What’s an Eichler?

Andy and I have been living in San Rafael  for over 3 years now, so “Eichler” has become a natural part of our vocabulary- but before we moved up here, we had no idea what it meant.  On our very first trip to San Rafael (after my job interview but before I accepted the job) we talked to a (crazy) real-estate agent to get a feel for the different neighborhoods and housing costs (by the way, the WORST way to find a realtor is to walk into a real estate office on a Saturday morning and start working with the first person you see!).  Anyhow, not only did she tell us that housing prices in Marin were impervious to any down turns (that was December, 2007… turns out that she was wrong), she told us the only place we could afford to live (i.e. buy a house for less than $500,000) would be Petaluma… about 40 miles north of here with a killer commute… and that we wanted to avoid “Eichlerville” at all costs.  Flash forward 3.5 years… we bought an Eichler in “Eichlerville” for less than $500,000 (the same model a block away sold for $1,000,000 in 2007).  Anyhow… that was our introduction to Eichlers.

Eichler homes are pretty unique- I think the best way to describe them are “California Modern” (although our particular Eichler can best be described as “George Jetson Remodels with Home Depot Clearance Supplies and a Roman Palance theme”).  Oh, and when I say unique- I should specify that while about a dozen of your neighbors have your exact same house (or its mirror image) taken over the general US population, they are unique.

While many people assume they were designed by Joseph Eichler- he was just the developer (kinda like the guy Eiffel who gets all of the credit for the Eiffel tower but he didn’t actually design it).  Eichler  developed homes in various neighborhoods in northern and southern California between 1950 and 1974 (I think he has a couple Eichlers in New York… but flat roofs/ no insulation and NY are not a good match).  The architect firm that actually designed our house was called “Anshen and Allen”.  Anyhow, Eichler’s developments are pretty distinct for the types of houses they contain- very  Frank Lloyd Write-ish, they epitomize “Mid-Century-Modern.”   I’ve detailed some of the distinctive Eichler features below

To get you oriented, our floor plan is Anshen & Allen E-21.  Imagine a back yard at the top of the picture and afront yard at the bottom with neighbors on the left and right.  The layout above is pretty accurate- the only exceptions are the layout of the master bath (Bath 2) and the kitchen are slightly different.  Plus “Family Room”=Our Dining room, “Bonus Room”=Our Beer Room, “Office/Bedroom”=Andy’s office and the Bottom Left Bedroom=Mary’s Sewing room.

Atriums (a.k.a. holes in the middle of the house): Pros: Makes an awesome entry-way and a pretty cool house layout. Versatile- people have done all sorts of stuff with them (added retractable roofs, sealed them off completely, put in hot tubs, ponds, etc.).   Adds additional “outdoor” space that’s more private and quieter (no street noise) than the front or back yard.  If you stand at the right spot and look through the giant hole in the roof above the atrium it gives a nice view of the hills. Cons: None, they’re my favorite Eichler feature!

Glass walls to “bring the outdoors in.”  Pros: Really cool looking (unless your outside looks like a cheap blind person’s interpretation of a roman palace).  Let in lots of light. If your glass company writes “to replace single pane of glass” on your homeowners’ insurance claim when you break one, you can get them replaced with dual-paned glass for a $50 deductible. Cons: Let in too much light to sleep without curtains (which are expensive).   Attract lawn-mower debris (see insurance tip above).

Sliding doors (originally even for closets and cabinets- but ours have been replaced) Pros: They don’t slam (Andy’s least favorite thing ever is a door slamming).  Allow for lots of light.  Cons: TOO MANY DOORS!  Our house has 9 exterior doors (albiet the previous ownwers added 2 of them and we added 1- Honey’s dog door)- all but 2 exterior doors (the front door and dog door) are sliders- but there are 3 more interior sliders!  Easy to walk into (sort of the reason I can only bend the tip of my pinky 23 degrees.  I’m not the only one- every dog we’ve had at our house had tried to walk/run through one).  A sliding garage door is not very practical- the hardware gets rusty and hard to move and you can only have one half open at a time.

Post-And-Beam Construction with tounge and groove decking for ceilings.  Pros: Really cool looking.  Cons: Beams are prone to rotting and difficult/expensive to replace.  Ceilings are difficult to patch and don’t accomodate recessed lighting (actually, any wiring is difficult).

Open floor Plans.  Pros: Modern Layout.  Cons: Making all of the rooms “go together”.  Having 11 different types of flooring (9 pictured above)  is not aesthetically pleasing.

Flat and/or Low Slope Roofs. Pros: None (doesn’t even look cool).  Cons: No attic space or head room between ceiling and roof means no insulation. Prone to water pooling which leads to leaks.

Radiant Floor Heating. Pros: Keeps your feet warm! The air doesn’t dry out like it does with forced hot air (good if you and/or your dog have sensitive skin). Cons: The tubing that circulate the water embedded in the concrete slab can leak and degrade and eventually render themselves useless (more likely if the tubing  is galvanized steel rather than copper like ours).  I’ve also heard a rumor (from a Realtor, selling an Eichler with forced hot air) that radiant floor heating is more expensive than forced hot air.  *Bonus flooring type in the picture above!

“Eichler Siding” (vertical siding with 2″-spaced grooves).  Pros: Really cool looking and unique.  Cons: one guy on the planet sells it and it’s really expensive.  Actually, with a jig, router, and about 20,000 hours you can make your own out of flat siding sheets… which Andy considered but decided it’s probably worth the extra $25/sheet to have someone else put the lines in the siding.

Insulation Optional.  Eichlers were catalog-order and the buyer could choose luxurious add-ons such as insulation.  Apparently the original buyers of our house were not the type to splurge on luxurious insulation- we don’t have a lick of the stuff… unless you count the drywall-over-existing-paneling as insulation.  Pros: None. It gets HOT in the summer and COLD in the winter.  Cons: Obvious.

So, there you have it- Eichlers (ours in particular) in a nutshell!

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