Industry Insight | June 5th, 2014

Modular/prefab is now mainstream, but it is certainly not new. [Part 2]

Using preassembled building components, in whole or in part, is absolutely a better way to build, but it is certainly not a new construction method. Prefabrication has been around for centuries. This blog is part (2) of the series, blog (1) referenced documented examples of prefab/modular construction pre-1900. 

In the 1800’s, before tradespeople and materials were readily available overseas, prefab kit homes were shipped from England throughout the colonies. It wasn’t until the early part of the 20th century that these prefab homes became mass produced in North America. They were sold by Montgomery Ward, Gordon Van Tine, Aladdin and Sears Roebuck. From 1908 – 1940, Sears claims to have sold over 70,000 prefab kit homes across 48 states. Aladdin claims to have sold about 75,000 kit homes.


These homes were ordered out of a catalogue and all of the parts, from 750 pounds of nails to framing lumber to the kitchen sink, were delivered via rail or truck and were ready for assembly by the buyer. Sears designed 447 plans through its years in the housing business, with 3 different levels of specification. Customization was an option but more expensive, of course.
“The ability to mass produce materials used in Sears’ homes lessened the manufacturing costs, which lowered the costs for customers…the precut and fitted materials shrunk construction time up to 40%…and eased construction.” An excerpt from “What is a Sears Modern Home?” – Sears archives
Each kit arrived with 10 – 30,000 pieces and a 75 page instruction manual.

Today, historians are struggling to identify kit homes. One researcher suggests that fewer than 5,000 kit homes have been identified across America. These homes are a treasured piece of Americana, currently selling upwards of $800,000, they are highly coveted by home buyers.

[1] What is a Sears Modern Home? [Sears Archives]
[2] Kit Houses Stand the Test of Time [Houzz]
[3] How to Identify a Sears Kit Home [WikiHOW]
[4] The Houses that Sears Built [Old House Web]

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