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How to Research the History of Your House: Kit Houses

A guide to help homeowners research the history of their home.

Physical Indications

The first step in determining whether the structure in question is a kit home is to determine the exact year of construction.  Kit homes were almost exclusively sold between the World Wars.  If the structure was built before World War I or after World War II then it is most likely not a kit home, and it is definitely not a Sears Catalog Home (1908-1940).  Physically, kit homes are often difficult to recognize.  Manufacturers would often modify the house to suit consumer desires.  Also, over the years new additions or materials may have been added which will change the appearance of the structure.  Despite all of this, examining the building footprint is the first step that should be taken.  Windows should be located in the same place as indicated in the catalog.  As should the doors and any decorative features.  Any changes are an indication that it may not be a kit home.  It is also common that kit houses be constructed in a balloon frame design.



When kit or catalog homes are mentioned the brand that most often comes to mind is Sears.  However, Sears was just one of many companies that sold kit homes.  Aladdin, Gordon Van Tine, Harris Brothers, and Sterling also sold kit homes on a national level. 

Photo:  Sears Homes: 1921-1926.  The Castleton ($934 to $2,193)


When trying to recognize the structure the easiest thing to do is to look at the plumbing fixtures.  Often times the plumbing fixtures were marked with an indication of the company in which they came from.  For example, in Sears homes they were marked with an SR or an R enclosed in a circle.  Another step that can be taken is to check under the millwork for forgotten shipping labels.  The most common millwork items are the trim and the baseboards.  Finally, the exposed wood of the structure should be checked for labels and markings.  These markings helped the inexperienced builders determine where to put each space.  For some kit houses the stamps also indicated the size of the boards. 

Subject Guide

Rebecca Torsell's picture
Rebecca Torsell
Architecture Building Room 120
(765) 285-8441