Single-level suite - Is it right for you?

Now days it is getting more and more popular to divide one house into up/down rental suites. More popular for one good reason: because it provides a sweet spot for the savvy home hunters who love to enjoy the benefits of living in a house while saving big on renting costs.

This post shares the pros and cons to live in a single-level suite, plus a checklist to decide if “single-level suite living” is right for you. 

A single-level suite mainly refers to either the up or lower level (basement) suite that shares a common floor/ceiling in the same house. Each suite normally has its own separate entrance, kitchen and living spaces, likely with shared laundry, yard and parking. The utilities may be split between up/lower level suite tenants.

Single-level suites have many unique advantages that are less well-known to many. Below are a few golden nuggets that may come as pleasant surprises to some of us 🙂


There are 4 advantages a single-level suite may provide: 

Advantage 1# – big savings on rents.

Let’s use this 3-bedroom, 2-bath up-level suite (1200 sqft) as an example. (Click link here for more details. While the dollar number below is for demo only and are subject to change, the validity of the message are most likely true)

Instead of paying average rent of $1,545.00 for a 3-bedroom house with an empty basement that is normally collecting dust and junks, you may only pay $1,245.00 This means you can save $3,600.00 per year, and over $10,000 in just 3-years! 

Advantage 2 # – Savings on utilities.

With a close look into a typical utility bill, you may find that the total cost has two parts: one is fixed fees, such as delivery, service, taxes, etc, these are charged to the residents regardless the actual amount of utilities you use. The other part is the actual cost of utilities consumption.

Using the same suite above as an example: If you rent the whole house, the monthly average utilities will be $300.00 on average. In comparison, to rent a split one-level suite, (say it is a 50/50 split). if the average total utilities cost is $350.00/month the whole house of up and lower-level suites, then each suite pays $175.00 only.

The saving per month? $125.00/month or $1,500.00 per year, or a handsome $4,500.00 in 3 years.

Advantage 3# – Savings on transportation.

Quite often than not, many one-level suites have easy access to the public transits. This can be ideal for the ones who like to save more by taking the transits instead of driving a car. The savings can be easily more than $1,500 /years. Or $4,5000 in 3 years.

If you adding all the above saving together, you likely can save $20k in total in 3-years, without compromising your living qualify a bit!

Advantage 4# – less time on house keeping.

By only taking care of half of of the house, you cut your housing cleaning time dramatically. This means more time for you to enjoy what you love.

To fully ripe the benefits of the single-level suite, one should avoid some not so obvious pitfalls (Cons below) while searching your dream home. 

Potential issue 1# – Safety.

It is important that the proper safety measures are taken when the house is being developed into the up and lower level suites. You may check with the owner/landlord to see if the suites are developed as per local building codes and city by-law requirement of legal suites. There are many good quality legal suites available. Focus on these instead of anything else.

Potential issue 2# – Noise.

Poorly insulated layer (ceiling) between up-and-down suites can be a serious and painful issue for both sides. It wouldn’t be worth it, if you have to endure the constant noises disruption day and night due to the poor insulation.

Quite frankly, many suites on the market are less desirable on this respect. Be up front with the landlord and ask for a clear answer. If in doubt, walk away.

Potential issue 3# – The immediate neighbor.

Having amazing neighbor is a joy. On the one hand, the fact that we don’t choose our neighbors doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be good neighbors. On the other hand, the landlord does have the final say on who to pick as a great match for the up and lower suites.

Again, ask politely yet frankly what kind of immediate neighbors to be expected above or below you, when you talk to the landlord. And find out how proactive the landlord is on dealing with the potential issue that may arise, in particular, what kind of communication channel has been established for effective communication between residents and landlord.  This way, there is no unpleasant surprise down the road.

Potential issue 4# – Size.

The one-level suite work the best for the start-up family up to 4 people. With the increasing of the family size, it might be a good idea to look for bigger house with more space to suit your growing need.

The list below is to guide you in finding your perfect suite.

Self check – Is your situation right for single-level suites?

  • Is your family size less than 4 ? – ideal for smaller family size.
  • Are you aiming for large saving goal? (i.e. buy 1st home)
  • Are you comfortable with the clichĂ© of shared living? (quiet time, take turns to do the yard work, enjoy the close neighbor and good accompanies etc.)

Questions about the suites

  • Safety feature – Is the suite a legal suite?
  • Basement suite – What are the safety measures in place?
  • Utilities – Are the utilities included? details?
  • Laundry – Is the shared laundry included? details?
  • Transit – Is the public transit nearby?
  • Parking – Is parking provided? how does it split?
  • Mail – How does the mail delivered to the house?
  • The noise level – Is the ceiling between up/lower suite sound-proof?
  • The neighbor (in up or down suite) – Is there a common clichĂ© in place to be followed?
  • The yard – Is the yard work shared?

In short, if you just start family and have an ambitious plan to save and thrive, single-level suite is definitely an excellent option you should check out.

Just make sure to check the factors of safety, noise, immediate neighbor, and get your self familiar with the common cliché listed in the checklist section in this post, you will be well on your way to find your dream home, save for your dream, while enjoying the beauty of sharing!

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