The History of Kit Homes

When you see the choice of designs and quality of materials, you could be forgiven for thinking the kit home is a modern day invention.

But the idea of the kit home has been around since the early 1900’s. Kit homes became popular in American after World War 1, offering a way for the expanding middle classes to buy and build in affordable stages (mortgages not being readily available in those days).

The very first kit home ever built was manufactured by a carpenter in England in 1830 and erected in Australia by his emigrating son. Although technically a prefab, as the pieces were cut, shipped and reassembled, this first portable cottage proved very popular and helped pave the way for the kit home industry in Australia.

In America, Aladdin was the first company to build true kit homes, which were mostly purchased as holiday cottages by the middle classes.

Aladdin was the brainchild of two brothers, who saw that boats were being manufactured as kits and decided to apply the same technique to houses.

In 1916, Sears Roebuck began offering mail order kit homes, where you could order your whole house from a catalogue and have the pieces delivered ready for assembly.

By the 1920’s Sears had more than a hundred different designs to choose from. The idea of being able to assemble the kit home yourself was a big drawcard for first home buyers with modest budgets.

For as little as $2,500, owner builders would be shipped (initially by rail but in later years by truck) thousands of individual parts plus everything needed to put them together, including an instruction manual.

The design of these early kit homes was not unique, but rather a reflection of popular architectural styles of the time. Buyers were able to add their personal touches in small ways such as porches, extra windows, window boxes, fireplaces and overall colour schemes.

After the Stock Market Crash of 1929, Sears took huge losses on unpaid orders and eventually stopped manufacturing kit homes altogether in 1940.

Kit homes continued to be popular in America until after World War II, when the introduction of low cost prefabricated housing and mobile homes meant that kit home manufacturers could no longer compete.

Recent technological advances in materials and building methods have led to an innovation boom in kit home design and a huge resurgence in kit home popularity.

There are now literally thousands of designs to choose from in today’s kit homes. Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland have kit home manufacturers who specialise in giving you exactly what you want.

Kit homes can now be made fire resistant, cyclone resistant, termite resistant, energy efficient, environmentally friendly and built to suit any terrain or climate. Best of all, they can be constructed by the owner builder for up to 40% less than the cost of a traditional build.

Today’s kit homes also have a multitude of applications. They can be designed as holiday homes, retirement homes, granny flats, home offices, studios and bed and breakfast or rental accommodation.

People are looking for more affordable alternatives in today’s highly inflated real estate market, and the kit home, with its low cost and infinite design variations, is becoming an attractive option for many first home buyers.

From humble beginnings, kit home manufacturing has grown to be a multi-million dollar industry, and the indications are that it will continue to grow exponentially in the years ahead.