A long long time ago in what seems like a country far far away… Sears, Roebuck and Co. had a popular kit house mail order program and sold between 70,000 and 75,000 kit homes. Over 447 different designs from simple to grand were included in their catalog. They even did custom kits if you gave them plans. I just ran across the old archive of designs. Not all 447 are represented but there is a nice collection on the Sears Archives website.
If the homes look familiar don’t be too surprised; Sears didn’t innovate new styles but instead leveraged the popular styles of the day. The kits were easy to build and used balloon framing which made it easier for unskilled home owners to build the kits. Balloon framing is similar to modern framing except that there were no separations between floors in the walls creating a serious fire hazard. Balloon framing is now banned. Other innovations in these homes were the use of drywall, asphalt shingles, central heating, electricity, and plumbing. But their most valuable feature was that they were easy to build and inexpensive.
Today one could argue that it was inexpensive housing like this that lead to urban sprawl and other negative cultural impacts, but you could also take the point of view that these home kits empowered people to own their own homes. In any event the existance of the Sears Online Archive today is a very valuable resource for those looking for inspiration. Phtoto credit Sears Archives.
What I like about the older home plan is that the rooms are ‘closed.’ Heating and cooling our modern open floor plans is so much more costly.
Good point. Another thing the floor plans don’t really show is the volume of space. Our newer larger homes have much more open space and often more windows, adding to the utility cost. Newer homes are usually better insulated which helps counter the increased space but imagine more insulation coupled with less volume. If the design is good a house that draws from the best of both could be closer to an ideal design, low impact, affordable, and comfortable.
Typically these were shipped by rail to their new sites, which is why they can be found clustered around small rail station towns.
I previously owned a Sears Catalogue home that was constructed in 1925. Very high quality materials and craftsman detailing!
Check out the Sears Simplex range of cottages that were panelised and could be erected in eight hours!
Great links Stuart. Thanks!
Too bad more companies aren’t making homes like this anymore. 🙂
Balloon framing is not banned, maybe in your particular municipality but we use it everyday for rooms with vaults, homes with lofts etc. I am so sick of so called experts waxing ignorant.