How to Identify a Sears Kit Home
If you live in Royal Oak, Ferndale or Berkley the rafters and joists in your home (or that of a neighbor) might have numbers imprinted on them. And, if so, they can tell an interesting story.
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Throughout Royal Oak, Berkley and Ferndale a variety of houses—everything from quaint English cottages, to cozy bungalows, to sturdy American foursquares, to classic Dutch colonials—are actually kit homes built by average joes in pursuit of the American dream.
“The average fellow could order his dream home out of the Sears Roebuck catalog, and within 90 days, his kit would be delivered to the train station,” said Rose Thornton, author of “The Houses That Sears Built.”
Get out your flashlight
Once you have seen the extertior of a Sears kit home and know what to look for, you begin to notice details of mail order home everywhere you look in Royal Oak, Ferndale and Berkley and a “Sears Roebuck Catalog of Houses” book becomes essential. It’s the equivalent of a bird enthusiast’s field guide, used to identify, through pictures and floor plans, the models Sears offered.
In Ferndale, many residents stop by the Ferndale Historical Museum located at 1651 Livernois to peruse the museum’s collection of mail order home catalogs, according to Garry Andrews, president of the Ferndale Historical Society.
Determining whether a home is a Sears house is not always easy. That’s because in addition to the 360 styles or designs Sears offered over the years, manufacturers and local carpenters often modified the designs to suit the buyer. And, after 80 or more years, most of these homes have been updated with new siding, windows, porches and room additions.
The best place to start, when identifying a Sears kit home, is with the year the house was built. If it was not was not constructed between 1908 and 1940 it cannot be a Sears kit house, according to Thornton.
Next, every piece of lumber in a mail order home was stamped with a letter designating lumber size (for example the letter "C" indicates a 2- by 6-inch board) and a two- or three-digit number, which corresponded to a blueprint. So, if a homeowner goes into their basement or attic with a strong flashlight, they can usually determine whether or not it is a Sears mail order home.
“People will say they don’t see the markings. I hear that all the time. I can usually find them in 3 minutes. People miss what is right in front of them,” Thornton said.
The stamps are 7/8-inch in height and are located 2-6 inches from the end of a piece of lumber.
For more ways to identify a Sears catalog home visit Thorton’s website at www.searshomes.org.
Do you have a favorite story or memory of a Sears or Wards home? If so, please post a comment or upload a photo.