfortable feel to suites. Window placement can be challenging in a lane as bylaws regulate looking directly into adjacent properties backyards. There are ways around this. Higher window placement can ensure privacy, while still letting in natural light. Similarly, we are starting to see window backsplashes used in kitchens as a way to bring more light into the space.

2. Vaulted Ceilings & Added Height

Vaulted ceilings can make garden suites larger and more open.

3. Space Saving Solutions

There are a number of creative, space saving solutions that can be integrated into your suite. A few of our favourites include pocket doors, and under-stair storage.

4. Bring the Outdoors in

Balconies do not count towards your floor area calculation, so try to maximize your amenity space to create an indoor/outdoor feel.

5. Privacy Innovations

Privacy screens, window placement, glass blocks and other architectural techniques allow the interior spaces in suites feel larger and more open, without giving up your privacy, or infringing on your neighbours.

Did we miss anything? Let us know!

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