Many people have lived in kit houses for years without realizing the historical and architectural significance of their humble abodes.
Identifying a kit house can sometimes be challenging. The house may not be a true kit house, in the true sense of the word, because some companies like Sears and Wards sold their plans that then could be built using local materials. Some manufactures even produced custom kit homes. Then there were several kit house manufactures and they often used plans that were nearly identical. The kit houses were also based on the styles of houses being built, so it can be sometimes difficult to determine the origin of the house. But below is a list of signs that can help identify a kit house.
Look for stamped lumber:
Every piece of framing lumber for a kit house was numbered at the factory for easy assembly at the construction site. Look at the exposed beam, joists, rafter in the basement, crawl space or attic of the house for the marked lumber. If those are unavailable, the bathtub’s plumbing access doors might allow access to the framing lumber.
Sears lumber was marked with a letter and number on the tall side of the lumber and can be found two to ten inches from the end of the member. Aladdin used words. Gordon Van Tine and Montgomery Ward used numbers, separated by a hyphen.
Look at Plumbing Fixtures:
When plumbing, electrical, and heating were added to the standard kit house, sometimes the fixtures were stamps with the initials or logo of the company. For example, Sears would stamp a “R” or “SR” on those fixtures. The mark can be found on the underside, near the front of pedestal and kitchen sinks or on the lower corner, on the side furthest from the tub spout on bathtubs.
The logos might be seen on doorknobs, hinges, miscellaneous hardware.
Check the house’s floor plan:
Compare the footprint (exterior dimensions) and room sizes to original manufactures catalog. Many of the original manufactures have digitized the catalogs and they can be found on-line (Reference Web Resources Page). There are also books and reproduced catalogs available.
The home’s footprint and room sizes should be a perfect match to the floor plans provided in the catalog. Pay close attention to the placement of doors and windows, chimneys, and any character defining detail. Even if the dimensions are off by a few inches, this could signify that the house is not a kit house.
Sears offered “reversed floor plans”, so the house may be a mirrored image of the floor plan shown in the catalogs.
Look for Shipping Labels:
Inspect the black of millwork (wood molding and trim) for shipping labels.
Investigate shipping records:
Sears houses were shipped exclusively by rail. Is the house located near a railroad line or close to where one existed in the late 1800s or early 1900s? If so, it may be possible to locate the shipping records of the materials unloaded at that station. The Sears load containing the house may be listed.
Conduct a record (deed and building permit) search:
Between 1913 and 1933, Sears offered home mortgages. So Sears might be listed on the deed of the house. Also there might be documentation when the mortgage was paid in full.
Some jurisdictions keep original building permits and on the building permits, there should be information about the date of construction and the architect. Sears Roebuck, Aladdin, Montgomery Ward, etc. might be listed.
Consult your neighbors:
It may be a part of the oral tradition in the community that the home is a kit house, and perhaps someone can recall the building materials being brought to the building site. Also, kit houses were often built in groups. Neighbors might know if there are other kits houses in the area.