In-laws, Outlaws, and Granny Flats: Your Guide To Turning One House Into Two Homes
by Mike Litchfield. Taunton Press, 2011. Paperback, 224 pp., 200 color photos, $24.95
Mike Litchfield has just written a very important book on building, not just for its subject matter, but for its timeliness in this era of tightening incomes. The subtitle says it well: “Your guide to turning one house into two homes.”
There’s a growing need for sensible and affordable shelter in North America these days, and Mike, the first editor of Fine Homebuilding, and the author of the bestselling book Renovation, has put together an immensely useful book here.
The book addresses a real need. For one (big) thing, baby boomers’ parents are aging, and a cottage in the yard or an apartment above the garage beats a rest home or a retirement condo in both financial and human terms.
In many cases, for the cost of renting a house or apartment for a few years, or for the cost of an elder and/or loved one in a rest home, you can create a rent-free or mortgage-free home. The book covers, in this order:
1. Is an in-law right for you?
2. Design of in-laws
3. Choosing appliances, fixtures, and materials
4. Plans and permits
5. Methods of construction, and the pros and cons of each:
a. Basement units
b. Garage conversions
c. Stand-alone units
d. Bump-outs, carve-outs, and attics
6. Current sources for finding architects, green materials, and products
The section on obtaining plans and permits alone is worth the price of admission. I’m often asked, “How can I get a permit to build a small home?” This book shows you how. The fact is, that up until now, most in-laws in the US have been illegal. But with the growing need of an aging population, and the growing desire of (some) townships and municipalities to provide low-cost housing, there’s a move towards legalizing second units. This is the most coherent and helpful description of getting through the planning department and the building inspector I’ve seen anywhere.
To tell you the truth, I’ve dodged permits and planning departments as much as possible, but I do believe in the need for structural safety and competent construction. The trick is to find the sensible amount of planning and building code compliance. This book makes a case for getting permits. And I have to face it, in spite of the fact that a lot of structures in our building books are wild and/or crazy and often not code-complying, a lot of people would rather be legal. A friend said to me abut this book, “This is the real world.”
Maybe it will help cities, towns, and counties in establishing sensible requirements for low-cost second-unit housing. (I heard the other day that planning and permits in Marin County (Calif.) are over $50,000– bureaucracy running amok.) Several forward-looking areas that encourage 2nd units are Portland, Oregon; Santa Cruz, California; Seattle, Washington; and Vancouver, BC, Canada,
The book is not only practical, but the photos show a lot of places with natural wood, carpets, sunshine through windows, and nice landscaping. The aesthetics are a welcome relief to much of what’s shown in today’s architectural media.
This book is going to be around and helpful forever.
Check out Mike’s website of small space design: https://cozydigz.com