How do we know it's a Sears house?
Methods of Authenticating a Sears houses
We consider a house to be almost certainly a Sears house, but not officially authenticated, if it:
What are some unreliable methods for determining if a house is a Sears kit house?
Floor-plan alone: Sears sometimes used the same, or similar, floor plan for more than one model, providing a different exterior, or even a different roof orientation, with changes to the number and placement of windows and doors. It is important to look at the overall structure of the house, including the roof style (hip? side gable? front gable?) and any porch that might be part of the design. Additionally, many non-Sears houses of similar size and general design, might also have a very similar floor plan as a Sears model. A true example of any Sears model, should have all elements shown in the catalog... every window, door, closet, bathroom, staircase, and hallway, all in exactly the spot that is shown in the Sears Modern Homes catalog, as well as the location of the furnace vent chimney. Still, we do not consider a house that matches the look and layout, to be an authenticated Sears house, without one of the primary-source elements listed above.
Measurements of rooms : This can be a helpful piece of information, but it is not a fool-proof method of authenticating a house, and it is only helpful, if the house perfectly matches the window and door and hallway and closet and room placement of a Sears model, with the same roof and porch and furnace vent chimney location. However, those elements alone, are not sufficient to authenticate a house, because of the existence of extremely close "lookalikes" from other companies. No one should offer a certificate of authenticity for a house that only visually matches a Sears model.
Measurements between rafters or joists : There is absolutely no connection between the amount of space between rafters or joists, and the likelihood of a house being a Sears model... even if the house has a strong resemblance to a Sears model. If someone is charging you to authenticate your home, and includes this concept as part of their authentication process, you should be very suspicious of their qualifications. Most homes built in the era of the Sears Modern Homes program, used the same standard spacing for these elements, as do many homes today. Sears advertised that their Honor Bilt homes had 14-3/8" spacing between joists and rafters (that would be edge-to-edge), though, considering the size of the wood, that would come to 16" apart, measuring center-to-center. That measurement is a standard distance between joists or rafters in many American homes.
Family history or town lore : You would think that these would be reliable resources, but, alas, they are not. Sometimes these stories are accurate, but many, many times, facts and names and companies have been confused over the years. We often hear the statement, "... but, we can't find a Sears model that matches the house." That, in almost every single case, is because the house is not from Sears, after all. It may be that some Sears building supplies (and no house plans) were ordered from Sears; or, it may be that someone in the past learned a little bit about Sears houses, and thought that their house, or another in their neighborhood, was a match for a model they saw in a book (not realizing the many details that did not match up), declared the house to be a Sears house, and then passed the story on through the years (sometimes even going so far as to spread the mistaken information through a historical society or a newspaper story); or, the house may be a kit from a different company (often, the term Sears House gets applied in a generic way, similar to saying Kleenex for any brand of tissue). Consider the case of the August Anstett family, in Torrington, Connecticut, who, for generations, have thought that their family home was a Sears house, when, in reality, it was an Aladdin Homes kit house. We were able to locate the purchase records from the Aladdin Homes Company, for the Aladdin Adams model, bought by August Anstett in 1924... and, that's why it didn't resemble anything in the Sears Modern Homes catalogs.
The general look of the house or neighborhood : Sears homes followed the general design trends of their era. We often hear someone suggest that their house "feels like" a kit house, or that their neighborhood is "filled with tons of Sears houses", because they are associating the common house designs of the era, with Sears, and Sears alone. But, in reality, only about 2% of houses built in the kit-house era, were kits, and every kit company, and every plans-only book of plans that was available through a lumber yard or building contractor, offered similar design options. Sears models included large Queen-Anne or Victorian style houses, smaller bungalows, houses with Craftsman design components, dutch colonials, cape cods, English cottage designs, and even a grand plantation-style model... but, so did every single other house plan or kit house company of the era. In support of that, I invite you to browse through any of the plans-only books, shown in this set of albums from Daily Bungalow, and the catalogs of other kit-house companies, all listed on a page of the Sears House Seeker blog, here.
The existence of a railroad line running through the town, or near the lot of a certain house thought to be a Sears house : Though it's true that Sears kits were shipped to homeowners by rail, the existence of a railroad line running through a town, does not really make it any more likely that there are Sears houses in that town. Most towns had rail lines, and there are many, many towns around the U.S. that have rail lines, and yet have no kit houses in the town. Remember, too, that the building supplies shipped by Sears, were deposited at the train depot of a town, not at the lot of the homeowner, so the fact of a lot having a rail line behind it, doesn't make it any more likely to have a Sears kit house on that lot. Additionally, we know of homeowners who picked up their box-car loads at rail stations many miles from their building site, and transported the supplies to the lot, by truck. This concept has been misconstrued by folks reading about the kit-house concept and its connection to rail, for many years.
Information on Sears blueprints, listing how the letter/number combinations clarify what each labeled piece is for.
Detail of section of Sears blueprints, showing indications of where various letter/number labeled framing lumber pieces would go.