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Square foot standards across Canada

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Would it surprise you to learn there are no national standards when it comes to measuring homes? There are no national and no provincial square foot standards when it comes to how residential real estate square footage is measured. Some real estate boards do impose reporting requirements, but these requirements vary across Canada and even from board to board. 

These anomalies in how rooms and homes are measured apply to any residential building including houses, townhomes, condos, garages, work sheds and any other outbuilding. They also differ depending on who you buy from. For instance, developers are allowed to offer prospective buyers with floor plans that have room measurements that are based on the distance from the outer wall to the other outer wall? So, a 16-foot by 16-foot bedroom may be closer to 14-foot by 15-foot when you omit the external siding, wall strapping, insulation and drywall (for both walls). Add the loss of feet from each room and you could be missing an entire room of your home (according to the total reported square footage and the actual living space you’ll get in that home). 

When agents report room measurements or overall house square footage of resale homes there are slightly different rules. First, there are no requirements to report room or home sizes. Second, the measurements cannot include outer walls, hallways and closet space as well as outdoor space. Yet, very often, an agent will report the measurements that were used the last time the home was for sale — which may not be accurate.

For some buyers, the total square footage isn’t that important. For others its integral to the purchase decision. Regardless of where you sit in this debate, it’s a good idea to educate yourself on the provincial or board guidelines and standards when it comes to reporting a property’s square footage measurements. 

Here are the square foot standards for measuring residential homes across Canadian provinces.

Western Canada: Alberta

In 2016 the Real Estate Council of Alberta adopted a standard for measuring residential properties across the province.

To this day, they remain the only province to hold their real estate agents to a consistent standard when it comes to reporting residential real estate measurements. In a recent CBC article detailing the new provincial standards for Albertans, council chair Krista Bolton said that “these standards give consumers and real estate professionals accurate and consistent property measurements.”

Other provinces are starting to take notice of these new practices, and some are even considering making the change to a more standardized process. However, there are still some provinces that feel their current practices are already providing enough of a guideline for Realtors and consumers.

Here’s what to expect in the remaining provinces in Canada. 

Western Canada: Saskatchewan, Manitoba and B.C.

The Saskatchewan Real Estate Council is currently considering adopting a standard based on Alberta’s success.

In B.C., real estate agents typically give clients the total square footage as found in the strata lot documents, the builder’s plan or on the home’s previous listing documentation. There are no requirements to provide floor area or other measurements in a listing, however, many B.C. agents will also include this information when listing a home for sale. However, because there are no regulations on how to source these room measurements (and the home’s overall size), buyers need to be aware that there may be errors in the measurements. For instance, if a condo is being sold by the first buyer, who bought it off a developer, the condo floor plan and measurements will not be accurate. Why? Because a developer measures from outside wall to outside wall, adding in inches and feet to a condo’s overall square footage. If a buyer is really concerned, you will need to either measure each room yourself or pay a professional. 

In Manitoba, the Manitoba Security Commission relies on the Authentic Canadian Real Estate measurement guidelines, despite the fact that this organization was dissolved in 2016. These guidelines ask agents to use “exterior dimensions.” This means Manitoba’s standards follow what new-build developers currently use across Canada — outer wall to outer wall. 

Central Canada: Quebec and Ontario

In Ontario, agents are not required to provide room measurements or the overall square footage of a home or condo or townhouse unit. If they do, the agent must make a note in the listing description, as most Ontario real estate jurisdictions do not record exact home sizes, but rather slot each home into a square-footage range (for example: 501 square feet to 750 square feet).

Veronica Mezes, an Intake Complaint Officer for the Real Estate Council of Ontario, says the province doesn’t have a measurement standard, but a “registered salesperson would be expected to have done any measuring themselves or have retained a qualified professional to do the same.”

However, without guidelines to make those measurements, it’s still hard to establish a baseline. For instance, did an agent rely on an old sales listing for the home’s room measurements? Did the agent take a tape measure and record internal wall to internal wall? Or did the agent rely on builder specs that use external wall dimensions?

In Quebec, there are no regulations or standards. Some agents include room measurements and carefully calculated floor space totals, others do not. 

Eastern Canada: New Brunswick, PEI, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland

Similar to Manitoba, the New Brunswick Real Estate Association, the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors and the Realtor associations of Newfoundland and PEI all rely on the measurement guidelines established by ACRE, an organization that was dissolved in 2016. To this day, these guidelines continue to receive a lot of criticism. Kevin Klages, co-founder and CEO of Planitar, a company actively trying to solve the problem of inaccurate building and home measurements, argues that distinctions made in the ACRE guidelines are insufficient for accuracy. For example, the distinction between above and below grade space just isn’t detailed enough to be useful to a buyer, explains Klages. The same story can be found throughout PEI and Newfoundland.

For home buyers across Canada, it is almost impossible to find consistent home square footage measurements — metrics that often dictate the comparative value of certain property types and can lead to inaccuracy and misunderstandings in other property types. For that reason, it’s important to protect yourself by verifying square footage measurements. The easiest way is to carry a tape measure and just measure each room in a home listed for sale. This will give you a decent idea of the actual living space available in that home — and enable you to make a more informed buying decision when evaluating square foot standards and measurements across homes.

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Ellysa Chenery

Ellysa has a Master's Degree in English Literature from the University of Toronto. You can find her in the wilderness with her tenacious dog.