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“You Will Like the Josephine The Longer You Live In It…”

May 4th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

So promised the catalog advertisement for the “Honor Bilt” house, The Josephine.

This diminutive 840-square-foot house provides a nice example of the difference between “Honor Bilt, Already Cut” houses and the “Lighter Bilt, Not Cut or Fitted” houses.

The Honor-Bilt Josephine was offered for $1,470 while its cheaper cousin (Lighter Bilt) was $1,052. In today’s economic clime, that may not seem like a big difference but imagine a Realtor showing you two houses that appear to be the same, and both with 840 square feet. One is selling for $105,000 and the other is selling for $147,000. Which one would you choose?

And yet, the Honor Bilt really was the far better value.  These homes utilized traditional construction standards, such as double headers over the doors and windows, double floors (primary floors over subfloors), exterior sheathing under clapboard or cedar shingles and wall studs on 16-inch centers.

Lighter Bilt” was another kettle of fish. These homes were really not intended for cold-weather climates. Wall studs were on 24-inch centers, and there were single headers over doors and windows, no subfloor and no underlying exterior sheathing. Those things make a big difference.

And then there was the whole pre-cut vs. non-cut lumber. You’d have to be taking some heavy doses of laudanum to think that non-precut lumber was a good plan.

To appreciate the value of precut lumber, think back to the early 1900s. Electricity was in its infancy, and in many cities, electricity was turned off each night at 11 p.m. for six hours of repairs and maintenance! In 1910, only 10% of homes had electricity. By 1930, that number had jumped to 70%. (Source:  Electrifying America:  Social Meanings of  a New Technology, David E. Nye.)  As late as December 1917, American Carpenter and Builder Magazine was still describing electric lights as a luxury that a builder should incorporate into a modern city home.

To cut a piece of lumber with a handsaw required time, strength and a degree of expertise (for a good square cut). Electric saws and the heavy duty wiring to handle the amperage draw were a thing of the future. In fact, the electric handsaw (a portable circular saw) wasn’t widely available until 1925. A fascinating news item in the February 1925 American Carpenter and Builder heralded the “new invention” with this commentary:  “The portable circular saw does the sawing for 15 carpenters.”

In 1921, Sears conducted an “experiment’ building two Rodessas (small frame homes) side by side at the site of the Sears mill in Cairo, Illinois. One house was erected using Sears’ precut lumber. The second house was built using traditional construction techniques; no precut lumber. The precut house was fully assembled in 352 carpenter hours and the non-precut home was completed in 583 carpenter hours.

In short, the fellow building his own Sears kit home would probably be doing his sawing with an old-fashioned, man-powered saw. The 1927 Wardway Homes catalog estimated that the average two-bedroom stick-built home required about 4,000 cuts with a saw.

That’s a whole lot of sawing that could be spared by purchasing an “Already Cut” Sears Home.

To learn more about Honor Bilt and Lighter Bilt houses, click here.

To buy Rose’s newest book on Sears kit homes, click here.

The Josephine, as shown in the 1921 catalog.

The Josephine, as shown in the 1921 catalog.

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Look in the difference in price between Honor Bilt and Lighter Bilt.

Look in the difference in price between Honor Bilt and Lighter Bilt.

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This 840-square foot house was just the right size for many families in the early 1920s.

This 840-square foot house was just the right size for many families in the early 1920s. And the living room has space for a piano and a bench!

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Heres a Josephine in Mt. Healthy, Ohio. Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

Here's a Josephine in Mt. Healthy, Ohio. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Cincinnatti, Ohio.

This little cutie - discovered and photographed by Donna Bakke - is in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Effingham, Illinois

Yellow seems like an appropriate color for the happy little Josephine.

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Also in Mt. Healthy, OH

Donna found this Josephine in Mt. Healthy, OH. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Cincinnatti, OH

Another one in Cincinnati, OH. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Mt. Healthy

This is my favorite - and it's in stunningly original condition. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Mt. Healthy

Look at the details around the front porch! (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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My favorite one in Mt. Healthy

Close-up on the porch details.

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Awesome

And the house in Mt. Healthy is a perfect match! (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To see more pretty pictures of old houses, click here.

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