Status: This standard was approved as a departmental standard on April 16, 2012.


In general terms a dwelling is defined as a set of living quarters. Two types of dwelling are identified in the Census, collective dwellings and private dwellings. The former pertains to dwellings which are institutional, communal or commercial in nature. The latter, Private dwelling refers to a separate set of living quarters with a private entrance either from outside the building or from a common hall, lobby, vestibule or stairway inside the building. The entrance to the dwelling must be one that can be used without passing through the living quarters of some other person or group of persons.

A dwelling may be classified as unoccupied or occupied by a person or a group of persons. Unoccupied dwellings must meet three criteria indicating they are suitable for year-round habitation in order to distinguish them from seasonal homes or cottages. They must have a source of heat or power (as evidenced by chimneys, power lines, oil or gas pipes or meters, generators woodpiles, electric lights, heat pumps or solar panels). They must have access to a source of drinking water throughout the year as evidenced by faucets, drain pipes, wells or water pumps. They must provide shelter from the elements as evidenced by complete and enclosed walls and roof and by doors and windows that provide protection from wind, rain and snow. Unoccupied dwellings that do not meet these criteria are deemed to be seasonal and are not included in the count of private dwellings.

On the other hand, where such seasonal dwellings, or dwellings under construction, are found to be occupied by a person or persons who have no other usual place of residence they are included in the count of private dwellings. In such cases, however, they are identified as marginal dwellings or dwellings under construction, renovation or conversion.

A dwelling under construction, renovation or conversion is a either a new dwelling which is not yet complete or an existing dwelling which is undergoing extensive renovation or conversion. A dwelling under construction is one that is not yet complete and does not meet the criteria for year-round occupancy. The dwelling is considered complete when services such as electricity, plumbing and water have been connected and the dwelling's structural parts such as doors, windows, roof and walls, and, in the case of high rise apartments, elevators have been installed. Painting, driveway paving, trim and landscaping need not be finished for the dwelling to be considered complete. A dwelling under renovation or conversion is a dwelling which, because it is undergoing extensive renovation or conversion work (e.g., from a single detached house to a multiple dwelling or vice versa), does not meet the criteria for year-round occupancy.

A dwelling occupied solely by foreign and/or temporarily present persons is a dwelling in which the person or group of persons resident on reference day all have a usual place of residence elsewhere in Canada or abroad.

Characteristics of the housing stock, that is variables which qualify the housing stock, are generally tabulated only for private dwellings occupied by usual residents.

Under some circumstances private dwellings occupied by usual residents will be further classified as farm and non-farm. Farm dwellings are often excluded from tabulations showing value of dwelling or shelter costs because of the difficulty of distinguishing between household costs and farm costs and between the value of the dwelling and the value of the farm.

There are two primary sources for social statistics: one is administrative records, which generally collect information from the files of individuals; the other is from censuses and surveys where the unit of observation is the household and individuals within the household. The latter source is capable of producing estimates for households (and usually the dwelling within which the household resides) as well as for individuals. In addition, it is possible to produce estimates for familial groupings within the household (i.e., the census family and the economic family). Some administrative sources, such as Revenue Canada files, are able to produce family estimates, but most cannot, nor can they produce household estimates.

Relation to previous version

  • Dwelling April 16, 2012 to current

    This definition was updated on April 16, 2012. The term "temporary resident" was replaced with "temporarily present person".

  • Dwelling July 15, 1998 to April 15, 2012

    This was the departmental standard from July 15, 1998 to April 15, 2012.

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