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Kit Homes Age Gracefully

By Robert Freedman

It’s like finding a prize in your cereal box. You do a little research and discover the house you just bought is an old kit home, one of the thousands that were built across the country from the early 1900s to the 1940s, when do-it-yourself homes were in their heyday.

Kit houses are considered historically valuable. Most of the people who’ve bought kit homes are thrilled to learn what they are and the history behind them. That historical value adds a premium when they decide to sell their house.

Kit homes continue to be built today, particularly specialty products such as log homes, but the numbers are a shadow of what they once were then the big suppliers – including Sears, Montgomery Ward, Lewis Homes, and Aladdin – sold thousands per year. About a half million kit homes, also known as mail-order houses, were built during the first half of the 20th century.

One reason for their enduring popularity is quality. The kits included top building materials and were often meticulously constructed by their owners.

Want to know whether your home is a kit house? Here are a few clues:
bullet Numbered markings on joints and rafters in the attic or basement.
bullet Numbering or a product label under moldings, baseboard, or window frames.
bullet Blueprints or bills of lading in the basement.

More information on kit houses is available from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Contact the National Trust Librarian at Hornbake Library, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland; (301) 405-6320.


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