Eichler Homes

What Is An Eichler Home?

If you are not from California you may not have ever seen an Eichler home. Joseph Eichler was a developer turning many areas into tract home developments beginning in the late 1940s. He built roughly 11,000 single family homes in California having what was at first a fairly unique but consistent style. Other builders saw the success of the homes and some built similar homes. The Eichler style is often refered to as modern although now most of the homes are over 50 years old.

The house style emphasized simple geometric shapes. Generally a few box shapes covered by a flat or only slightly peaked roof. Only very rarely did an Eichler house have more than one story. The interior featured wood finishes. From the street the simple flat sliding garage doors are one of the most visible parts of the house. Very few windows face the street. Frequently the front of the house is positioned further from the street than the garage and may even be hidden behind a fence or high shrubs leaving nothing but the garage door visible from the street.

The homes were designed for a mild California climate. Generally the back wall of the living room is floor to ceiling glass making the back patio feel like it is part of the living room. This is probably the most widely appreciated aspect of an Eichler home. Ceilings were almost always exposed beams covered by a tongue and groove wood ceiling deck which was covered on the outside with tar and gravel. The feeling inside the home is of clean simplicity and open space. The drawback is that the back of the house provides very little privacy. With the houses limited to one-story, the 6' high fence separating homes provided adequate privacy.

A neighborhood composed of all Eichler homes can be quite attractive with the simple clean lines. A ranch style home among them looks out of place and many people feel makes the neighborhood less attractive.

Janice Way, Palo Alto

Map with Silicon Valley city information links

A prominent garage door but the remaining front of the house being hidden is common with Eichler houses.

View pictures of the interior at my 3464 Janice Way web page. The interior is in very good condition and mostly like the original condition. The wood parquet floor tiles in the living room were common to Eichler homes.

Carolina Ln, Palo Alto

Map showing Silicon Valley real estate trends

A flat, slightly sloping roof is common with Eichler style homes. A car port rather than a garage is also common.

View pictures of the interior at my 381 Carolina web page. The kitchen has been remodeled. Floors have been replaced. Walls have been covered with sheet rock.

Wolfe Rd, Sunnyvale

Map showing Silicon Valley city home values

By the 1960s Eichler style homes became a little larger and slightly more ornate.

The interior of this home shows a central atrium which became more common as time passed.

Most Common Concerns About Eichlers

Eichler homes were built to be affordable and took advantage of being located in a mild climate. Heating was provided by running hot water through pipes in the cement floor. This gave the home very quiet and very even heating. Since the homes are now several decades old, the pipes carrying the hot water have often developed leaks which can be costly to repair. The homes have neither an attic nor a crawl space beneath the home, making it difficult to add a traditional central forced air heating / air conditioning system.

The cement floor also heats the ground beneath the home, significantly reducing efficiency. The large floor to ceiling windows are single paned again reducing heating efficiency. Although many homes have been retrofitted with insulation on the roof, originally there was no ceiling insulation, further adding to poor heating efficiency. The homes were built assuming plentiful cheap energy and a mild climate.

The people living in Eichler neighborhoods enjoy the fact that all of the houses are single story. It prevents their yard from being in the shadow of a tall house and the fence provides quite a bit of privacy. More and more of these neighborhoods are getting city regulations enacted which prevent two story homes from being built in their neighborhood.

The interior walls were originally often covered in wood paneling. If a fire starts in the home the wood paneling can burn quickly. The floor is a cement slab so it would slow the spread of a fire but the ceiling would readily burn. Often the wood paneling has been replaced with sheet rock.

People who do not like Eichler homes say they are cheaply made. However California's mild climate and earthquakes lead most tract homes to appear flimsy, compared to a brick home in another state. Plywood is a fairly inexpensive building material but it is one of the best materials for withstanding earthquakes. Light weight, one story houses which can flex a little without damage hold up to earthquakes very well. I have not seen anything which says Eichlers are more susceptible to earthquake damage than other designs. The most common local weather related problem is due to the expansion of our local adobe soil when it becomes wet, followed by shrinkage as it dries out. This can cause cracks in cement slab floors and even in perimeter foundations. Because a cement slab covers more area and is thinner than the perimeter foundation, there is more likelihood of some cracks forming in the slab. Most often the cracks do not cause structural weakness but can break the hot water pipes in the slab and provide a path for termites to enter the home.

A Suggestion For Eichler Homeowners

The downspouts can easily be blocked by leaves on the flat roof causing puddles to form. Install downspout strainers at the top of each downspout. They help greatly to prevent puddles. Locally OSH sells some made by Amerimax for about $4 each. You just push them partway down into the hole in your roof at each downspout.

A Simple Summary

You may hear people say "you either love Eichler homes or you hate them". This is too simple. Probably most people love the feeling of the living room blending into the back yard. How you feel about the other aspects will probably make you decide if you want to live in an Eichler neighborhood, in an Eichler home. Given the cost of land locally, it is hard to imagine an Eichler neighborhood or any other single story housing tract ever being built here again.