Olitch

Mike Litchfield, Point Reyes
Blogger, book author, one of the first FHB editors


Olitch
Mike Litchfield, a founding editor of Fine Homebuilding, has been renovating homes or writing about them for more than 40 years. He was one of the first technical journalists to go to job sites to gather information from builders and his classic work, RENOVATION: 4TH EDITION, was published by Taunton Press in November, 2012.

Mike’s tenth book, In-laws, Outlaws and Granny Flats: Turning One House into Two Homes, was named a Top 10 Design Book for 2011. To view some of its ingenious in-law suites, please visit www.cozydigz.com

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Contributions

Converting an Incandescent Ceiling Can to an LED

Converting an Incandescent Ceiling Can to an LED

Energy-saving retrofits don't get much easier than this. Because the old can stays put, you can convert a fixture in minutes.

An Infinitely Flexible Faceplate for Multimedia Cables

An Infinitely Flexible Faceplate for Multimedia Cables

Multimedia cables require specialized connectors, but one faceplate accepts all. It also nicely finishes the lo-vo data ring these cables pass through.

Temporary Support Beams for Sill and Foundation Work

Temporary Support Beams for Sill and Foundation Work

To replace rotted mudsills or foundation sections you must transfer loads to shoring. Start by noting which way floor joists run.

Shedding Light on LEDs: Why Theyll Own the Future

Shedding Light on LEDs: Why They'll Own the Future

Each spike in energy prices hastens the end of incandescent bulbs. What lighting technology will replace them? The smart money is on LEDs.

Retrofitting a USB Charger/Receptacle Combo

Retrofitting a USB Charger/Receptacle Combo

Replacing a standard duplex receptacle with a USB charger/receptacle combo speeds recharging and gets more use out of an outlet.

Spray-Painting a Door

Spray-Painting a Door

Work at a comfortable height, overlap passes and keep moving. Oh, and few more things...

Getting Outlet Box Edges Flush

Getting Outlet Box Edges Flush

If an outlet box is more than 1/4 in. below a non-combustible surface, Code requires that you make its edges flush. For that, you'll need a goof ring."

The True Tale of a One-Tree House

The True Tale of a One-Tree House

Nancy longed to build an in-law cottage but could never quite make the numbers work. Then one wild, dark night, good fortune arrived with a crash.

Refinishing Floors Safely

Refinishing Floors Safely

Refinishing floors is not inherently dangerous. Nonetheless, there are safety issues to consider.

12 Tips on Ordering and Installing IKEA Cabinets - Part 2

12 Tips on Ordering and Installing IKEA Cabinets - Part 2

Homeowners can save by assembling prefab cabinets. If the layout is complex or the space is irregular, however, hire a pro to install them.

12 Tips on Ordering and Installing IKEA Cabinets - Part 1

12 Tips on Ordering and Installing IKEA Cabinets - Part 1

With patience, a few tools and modest skills, most anyone can install IKEA cabinets. A few tips will make the job go more smoothly.

Cutting into a Concrete Floor

Cutting into a Concrete Floor

Cutting concrete is noisy, dirty, and dangerous; and the tools are heavy and unpredictable. In short, it's a job you may want to sub out.

Creating Countertop Templates

Creating Countertop Templates

By creating a template, you can accurately transfer complex shapes and spaces. When countertop materials are pricey, templates can be job-savers.

Universal Appeal: A Roll-in Bathroom that Rocks

Universal Appeal: A Roll-in Bathroom that Rocks

When a bathroom is this beautiful, functional and just plain fun, everyone wants to use it.

Stair-side Bookcases

Stair-side Bookcases

Stairs are great for coming and going, but these stair-side bookcases turn under-used stairwell walls into a library. It's a great place to linger and browse.

Using pneumatic nailers

Using pneumatic nailers

Pneumatic nailers can greatly expedite a roofing installation. Here are a few tips that will help you use them correctly.

An Over-Garage In-Law Suite with a Wealth of Storage

An Over-Garage In-Law Suite with a Wealth of Storage

Adding interior knee walls is a great way to gain storage because it makes use of otherwise unusable floor space under sloping roofs.

Need to Visually Isolate a Work Area? Do It with Doorskin.

Need to Visually Isolate a Work Area? Do It with Doorskin.

Temporary sheet-plastic walls are fine for quick jobs. But they don't offer the durability or privacy your clients and your crews need.

Masterful Tiling Turns a Tiny Bath into a Jewel

Masterful Tiling Turns a Tiny Bath into a Jewel

When the space is tight, fill it with creativity. Light, color, texture, and fanciful fixtures can enliven most any room.

Replacing a Wooden Girder with a Steel I-Beam

Replacing a Wooden Girder with a Steel I-Beam

Steel I-beams are stronger than comparably sized engineered wood ones. Need a beam that can support a garage above, yet hide in a ceiling below? Choose steel.

An Ingenious In-law Suite on an Unforgiving Site

An Ingenious In-law Suite on an Unforgiving Site

The space under the garage was dark, damp and steep. But sometimes the most unforgiving conditions demand the cleverest solutions.

Turning the Coldest, Darkest Room into a Steamy Oasis

Turning the Coldest, Darkest Room into a Steamy Oasis

Great design, glass tiles, radiant floors, a dash of intense color, and a cozy steam shower chase the winter blahs away.

Tips for Specifying, Pouring, and Finishing Concrete

Tips for Specifying, Pouring, and Finishing Concrete

Getting the correct mix and the right amount of concrete isn't hard if you master a little of the lingo and use a quick-calc chart.

Spraying Polyurethane Foam over an Existing Roof

Spraying Polyurethane Foam over an Existing Roof

Spray foam isn't just used for insulation--it can also be used for roofing.

Hardware for Built-In Tables and Seats

Hardware for Built-In Tables and Seats

Multi-functional furniture can make the most of tight spaces--if you can find the hardware to make it work.

Serious Fun: A Craftsman Enters a New Century

Serious Fun: A Craftsman Enters a New Century

Optimizing space in this 230 sq.ft. kitchen-bath remodel took a bit of hustle. Lots of light, playful colors, clever details and a great sense of fun made it all work.

Undoing the Dings of Life

Undoing the Dings of Life

A true story, a clever solution and a tool that few carpenters carry on their belts.

Refurbishing Old Double-Hung Windows - Part Two

Refurbishing Old Double-Hung Windows - Part Two

Double-hung sashes that are swollen, out of square, encrusted with paint, or without weatherstripping need a little extra TLC.

Whats that Finish?

What's that Finish?

Wood surfaces with clear finishes can often be freshened up with a light sanding and a new application of what’s already there. Here’s how to figure out what's there.

Refurbishing Old Double-Hung Windows -  Part One

Refurbishing Old Double-Hung Windows - Part One

Windows built 50 to 100 years ago often were constructed from woods that are no longer available. So it makes sense to refurbish them when they get tired.

Tattletale Cracks

Tattletale Cracks

In some cases, the handwriting is literally on the wall. But what is it trying to tell you?

Painting Secrets of a Pro: Hand-Finishing Custom Cabinets

Painting Secrets of a Pro: Hand-Finishing Custom Cabinets

Spray-painting can achieve a quality finish cost-effectively. But there's a secret to making the job look hand-painted.

Cool Tools

Cool Tools

If you love tools, you'll find a lot to like on this site. Its reviews include tools that are wildly inventive, odd, hard to find and, occasionally, hard to imagine.

Cutting Laminated Glass

Cutting Laminated Glass

Laminated glass resists impact and deadens sound. But there's a trick to cutting it.

A Drying Rack for the Road

A Drying Rack for the Road

Constructed from common building materials, this drying rack can be easily transported and quickly set up wherever kitchen cabinets need painting.

Soundproofing: Lessons from a Custom-Built Sound Studio

Soundproofing: Lessons from a Custom-Built Sound Studio

Musicians need to up the decibels now and then. With careful detailing you can contain all those joyful noises, yet still create an airy, light-filled living space.

Offsetting tile joints to add visual interest

Offsetting tile joints to add visual interest

When tiles are rectangular rather than square, you can create more interesting patterns by offsetting tile end joints.

The Heartland Wins Big in Recent Contest!

The Heartland Wins Big in Recent Contest!

Fine Homebuilding stalwarts in Kansas and South Dakota add lifetimes of renovation wisdom to their bookshelves.

Getting Green without Going Broke

Getting Green without Going Broke

By planning, being patient and paying as you go, this nine-step plan for a deep energy retrofit can put you on the green path--without guilt or crushing debt.

The Art of Reverse Renovation

The Art of Reverse Renovation

Renovation is the art of whatever works. Sometimes that means reversing the normal order of construction—or deconstruction.

Many hands make work light.

"Many hands make work light."

Two readers tell of their first building mentors and win copies of Renovation 4th Edition, which contains the wisdom of master builders across North America.

Installing a Wireless Switch

Installing a Wireless Switch

Adding three- or four-way switches used to mean drilling holes in finish surfaces, fumbling for fishing tapes and endless patching. But not any more

Tiny Homes: Simple Shelters

Tiny Homes: Simple Shelters

Listen to an interview with Lloyd Kahn, author of "Tiny Homes: Simple Shelters" and former shelter editor of the legendary "Whole Earth Catalog"

Setting Free the Builders

Setting Free the Builders

For more than 40 years, Lloyd Kahn has given people the tools and inspiration to build the most outrageous things. He shows no signs of slowing down.

Kissing the Nuclear Family Goodbye

Kissing the Nuclear Family Goodbye

Outdated zoning regulations from the 1950s--especially prohibitions on second units--are hurting today's diverse households

Designing a Backyard Cottage for an Elder with Alzheimers: Beauty Adds to the Quality of Life

Designing a Backyard Cottage for an Elder with Alzheimer's: Beauty Adds to the Quality of Life

Patients with waning memories and impaired reason can still experience pleasure and appreciate beauty.

BUSTED! A True Story

BUSTED! A True Story

Building an unpermitted addition or a second unit is risky business—but sometimes it’s the only way to respond quickly to a family crisis.

Caregiver Cottages, Home Offices, and Studios To Go?

Caregiver Cottages, Home Offices, and Studios To Go?

Designed by a cabinet-maker, The Little House on the Trailer has a lot going for it: beauty, a compact design, affordability and low impact on the neighbors.

Could There Be a Boom of Backyard In-law Cottages?

Could There Be a Boom of Backyard In-law Cottages?

By packaging everything a homeowner needs to create an in-law unit--including private financing--a Berkeley, California start-up cashes in on a growing trend.

Creating an Urban Oasis: A Green Live-Work Space Blooms on a Gritty City Lot

Creating an Urban Oasis: A Green Live-Work Space Blooms on a Gritty City Lot

Recycled shipping containers, energy-scrimping details and a sophisticated design sense create a handsome urban compound in a transitional neighborhood.

Grandmas Glorious Garage Conversion: All Cherried-out and Green to Boot

Grandma's Glorious Garage Conversion: All Cherried-out and Green to Boot

Thanks to a whimsical, super accessible, green-infused second unit specially designed for grammy, there's room for everyone in this three-generation household.

Turning a Basement into an In-law Suite: Six Elements of Successful Conversions

Turning a Basement into an In-law Suite: Six Elements of Successful Conversions

Making a basement apartment not feel like a basement means eliminating excess moisture, creating sufficient headroom and maximizing natural light

Rube Goldbergs Return: Creative Accessories for Accessory Dwelling Units

Rube Goldberg's Return: Creative Accessories for Accessory Dwelling Units

Inventive, multi-tasking furniture and appliances can help make the most of small-space dwellings.

Multigenerational Living in Paradise

Multigenerational Living in Paradise

With scarce land, extended families and a culture that values kindness and cooperation, the Balinese have long favored family compounds.

Can McMansions Help Solve Our Housing Crisis?

Can McMansions Help Solve Our Housing Crisis?

With almost 19 million homes standing empty in a time of high housing costs and widespread homelessness, we should consider all our options--including the unthinkable ones.

Room at the Top: Converting an Attic into an In-Law Unit

Room at the Top: Converting an Attic into an In-Law Unit

Four questions can help you decide if it makes sense to convert the "free space" above into living space

Louie reviewing the days progress

Louie reviewing the day's progress

Louie reviewing the day's progress

The Bed that Devoured Hollywood: Murphy Beds Have Been Stars for More than a Century

The Bed that Devoured Hollywood: Murphy Beds Have Been Stars for More than a Century

Small-space living demands beds that do more than just lie there

Putting an American Myth to Rest

Putting an American Myth to Rest

Rugged cooperation and shared housing won the West



Recent comments


Re: Will 3D Printers Replace Homebuilders?

Thanks for a thoughtful and well-researched article, Scott. It's hard to argue that this technology could someday be a great way to mass-construct affordable housing. But what will the living spaces be like? Cementitious building materials offer plasticity, but are they pleasant to live in?

Of greater concern to me is what happens to all those builders who are no longer needed to construct an automated house? In the third video the gent claims that using advanced technologies always results in more, better jobs down the road. Judged in millennia, maybe. But too-rapid and wrenching technological changes can also create massive unemployment and social dislocation for generations. Let's face it, the primary appeal of automated housing is cutting costs by cutting jobs--not unlike the Faustian bargain we made with computers, which allow corporations to merge companies, offshore operations and cut "redundant jobs." Redundant, if you not the one who has to feed a family.

I didn't intend this to become a rant. But this brave new world worries me, because nowhere do I see those generous souls--builders--whom you and I and Fine Homebuilding rely on so much for our raw materials--ideas and knowledge hard won in the field. To say nothing of their four-legged companions.

This technology may create a heavenly city of sorts. But, to paraphrase Mark Twain, if there are no dogs in heaven, then I don't want to go there.

Re: 12 Tips on Ordering and Installing IKEA Cabinets - Part 1

Excellent suggestions, Bob, thanks for writing. Before raising a stand of IKEA bookcases, I located studs in the wall behind and used a pair of angle braces to bolt the top of each bookcase to studs. The bookcases are, of course, free standing but I live in earthquake country and wanted a little insurance. As you correctly point out, bolting stiffens any unit and increases its utility.

Re: What Happens if your Framing Gets Rained on? (Learn to use a Moisture Meter)

Folks, you should check out Matt's video blogs on YouTube. He has provided a link at the end of his article. I just viewed one on captured (let-in) treads and risers. Matt is well spoken--not so easy to do when you're live on camera--and the video has tons of good information. Good job, Matt!

Re: Cutting Laminated Glass

Great tip, Bill, thanks for posting it. If I live long enough to produce a 5th Edition, I'd like to include your tip--and will send you a comp copy of the next book. Best, Mike

Re: UPDATE: Mike Rowe testifies before Senate

One of the more substantive and soulful testimonies Congress will hear this year--or any year. Congratulations to Mike Rowe for telling like it is and for Fine Homebuilding for reporting on it.

Re: Awakening Remodeling, Quieting Foreclosure Fever

I wish I shared your optimism.

Yes, remodeling has a has a pulse, but your statistics' relevance to foreclosures is lost on me. Nearly 40% of home sales in California last month were foreclosures and banks are sitting on a vast shadowy inventory of foreclosed properties for fear that releasing them too quickly will further depress prices and submerge more homeowners.

And, witness the tens of thousands besieging the state house in Madison, Wisconsin, this week, state finances across the country are a sea of red ink.

For a less sanguine take on what's really happening in housing, you might want to check out the site of a contrarian who called the housing collapse two years before it happened. He continues to glean stories from a multitude of sources, http://patrick.net/housing/crash.html

Re: Creating an Urban Oasis: A Green Live-Work Space Blooms on a Gritty City Lot

To get an answer for Habitat Nail Pounder, the second commenter, I spoke Stephen Shoup, the designer-builder featured in this story.

Shoup said that Nail Pounder hit it on the head: Getting such projects permitted in local municipalities is a bear, particularly if you call them ADUs, which have limits on how you can use them and what they can contain--that is, whether they have bathrooms or kitchens. In this instance, Shoup sidestepped those issues by limiting the containers' use to office space and not installing a kitchen or a bathroom--although the latter item would have been handy. Also, the containers were never presented as ADUs because they were never intended to be accessory living spaces.

Shoup goes on to say that "planning and zoning are also the 'arbiters of taste' and don't particularly like the container aesthetic, so regardless of whether we wanted to leave the containers looking like containers...we couldn't. But it was always my intention to have them as visually appealing as possible, so it was kind of a moot point."

But news from city hall was not all dour. The building department and its engineering compatriots, for example, appreciate some of the unique structural qualities of shipping containers--they are very much like big box beams--and inspectors seem to appreciate the green building aspect of reviewing such a project.

Re: Turning a Basement into an In-law Suite: Six Elements of Successful Conversions

Renosteinke's dour take on basement suites is not without merit but he's using a sledge to drive a finish nail. Yes, if you build a house on a flood plain, you are asking for trouble and few remedies will do much good. But the vast majority of houses with basements are not built on flood plains and the brief excerpt above is intended for them. NOTE: Since the original posting, I added a sidebar on insulating a basement, partly in response to Renostenke's gripe that the article didn't have enough meat to it.

In fact, this "blog" on converting a basement is an excerpt from a very substantial book (In-laws, Outlaws, and Granny Flats) that features five handsome basement conversions among its 30 case histories. As my intent is to sell books rather than give them away piecemeal on the internet, this excerpt is just a taste, not a meal.

Re: Can McMansions Help Solve Our Housing Crisis?

Having started this food fight I have been struggling mightily to stay out of it, but beer3's comment broke my reserve.

Yes, it really does depend on who's ox is getting gored. Those who bellow "gummint intrusion" the loudest are often those benefiting handsomely from it. Fact is, zoning regs are created by people (aka government) and people can damned well change them when they become onerous. Shortly, in the new year, I will write a blog encapsulating efforts to change zoning re second units--there have been some mighty battles and signal successes. BTW, I am not against zoning per se, but many of the zoning regs governing second units are as foolish, futile and intrusive as Prohibition was in the 1920s and 1930s...and we know how that turned out.

If there are compelling reasons to create second units and ossified laws trying to stop them, guess which side will prevail. One measure of how compelling in-law units are is the number of illegal ones. Hence the title of my new book (sorry, gotta eat) IN-LAWS, OUTLAWS, AND GRANNY FLATS, which Taunton will publish this March.

So thanks one and all and keep the fur flying. I love reading all comments, even the ones that flay me. And BeerBeerBeer, I owe you a beer. A few months back I got into a terrible row (over beers) with tradesman who was complaining about "government intrusion" and my response wasn't as strong as it might have been. Now, thanks to you, I'll be ready next time around.

Stay tuned, amigos, and keep writing! --Mike

Re: Book review: Crafting the Considerate House

Thanks, Kevin, for yet another thoughtful piece of journalism.

I was particularly struck by your observation, "Now builders are so desperate for work they can’t afford to be particular about what they build."

Even well-established builders are scrambling for work. And one wonders, given the ferocious pressure to low-ball bids and cut costs, if green building practices will come under the knife because their up-front costs are typically a big higher than construction-as-usual.

Re: My Story Through Houses: The Dugout

Larry, You are clearly one of the folks who emerged from those dark times with a generous soul. Or maybe it wasn't quite so dark because people knew they were all in the same boat. Your account is particularly important today because, I fear, blaming other people is a more common response to adversity. So thanks to you for a fine story and thanks to Fine Homebuilding for running it.

Re: Where's My Liver Snacks?

What an earnest face. Dunno what it is about labradoodles (my dog louie is the next photo over) but they have the best mix of temperament and smarts I've ever found in a dog. Congrats.

Re: The Dog Days of Summer-- Jordyn the Yellow Dog

Lends new meaning to permeable house wrap, eh>