Eichler Network's FAQ on Eichlers

eichler house and waving couple


Q: How do I know if I have an Eichler home?

A: An Eichler home is one built by a company run by Joe Eichler, a progressive merchant builder who built homes in the mid-century modern style between 1949 and 1974. Eichler's principal company was known as Eichler Homes, but in his later years built under the names Nonpareil Homes, J. L. Eichler Associates, Inc., and Alsco Homes. Other builders also built houses in the same modern style (however, they are not 'Eichler homes'), but none of them built anywhere near the number of houses that Eichler did. More information.

Q: How many Eichler homes were built?

A: No one has an exact count, but approximately 11,000.

Q: Where are Eichler homes found?

A: All are located in California, except for three houses built in New York. Eichler did not build in any other states, or outside the U.S. Approximately 10,000 Eichlers are in the San Francisco Bay Area (within the geographic triangle represented by San Rafael, Concord, and San Jose), 575 are in Southern California (Orange, Granada Hills, and Thousand Oaks), and one small development is in Sacramento. Here is a detailed listing.

Q: Was Eichler an architect or a developer?

A: Joe Eichler was a 'merchant builder,' a developer who built middle-class housing on a large scale (meaning hundreds of homes in a year). He was not an architect, but he was one of the few merchant builders of his era to hire nationally known professional architects to design his houses, starting in 1950 and continuing until his death in 1974. More information.

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Q: I need to find or replace the original front door escutcheon (circular flat plate around the doorknob). Where can I find one?

A: Unfortunately, no one has been able to find anything similar that is currently manufactured. If you have an existing escutcheon that looks bad and want to replace it with a new one, consider finding a company that will refinish anodized aluminum. If you do not have the escutcheon, at this time there are no modern substitutes.

Q: What's a good style for Eichler house numbers?

A: As part of the recent resurgence of interest in all things Eichler, many homeowners have expressed interest in finding a source for original-style house numbers. While it's certain that Eichler did not use the same style numbers throughout his 25-year building career, it does appear that at least in the latter half of the 1950s, and extending into the '60s, the same style was employed in a many subdivisions, although not exclusively. More information.

Q: I've heard about cork flooring in Eichlers and that it was often used originally. Where can I learn more about it?

A: For Eichler owners craving a warm, natural flooring surface, cork seems to fit the bill. But if it's not installed right, it can lead to headaches down the road. Plus, you need to protect against excessive fading (some fading is inevitable). More information.

Q: I'm looking for the ultimate Eichler roof, as my roof is getting old and needs to be replaced. Is there such a thing?

A: When it comes time to replace or renew the roof of their home, Eichler owners have a more difficult time making a decision on how to proceed than the average homeowner, who typically settles on shingles, shingles, or shingles (albeit of different types). The flat or minimally sloped roofs that crown nearly every Eichler ever built—even the '60s-era center gable models are more flat than not—lend themselves to a range of roofing materials. From the old standby tar-and-gravel, to modified bitumen three-ply, polyurethane foam, or single-ply systems (such as the Duro-Last product), the homeowner must sort through a range of conflicting opinions and choices, guided by their needs, budget, and prior choices. More information.

Q: I want to cover my interior walls with mahogany paneling as was originally done in my Eichler. Where do I get it?

A: This type of paneling, often called 'luan,' is still available from many lumberyards, and in quantity can be as low as $10 per sheet. However, the quality is variable, and one should probably hand-pick each piece to ensure the best quality. More information.

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Q: My Eichler still has the original mahogany paneling, but it's too dark/dirty/faded for me. Can it be restored to a 'golden glow'?

A: Yes, paneling can be restored if it's not too badly damaged. First, wash the paneling with warm water and TSP to clean it. Then sand lightly with 150-200 grit sandpaper. Be careful! The veneer is very thin, and you don't want to sand through it. Don't use a power sander like a belt sander. If you are very careful, you can use a random orbital sander, but don't apply too much pressure. As to the color, architect K.C. Marcinik says that Watco's 'Satin Finishing Wax' employs a similar formula to the original Cabot stain wax used by Eichler. She uses small amounts of universal colorants to achieve the desired color, adjusting them to get it just right, and notes that adding a bit of white colorant can help restore old paneling to a new look. Walnut Creek Eichler owner John Dark has come close using a quart of Watco 'Fruitwood' with two-thirds of a cup of 'Black Walnut,' and Andrew Mendelsohn found that red, brown, and gold colorants added to Watco Satin Finishing Wax gave him the results he was looking for. Ultimately it comes down to deciding what tone you want and then experimenting. There is no 'gold standard' for Eichler paneling color!

Q: My horizontally sliding original Eichler garage doors aren't working very well. Can they be fixed or do I have to replace them with something different?

A: You should be able to repair your Eichler garage doors and maintain their look. This is important to the overall appearance of your house: putting roll-up doors on an Eichler is like covering the Statue of Liberty with stucco. More information.

Q: I need to replace a broken glass globe of an original Eichler lighting fixture. Who makes them?

A: Progress Lighting (found in most lighting specialty stores or special order from large discount home centers). They have four sizes. You can find a dealer on their web site at www.progresslighting.com

Q: I'm worried about the tops of my exposed exterior beams. How can I protect them?

A: Exposed beams definitely need periodic attention. If neglected, a beam can eventually bring forth a repair bill costing thousands of dollars. More information.

Q: My radiant heat system may be leaking. Can it be fixed or should I give up on it?

A: An Eichler radiant heat system that has copper pipes can be repaired and maintained indefinitely with a little periodic maintenance. However, if your radiant piping is made of steel, as was done in many mid-'50s Eichlers, it may not be repairable. In any case, be sure to recruit a qualified radiant heat specialist (and perhaps even a second opinion) to diagnose your situation and lay out your options. More information.

Q: Does my radiant heat system require any regular maintenance? Should it be flushed out periodically? What does it mean if it's making noise?

A: Don't mess with it. Yes, it's almost that simple when it comes to maintaining your radiant heat system. It doesn't need to be flushed unless there's a genuine problem that needs fixing. However, bi-annual inspections are recommended by most professionals. The system shouldn't make any noise that's particularly noticeable. If it does, professional attention is recommended. More information.

Q: My original Eichler siding is pretty weather-beaten after several decades of exposure. Where can I get new siding in the same style?

A: It's wonderful that you care enough about the appearance of your house to want to match the look of the original siding. Eichler used four types of siding: horizontal-oriented boards in the early '50s, vertical-oriented 1x8-foot panels in the early '50s, vertical-grooved 4 foot panels from the mid-'50s to the early '60s (with several different groove spacings), and a unique 'swirl-pattern' vertical style in the '60s. There is only one company that makes both the vertical-grooved and swirl-pattern siding, Eichler Siding in Marin County. More information.

Q: Should I paint or stain my siding?

A: The available historical evidence shows that Eichler used stains, not paint, on his homes, inside and out. One can speculate that, at least for the vertical-grooved siding, stains were employed so that the grooves stayed crisp and clean (the edges weren't softened by the paint), and some of the grain of the wood showed through (redwood siding was used throughout the 1950s). It is also possible that Eichler used stains because labor and materials costs were lower than for paint. Over time, homeowners have painted over their siding believing that painting reduces the amount of exterior maintenance required, but this is not necessarily true. If you are installing new siding, consider using a quality oil-based stain (Eichler used Cabot stains). A semi-transparent stain will let much of the wood's character show through while keeping the grooves sharp. Use a semi-solid stain for a more even look while still revealing the surface texture of the wood. A 'solid' stain covers like paint but penetrates like a stain. On average, you will need to reapply a semi-solid or semi-transparent stain every 3 to 5 years, while a solid stain can last 10 years or more, just like a good-quality paint job.

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Q: I get a lot of condensation on the inside of my windows during the winter. Why?

A: Condensation occurs when air is cooled to below its 'dew point' (defined as the temperature to which air has to cool, at constant pressure and constant water vapor content, in order to reach saturation). Below the dew point, moisture precipitates out of the super-saturated air. Because Eichler homes have large expanses of single-pane glass, window condensation is more noticeable than in other houses. In the winter, when the air outside is typically cooler than the inside air, the single-pane glass, which has an R-value (a measure of insulating capacity) of less than 1, results in cooler air next to the inside surface of the glass than the rest of the air in the room. Moisture condenses on the inside surface of the glass.

There are only two cures for this problem. Increase the insulating value of the window (by replacing it with double-pane or adding an acrylic insert to the inside surface) or reducing the amount of humidity inside the house. Ideally, one needs to work on both of these solutions. Moisture sources in the house can be poorly ventilated bathrooms, dryers that are not properly vented to the outside, even indoor fountains or aquariums.

If you are having condensation problems in a bedroom after increasing the window ventilation, it may simply be due to exhaled moisture from sleeping occupants. Obviously, you can't ask them to breathe less. Try leaving the door of the bedroom open (if it is normally kept shut), or keep the door shut and open the window a bit (though that may leave the room too cold for some people's comfort).

Q: I notice that some of the rooms in my house don't warm up very much in the winter when I'm running the radiant heat, but others are fine. Should I try to adjust the radiant heat valves?

A: Most radiant heat experts advise homeowners not to manipulate the radiant heat valves, which are typically found in a hallway or pantry closet. In general, they should all be left in the fully open position. If you do want to adjust them, be sure to loosen the locking nut first, and then don't use excessive pressure when turning them. But if you don't know which valve controls water flow to which area of the house (and they are rarely labeled), then there's really no point in trying to adjust them.

Consider the floor coverings you have in the rooms that aren't getting heat. Was carpeting (with a pad underneath) laid down in those rooms? Carpeting and carpet pads are good insulators, and prevent the heat from the slab from warming the room. Sure, some heat will get through, but much is wasted, and you're paying for it on your utility bill. The less you have between your feet and the slab, the better.

Another possible explanation is that your radiant heat boiler has lost so much efficiency over the years that in the farther reaches of the house the water in the system is too cool to heat those areas. It could be time for a new boiler. More information.

Q: I spend a fortune keeping my Eichler warm in the winter. How can I reduce my heating bills?

A: Eichler homes were built at a time when energy was cheap (monthly utility bills of $10!), and few people gave any thought to conservation. In the '50s, many experts predicted that nuclear power would create electricity that would be "too cheap to meter". We all know that didn't happen. Nowadays energy conservation is critical, and Eichlers clearly fail in that area. Fortunately, their insulation deficiencies can be addressed.

If you have an Eichler with the original style tar-and-gravel roof, single-pane glass, and original insulation in the exterior walls, here's what you can do, in order of importance.

The single biggest impact you can make is probably to have a modern insulated roof installed. This will keep your house warmer in the winter (remember, heat rises) and cooler in the summer. More information.

After that step is taken, those beautiful walls of single-pane glass are your biggest energy wasters. Original Eichler glass is less than R-1 in insulating value, while modern double-pane "low E" windows range from R-2 to R-4. or even higher. Acrylic inserts (interior mounted clear polycarbonate windows) also add insulation, though not as much as top-quality double-pane glass. An added benefit of new double-pane windows is a quieter interior.

Finally, the original fiberglass wall insulation used by Eichler may offer only an R-3 to maybe R-6 insulating value, and some homeowners have even found that no insulation at all was used! In the 1950s, exterior wall insulation was usually an option, and not everyone bought it. Standard fiberglass insulation today is R-13. If you are replacing exterior siding, by all means replace the insulation at the same time. Alternatively, remove the interior panels on the exterior walls and replace the insulation.

Each homeowner has to make their own calculations as to the economic benefits of any one of these steps to greater energy efficiency.