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Photograph of a Sears Kit House catalog page showing the Fullerton. Sears Catalog Homes
How to Identify a Sears Kit House

  • SEARS KIT HOME IDENTIFICATION - CONTENTS: how to identify Sears Roebuck kit homes. Descriptive text, history, & photos of Sears Kit Houses from the New York Hudson Valley & other locations. How to identify Sears Kit Houses or Sears Homes - a complete list of what and where to look for Sears Catalog Home identifying details and designs - here is a definitive list of key details used to identify a Sears Catalog or Kit Home. The Sears Catalog House - Photos - History of Sears Catalog Homes; Location of Sears Catalog Homes; Cost of Sears Catalog Houses. Sears Catalog Home Exterior details & Sears Catalog Home Interior details. Sears Mail Order Lumber Stencil Marks. How wear and tear affect a Sears Home. Sears House Identification Points - Photographs of homes & house details are provided along with references & books to help identify Sears Catalog homes & other kit homes. Confusion in Sears House Identification & Are these Sears catalog homes?
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about Sears kit homes: sources, history, identification, repair, inspection
  • REFERENCES
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Sears Houses: This article series provides detailed photographic and historic clues to assist in the identification of Sears Catalog or Kit homes and including references to other expert books and resources on Sears Homes.

We describe and provide photographs of Sears Catalog homes, using examples of these homes located in the Hudson Valley of New York. This article provides examples of clues useful in identifying Sears Catalog Kit Homes. We also edit Sears Kit House identification checklists and comment and books on Sears Homes by Rosemary Thornton.



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How to Identify Sears Kit Houses

Photograph of porch column details on a Sears catalog houseDaniel Friedman, Rosemary Thornton. Presented at the Hudson Valley American Society of Home Inspectors HVASHI Annual Historic Homes Inspection-Seminar, Kingston, NY - 8 September 2005.

Daniel Friedman has inspected and identified Sears catalog homes in the Hudson Valley of New York, and has included additional identification tips and photos with this article. Rosemary Thornton, whose work is referenced in this document, is a leading expert on Sears catalog homes.

Article Contents

Thornton is also the author of books on identifying Sears houses, cited at REFERENCES below, and she offers a Sears house identification service.

The Fullerton Sears Kit House - Photos and examples by DF

[Click to enlarge any image] .

Here is the original catalog description of this home at 15 N. Remsen, Wappingers Falls, NY

Three neighbors - three Sears catalog homes were built in a row by Wappingers grocer Adolph Von Vorstel on N. Remsen Ave. in Wappingers Falls.

This house, #15 N. Remsen, in Wappingers Falls, NY, arrived by train. Using the Sears numbering system, the contents of the railroad boxcars (typically two boxcars were needed to ship all of the parts to build a complete home) were brought by wagon to this site in the village of Wappingers Falls, NY.

Wagon loads of house materials were brought wagon-by-wagon in the proper order for construction while the boxcar sat on a siding. The total cost for this house was $1500. As shown here in September, 2005 this charming house was listed for sale by its owners for $299,000.

Exterior details of Sears Catalog Homes and How They May Have Been Modified or Covered-up

Inspecting a Fullerton Sears Catalog House for Details

Interior details of Sears Catalog Homes

Photograph of porch column details on a Sears catalog house

Sears Mail Order House Lumber Framing Stencil Marks

Photograph of lumber stencil marks on a Sears catalog house

More difficult to find in some homes is the definitive stamp/stencil letter-number identification on framing lumber and trim, but it is often there for the diligent inspector, for example on

How leaks and other wear and tear may have affected a Sears Catalog Home

Like many houses with a history of incomplete insulation and dormers with flashing failures at the dormer wall-to-roof juncture, there are often visible in the attic of both Sears Catalog and non-Sears homes of this design.

We did not examine the mechanicals closely in this house, as they were not provided by Sears and Roebuck and were obtained locally. We did not photograph the kitchen and bath as they had been remodeled leaving no obvious original materials.

However the combination of catalog match, interior hardware, and stencil marks make the identification of this home as a Sears catalog house quite clear. We also had help - the home was so identified and its history written in a Poughkeepsie Journal article in 1990. However the owners and listing realtor had been unable to identify the Sears catalog model. The Journal article (1/7/1990 F1-2), also identified other Sears catalog homes in Dutchess County, NY. These are listed here.

Examples of Other Sears Catalog Homes in New York

Here is a Definitive List of Sears House Identification Points

How can you spot a Sears Catalog Home? While I have expanded, edited, and illustrated this list based on our own field experience, and we have added photographs and other details, this material has its origin in Thornton's books cited at "References" below. We recommend those books for any owner or serious investigator of Sears Catalog homes.

  1. Year built: Thornton points out that while Sears sold Building materials as early as in the 1895 Sears and Roebuck Company catalog, pre-cut "kit" residential homes were sold between 1908 - 1940.

    Note that other companies may have purchased Sears-inch designs and continued to sell some models after 1940, and also note that Sears kit home "look-alikes" will be found. In fact since Sears architects who designed their catalog homes copied currently popular house designs, some of which were themselves built from stock plans, there may be Sears catalog home look-alikes that were built before and during the years during which Sears, Wards, or other catalog home companies sold and distributed their house kits.

    But there are specific details, particularly in hardware, stenciling, and labeling that can be conclusive in identifying a Sears or other company's catalog or "kit" home. Dates of manufacture of other brands of kit homes are discussed below
    at When and Where were Sears Catalog Houses Built?.

    Note that even before 1900 Sears was sellling construction materials, but not in complete pre-cut home kits.

    Here are the details that will help in identifying Sears Kit Homes:
  2. Stamped letter-number marks on framing and trim, such as observed in the Fullerton model in Wappingers Falls, NY on lumber (eg.1)

    or trim are good evidence of a "Sears kit." While we are informed that Montgomery Wards also sold pre-cut homes into the 1950-inchs, we don't think you'll find the same rubber-stamped number system. Note that some houses were built with almost no markings - see the Remsen Avenue house in Wappingers Falls, NY, and about 1/3 have no marks at all (before 1920). (Strong evidence.)
    1. Framing members: letter + number, at the butt end (unlikely to be visible) and on the face (framing number stamp example 2) (framing number stamp example 3) occasionally visible near (2 - 10") the end of the member, on the wide dimension of the lumber. (E.g. the 6" dimension of a 2x6 rafter.)

      Lumber for a Sears kit house was pre-cut (you didn't need a saw to build a Sears house). Lumber was end-stenciled with identifying marks to aid in construction. End stencils will be hard to see on framing lumber in most homes but be sure to check the ends of any visible joists in the basement where they may cross over a center girder. The stenciled codes on Sears Kit House lumber are about one inch high and will [almost always] include a letter followed by 1 to 3 digits such as A123 or C9.
    2. In the basement check the butt ends of floor joists overlapping the main girder - this is about the only place in a finished home where you may be able to see the end of a framing member, unless you are doing structural repairs or renovations.
    3. Thornton says that the Ink may be blue, black, or red, just under 1" high, and the letter, followed by numbers. We observe that these stamps will often be irregular in alignment and spacing - it appears as if each letter or number was stamped individually when identifying framing members.

      On the other hand, words like "Finish" which I presume referred to trim boards, appear aligned as if made by a single physical stamp. This example was on a left-over piece of finish lumber used in the attic as eaves blocking between rafters.
    4. Thornton also suggests that inspectors check for identifying marks at plumbing access panels where you may find marks on wall studs in the bath wall cavity.
    5. Framing is square-cut douglas-fir(Doug Fir) or southern yellow pine (SYP) (usually) free of knots and splits. In some inspections you will find a few rafters or beams which show mechanical pit-saw kerf marks, at least on the earlier catalog home kits, but generally lumber
      is square-edged and smooth.
    6. Framing marks on other kit house brands and their framing lumber are discussed below at
      A List of Manufacturers of Kit Homes and their Identification Markings
  3. Sears Catalog House Foundations - usually masonry block, were not normally shipped with these homes. Sears offered a concrete block kit and suggested a do-it-yourself block making project for your kit home.
    Masonry blocks with a decorated exterior face such as the ones seen here may have been made by that device.
  4. Sears Kit House Shipping Labels - these will be a pretty rare find unless you are doing remodeling and disassembly and get lucky, they are unlikely to be seen during a non-invasive inspection. Thornton's book "Finding the Houses" cited below has photos of some of these. We did find shipping labels on an Aladdin kit house. Details are at ALADDIN KIT HOUSES.
    1. Labels may be present on the back of millwork (baseboard, window, door trim, staircase) as Sears used a common supplier
    2. "Sears, Roebuck and Company," or "925 Homan Ave. Chicago" may be present on shipping labels
    3. Stamps on millwork or labels from "Norwood Sash and Door" (maybe) indicate Sears suppliers.
    4. Thornton also cites an "R" either in the cast-iron base of some sinks (kitchen?) and in the enamel of bath tubs in a corner near floor level.
  5. Compare the Sears Kit House architecture and general appearance with a guide book - see the reference book list below. We recommend these books.
  6. Watch for Sears Kit Home Paperwork - cached in attic or basement which may identify the home. Sears kit houses came with a seventy-five instruction manual which explained the details of construction.

    Since these homes were designed to be built by their owner, the instructions were quite detailed, including even details of how many nails were to be used and where they were to be placed when assembling the building framing.
  7. Court or county records may also identify the Sears or other kit home and model, or may identify the home as carrying a Sears mortgage.
  8. Examine hardware such as these Sears house door hinges and these Sears house door knob plates. In addition to common "Sears" design, some are stamped with the "Sears" name.

    We believe that the door hinge examples shown here appeared in a smaller size on kitchen cabinets in some homes as well. In addition to framing lumber, windows, doors, roof shingles, Sears Catalog Homes came complete, with all of the necessary hardware, nails, hinges, paint, and even a doorbell.
  9. SearsGoodwall Sheet Plaster. You may see telltale sheet lines, roughly 4-inch x 4-inch, stamped "Goodwall" on the wall-cavity side (suggestive, not sufficient). Goodwall sheet plaster (basically plasterboard, an antecedent of modern "drywall") was sold by Sears beginning with the 1916 Sears Modern Kit Homes Catalog.

    Earlier Sears kit home interior walls and ceilings may have used traditional plaster and lath (CEILINGS & WALLS, PLASTER TYPES) or in some buildings you may find Beaverboard or other insulating board sheathing on walls and / or ceilings. Often these older surfaces have been covered-over by drywall. If the building interior window and door trim no longer protrudes about 3/4" beyond the wall surfaces we suspect that the original wall coverings have been plastered or re-covered with drywall.

    Goodwall sheet plaster may not contain asbestos, but we have no hard evidence of the presence or absence of asbestos in that product. It's notable that Goodwall sheet plaster was described in Sears promotional material as follows:

    Goodwall Sheet Plaster is a fire resisting gypsum rock compositionplaster of even thickness between two sheets of heavy cardboard. These cardboards are so saturated with the fire resisting gypsum composition that they make Goodwall Sheet Plaster far more fire resistant than regular lath and plaster. It comes in sheets 32 x 36 inches and other convenient sizes and takes the place of regular lath and plater at less cost and with less labor. Border to the right shows the actual thickness of the 32 x 36 inch size, 5/16 inch. - Sears advertising literature, 1921 Sears -Modern Homes Catalog.

    This plaster board could be installed alone and papered-over but it was intended to be top-coated with a 3/8-inch layer of hard plaster and another 1/8 inch layer of top coat hard plaster finish.

    Sears Goodwall sheet plaster was sold in the following dimensions and thus might provide telltale lines on any of these intervals:

    Sears Goodwall Sheet Plaster Dimensions

    Dimension in Inches Thickness in Inches
    32 x 36 5/16
    32 x 48 5/16
    32 x 72 5/16
    32 x 84 5/16
    32 x 96 5/16
    32 x 108 5/16
    32 x 120 3/8
    48 x 72 3/8
    48 x 84 3/8
    48 x 96 3/8
    48 x 108 3/8
    48 x 120 3/8

    Notes: this product was sold by Sears beginning in 1916. The thickness dimensions do not include field-applied top coat layers of finished plaster.

    Specially prepared plaster was also sold in bags of the hard plaster and top coat hard plaster to be applied over this Sears plasterboard


    If a property owner finds Goodwall sheet plaster in their home and wants a free test we'll foot the bill (contact us first) as we'd like to knowfor sure too, but considering that most asbestos-containing products intending to trade on fire resistance advertised asbestos as a feature, it's quite possible that the Sears Goodwall sheet plaster does not contain asbestos.
  10. Exterior design components and common or recurring Sears details and Sears house architectural themes: (Thornton's text uses examples from the Sears Vallonia and the Sears Sunbeam) - look at:
    1. Porch column details: you'll see a common theme of
      rectangular wood columns (Fullerton also shown in our photo above and shown in more detail here),
      tapered wood rectangular columns such as
      this Marina, and
      "Stick work" which Thornton says was used in about 24 Sears designs (such as the multiple but simple column set on this porch and pergola of
      the Corona, and
      more
      complex Vallonia columns which are found in similar versions on Americus and longer versions on Langston)
    2. Center block under front porch roof(Vallonia) - we do not see this on very many other porch headers
    3. Stick-design corbels or eaves brackets (Elmwood Sherburne, or Sunbeam) These may be covered with vinyl or aluminum now but may still appear in place as a covered triangular support. Thornton describes these as "5-piece eaves brackets" and indeed brackets were common on a number of Sears catalog or kit home designs.
    4. Thornton cites double 2nd floor gable end windows but we do not yet see why this is unique to Sears Catalog homes.
    5. Thornton also suggests comparing the current chimney location to original design as chimneys are rarely moved - a good suggestion.
  11. Original Building permits may be saved with the home - rare in our experience
  12. Foundations: decorative-faced concrete block is suggestive [see our photos of Sears Catalog Homes shown here], where stone or concrete are less likely.
  13. Location of Sears Kit Houses: because the Sears Catalog Houses were shipped by railroad boxcar (typically two boxcars per home) to a rail station near the purchaser, most often Sears houses will be located close to a railway line or station, perhaps within one or two miles.

    The buyer would move the 30,000 or more pieces of house material to the building site by horse and wagon or by truck, often storing components in the rail car on a siding until they were needed. Sears packed the materials so that they could be unloaded from the rail car in the order of construction.

Some sources of confusion in Sears House Identification

  1. When was the house built? Sears began selling Building products in 1895 so some Sears materials may be in non-catalog homes.
  2. Look alike homes that are not Sears Kits: There are "look-alike" catalog home models that were not sold by Sears but were sold and on occasion built by others
  3. Architectural Designs of Sears Homes are Not Unique: Sears architectural designs themselves came from existing sources such as magazines. Thornton points out the Del Rey model in 'American Carpenter and Builder' 1922. Sears often made modifications to copied designs.

    Stated more elaborately: Sears Roebuck did not necessarily create the designs of their homes from scratch. Rather, the company copied existing popular home designs, adapting them to kit form.

    However even when Sears copied an existing house plan, the Sears Kit version can usually be identified by one or more features which were unique to the Sears version of these plans, such as a small upper gable end window or unique hardware such as door hinges that were sold only by Sears Roebuck & Co. for their kit houses.
  4. Counterfeit Sears Kit Houses: Some builders, at customer request, copied an existing Sears design without ordering an actual catalog home.
  5. Lack of Key Details on Small Sears Kit Houses: The smallest, simplest models of Sears Catalog Homes may lack obvious unique details (Winona, Grant, Clyde) but may have been built frequently.

When and Where were Sears Catalog Houses Built? A Brief History of Sears Kits

Sears Roebuck company began selling buildings or components of buildings in 1895. Some early experiments by Sears included selling a kit to build a complete school or office building. The first complete Sears Kit homes, that is, residences, were marketed by Sears & Roebuck in 1908, and eventually Sears offered 370 different models of residential homes, ranging from small bungalows at $500. (kit cost) to larger homes costing $5000. Buyers of a Sears Kit home saved about one third of the typical construction costs of their era.

Beginning in 1929, and not by coincidence, the volume of Sears Catalog houses sold dropped dramatically. So it's probably true that most of these homes were sold and built before that year, but it is certainly the case that the sale of some models continued to 1940.

In 1940 the last "official" Sears kit house was sold and shipped to its owner. By 1940 home designs, specifications (and building codes) had become more complex, detailed, and demanding, including stricter requirements for electrical wiring and plumbing, and Sears abandoned the dwindling "do it yourself" home market.

However some homes could have been purchased around 1939 or 1940 but not completed until several years later, depending on what time and labor the buyer had available to build their house. Thornton cites a Sears house which was completed around 1944.

However other companies may have both purchased remaining Sears kit house stock or copied Sears designs and continued to sell kit homes after 1940. we have encountered such a home in northern Dutchess County in New York State, one which looks just like a Sears model but which lacks the Sears identifying stencils on framing and other key details. Our client traced the sale and construction of the home to a company which sold it as a kit house in the early 1940's.

A List of Manufacturers of Kit Homes and their Identification Markings

We've had less success finding details about other kit home companies selling in the United States and Canada, though Rebecca Hunter has compiled a list of a variety of kit house companies. Benefiting from Hunter's work as well as our own search we list a number of kit or catalog home manufacturers here.

Watch Online Video about Sears Homes, Rosemary Thornton, KETC Living in St. Louis, Sears Homes

This link to a YouTube entry will display a nice five-minute video in which Rosemary Thornton discusses the history and appearance of Sears Catalog Homes.

Thornton rattles off some statistics about Sears Catalog homes and with the KETC reporter, walks past and identifies several Sears home models. She explains that often a specific detail which is still in place on a Sears house was unique to those homes and can help in their identification today, even though homes have been much modified or expanded since their original construction.

Are these Sears catalog homes?

Any ASHI, NAHI, or other serious home inspector who has been working in the Hudson Valley of New York for a decade or more has probably inspected several Sears Catalog homes, even if s/he did not recognize it at the time. A review of some of our inspection photos came up with a few candidates with an expert like Thornton might see immediately as probable or improbable Sears Catalog Houses.

These along with some houses I photographed which are definitely not Sears Catalog Houses are included in this list as a fun exercise for readers.

  1. Worrall Avenue, Poughkeepsie, NY, home #1
  2. Worrall Avenue, Poughkeepsie, NY, home #2 (Close neighbor of #1 above)
  3. Fountain Place, Poughkeepsie, NY, home #1 (Same age and similar design as #4 below)
  4. 13 No. Remsen Ave., Wappingers Falls, NY home #1 is reported to be a Sears Catalog House Kit House as well, but we have n't yet found it in the catalog.
  5. 17 No. Remsen Ave., Wappingers Falls, NY home #3. The front porch of this home was converted to an office for Dr. Hodder, a local dentist after his village office was taken over by the bank who was his landlord.
  6. 28 West St. Wappingers Falls, NY home #1 - 1885 "The Bleachery" (previously owned, renovated by the author, DF, sold to present owner)
  7. 30 West St. Wappingers Falls, NY home #2 - 1885, "The Bleachery" (beware of nasty, extremely hostile owner, stay in your car)
  8. Other kit homes, not Sears, include Montgomery Ward Kit homes and Aladdin Kit homes.

Aladdin Kit Houses

Aladdin kit home (C) Daniel FriedmanThis photo is of an Aladdin kit home constructed in Tivoli, New York. Since its original construction, especially viewed from the exterior, it would be tough to identify this as a kit home much less as an Aladdin kit home.

But the observation of stencil marks on some framing visible in the interior of the home and research by the owners turned up the original plans for this Aladdin home.

[Aladdin kit home photos wanted, CONTACT us]

The National Trust Library offers catalogs of Aladdin kit houses.


Continue reading at KIT HOMES, Aladdin, Sears, Wards, Others or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see BOOKSTORE, SEARS, KIT, CATALOG HOMES

Suggested citation for this web page

SEARS KIT HOME IDENTIFICATION at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

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