4 Advantages of Kit Homes

by Becky BlantonDecember 5, 2016

“Homeowners can save up to 50 percent of the cost of building a home from scratch as they can by buying a kit home,” said Massachusetts architect Noah Grunberg. Grunberg is a huge fan of kit homes, both their history and the variations on their designs. Kit homes are also an alternative for the homeowner who has land that might not be accessible for traditional builders.

What are kit homes?

Kit homes have been around for more than a century. In fact, Sears (Sears Roebuck) used to sell kit homes through their mail-order catalogs. The homes were shipped by train to their new owners, neatly packaged, but unlike modular homes which are built in sections in a factory and then assembles, kit homes arrived in thousands of pieces. Think about the relative ease of “flat pack” furniture, like Ikea. Each piece is stamped or labeled with a letter and/or number to help the new homeowner figure out how to assemble their furniture-in-a-box. Kit homes were, and are very similar, except there are thousands of pieces of lumber, sheet rock and other pieces to assemble. Sears Roebuck sent blueprints with their kits. The blueprints listed each piece and its precise placement. Instruction manuals helped those who struggled with the blueprints. As intimidating and challenging as it might seem to us now, according to Sears Roebuck kit home expert Rosemary Thornton, Sears Roebuck promised that “a man of average abilities could assemble a Sears kit home in about 90 days.”

Image courtesy of Kit Homes
via Kit Homes

How many kit homes are there in the US?

According to Thornton, Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes from 1908–1940. They weren’t the only company selling kits however, so the numbers may be in the low millions. While kits make up a very small percentage of America’s homes, they are a unique piece of history and growing in popularity today because they do save time, money and the need to purchase a lot of power tools and construction equipment. Many home stores sell storage shed, tree house or gazebo kits. Homes are just kits on a larger scale.

What’s included in a kit home?

Depending on the company, a kit home can come as a shell, or a full, turn-key house. Everything is either precut or assembled in sections. Grunberg said his customers get pre-assembled sections, like trusses, walls, roofing, and doors that the homeowner assembles on their foundation or property. Electric, plumbing and the home’s foundation are generally contracted out to other builders by the homeowner. Before you buy any kit home find out what is and isn’t included, and what, if any other services the seller offers.

“Many of our customers have little or no construction experience and yet they easily put our kits together themselves,” said Grunberg. “They’re designed to be assembled by one or two people, with no extra equipment or cranes needed. Some buyers have friends and family help them, while others actually hire a construction crew to assemble the home, or help them with the assembly.”

“Our kits are custom kits, designed based on the land or property. They’re not cookie cutter kits at all. They may look similar in that we use the same building materials or look, but each home is unique and based on what the owner wants,” said Grunberg.

Grunberg started Noble-Homes LLC in 2008. He has 25 years of experience designing and constructing high-performance buildings, mostly residential. He has also studied industrial design and architecture as well. He was drawn to the idea of designing and manufacturing green, solar kit homes and based his business on that passion. He uses mostly local sustainably harvested lumber and super insulated panels (SIPS) in his kit designs. His projects have been featured on Renovation Nation, and This Old House as well as in various print media, blogs, and magazines.

Image courtesy of Imagine Kit Homes
via Imagine Kit Homes

4 Advantages of a kit home

Cost. Grunberg says the primary advantage of a kit home is the lower cost. The company sells their kits for an average $52 per square foot for the shell. “We’ve had some homeowners tell us they were able to build their kit home for $100 a square foot versus the average $200 to $250 most homebuilders charge,” he said.

DIY. Being able to “do-it-yourself” and ensure the quality of the build, the timing of the build, and the fact you don’t have to hire contractors is a big draw. “Although professional plumbers and electricians and foundation contractors are needed to complete the home, buying a kit definitely saves the homeowner willing to do a little work themselves a lot of money,” he said.

Location. Location is everything when it comes to real estate, but there are prime pieces of land where traditional homes and construction techniques won’t work. “The contractor just can’t get their equipment into some property, or there’s no power. There may be hills, rocks or obstacles that make traditional construction impossible. Kits can be carried into places traditionally built homes couldn’t be,” said Grunberg.

Uniqueness. If you want a home that’s unique to you, kits are the way to go. “A kit home may share similar lines or characteristics,” said Grunberg, “But each home is uniquely designed for its owner.”

Is a kit home for you?

“It depends” Grunberg said. “If you want to save money, have basic carpentry skills and can follow a blueprint and instructions, it might very well be,” Grunberg said the best thing to do is find a kit builder in your area and talk to them. “Visit some kit homes and talk to people who’ve built one before you decide. If you like the idea of customizing your home, saving money, and being hands on in building your own home, you might find the satisfaction you’re looking for in a kit home.”

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About The Author
Becky Blanton
Becky Blanton is a full-time ghostwriter and writing coach for Fortune 500 companies, CEOs, and business speakers. In 2009 she spoke at TED Global at Oxford University, her first ever public speaking gig. When she's not writing, she's kayaking in the Chesapeake Bay. Her dream home is to live aboard a sailing or houseboat.