What are the pros and cons of owning an Eichler? Around Town, posted by New to Area, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jan 26, 2007 at 8:28 pm
We are new to the area and are looking at some Eichler homes to purchase. What are the pros and cons of owning an Eichler? One we liked had the big glass windows and doors on the summertime shady side of the house and the roof is a newer foam covering. All the windows and doors except the triangular pieces are new double-paned construction. The radiant heating system seems to work just fine.
We would like to retrofit the bathrooms with powered exhaust fans but were uncertain if that could be done given the no attic space and foam roof. We would very much appreciate your feedback.
Posted by Eichler Owner, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jan 26, 2007 at 8:40 pm
People in Palo Alto seem to love them or hate them, no one seems to be in the middle. I hated them when I first saw them and never thought I would buy one. I was wrong. We chose ours because of the location, lot size and because we felt that it had potential. Unfortunately, it is proving to be a money pit. The radiant heat, although it works, takes forever to heat the house and forever to cool down. The large windows are great in summer, but we have terrible condensation problems in winter. The partition walls which do not reach the ceilings in the living area means that noise in one room travels into all the living rooms, terrible when you want to get away from a sports game on tv, video games, etc. I am tired of having to take the phone into the bathroom when I want to have a conversation. Any conversation in one room can easily be heard in another. The full length windows in the bedrooms make it hard to know where to place furniture (goes for the living room too) and the walls of glass are really hard to keep cleaning. The fact that the only opening windows in the bedrooms are really doors which can't be locked means that ventilation at night becomes a problem, the only thing to do is keep a door open! We are often woken at night by animal footsteps on the roof and the noise of rain on the roof coupled with the myriad small branches falling during a rain storm give you bad sleep any time the weather is rainy or windy.
I could go on. I know people who love them, I am not one of them.
Posted by k, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Jan 26, 2007 at 9:29 pm
We have owned a couple of Eichlers in the past. I think each one is truly individual (there are more varieties, sizes, floor plans than you would think and in various communities), so I would check each home out carefully rather than generalizing. Not all Eichlers have condensation problems. Roofs are a big question, I would check out any Eichler roof for age, leaks, and to confirm it is insulated.
Posted by A Eichler owner, a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood, on Jan 26, 2007 at 10:10 pm
Here are the good things: Big floor to ceiling windows. Radiant heat in concrete floors. Open feeling kitchen dining rm living rm one big area. The 2x4 framing is quality built and the post and beam structure is ok and tied together w/rebar to some extent.
Bad things: Ours anyway and older ones: No insulation whatso ever. 30 lb felt (tar Paper) in walls for moisture barrier., Flamiable thin plywood on walls and these things cause it to burn to the ground in about 6 minutes once a fire starts., Flat roofs that water ponds on as the roofs sag in places. No roof insulation of any value.(new code is about 9" in ceilings) It takes 2 gallons of water to get hot water in the bathrooms . About 6 elect circuits in whole house. A house these days needs about 24 minimum. No drywall fireproofing except in garage. Steel hot water pipes in floor heat and it's not galvanized even. Ground shifting can cause the copper piping in newer houses to break, cracks in the floor concrete. The brick chimmenys aren't necessarly re-bar reinforced and may crack. Single pane glass and dangerous if the big windows break ( not safety glass as is now required). Hot in summer, cold in winter. Many older ones are being torn down and rebuilt as regular houses that meet new codes.
Most were built/sold for well under 20K $ and they had 2 bathrooms so sold well in the 50's.
Posted by KC Marcinik, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Jan 26, 2007 at 11:49 pm
Many of the cons listed so far would be familiar to any owner of a 50-year old tract house in this area; they are not specific to Eichler houses. When you buy a historic house, you usually have to make upgrades to the electrical and plumbing systems, and weatherproofing.
On the pro side, Eichler’s houses are recognized around the world as a successful attempt by the merchant builder to bring high design to a wider market. Two neighborhoods in Palo Alto, Green Gables and Greenmeadow, are listed on the National Historic Register.
Apart from the unique California Modern design, Eichler consciously built communities, not just houses; decades before the “new urbanism” of Seaside and Anthem. These communities have held together over time, with the residents looking out for each others’ children, holding neighborhood parties, and even sharing/trading custom Eichler fixtures.
The wider community amenities as well as the indoor-outdoor ambiguity of the large panes of glass and open plans, mean that these houses can feel much larger and more comfortable than their actual modest square footage. These days, when we’re scourging ourselves over our “profligate sinful American lifestyles” (see any of the”We’re Doomed” global warming threads for examples), it’s nice to have these examples of the good life in 1500 square feet.
Posted by natasha, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Jan 27, 2007 at 1:12 pm
We have an "atrium" Eichler. Cons listed above in terms of flammability etc. But we are finding that ours retains heat well with double-paned glass that was installed and the reinforced roof, and the radiant heat works great. The previous owners did put a fan in the bathrooms so it must be doable. We have been delighted with ours and have not had the condensation, heat loss and other problems that are well-catalogued. And in the summer it has great cross-ventilation when you open a couple of windows or doors. Have to say, as one who always went for Craftsman cottages and older bungalows, I am thrilled to have happened upon a nice, big Eichler. It is a very family-friendly, entertaining-friendly space. We do not really use the fireplace for ecological reasons, and I would like to replace with gas at some point, but other than that I have to say our kept-up and renovated Eichler is a joy to live in.
Posted by k, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Jan 27, 2007 at 1:24 pm
We changed our two (non-vented) skylights to vented in our Sunnyvale Eichler, and this made a really big difference in making the house more pleasant in Summer and was a minor expense. When the roof came off, we added 2 inches of insulation (that's all we could do that would fit) - I guess it was worth it, though you have to wait until it's time to do a roof job to make this improvement.
Eichlers generally feel as if they are larger than they really are.
Our atrium Eichler was totally different from our non-atrium model and my opinion that each one is individual comes from experience/knowledge of several developments, however not particularly Palo Alto Eichlers. Eichlers were built over a period of years, they vary a lot...
Posted by Non eichler lover, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jan 27, 2007 at 5:40 pm
We do not live in an eichler neighborhood, but we do live in a great community with neighbors helping each other out, block parties, sharing of belongings, etc. etc. It is ridiculous to say that eichler started this. People who live in close proximity to neighbors do this, and it is not the style of the house that promotes it!!!!
Posted by Lucinda, a resident of the University South neighborhood, on Jan 27, 2007 at 7:00 pm
I grew up in a McKay--my father referred to it as "a poor man's Eichler." He brought us from south of Chicago to Palo Alto in the late 1950's and he used to have nightmares that he was still stoking the coal furnace in the middle of the night in a sub-zero Midwestern winter. Then he would reach out and touch the big glass picture window next to the bed and heave a sigh of relief, safe in California! Eichler neighborhoods, and their copycats, may not have introduced the idea of community spirit (which is not at all what KC Marcink said in her post), but they certainly fostered it, and Eichler did in particular in Palo Alto with the creation of both the Eichler Swim Club and the Greenmeadow Association. I live in a 1923 bungalow now, which I love (and which requires considerable maintenace), but I also love the comfort and "right-sizedness" of the Eichler.
Posted by Hulkamania, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Jan 27, 2007 at 8:07 pm
The first home my family lived in when we moved to California was an Eichler on Moffett Circle. 1060 to be exact. As a kid it was a cool house. My Dad bought it for around $10,000 and sold it a few years later for $15,000. What do they go for now?
While we lived in the neighborhood there were a couple of houses that caught fire. From ignition to embers was about twelve minutes thanks to no gypsum wallboard. I'd recommend that after buying one and if it still has the thin wood interior walls, strip the walls to the studs, rewire and replumb, install a good heating system and recover the walls with half inch wallboard. You might also want to replace the windows with double glazed glass and insulate the roof. You'll still have an Eichler but it will be much more liveable and safe.
Posted by joyce, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jan 28, 2007 at 8:51 am
I lived in a 1920s bungalow, not an Eichler. The need to add extra electrical circuits is common in an older house, not restricted to Eichlers, as are other upgrades such as some plumbing work, etc. This is not a big deal, do it before you move in. You already have the window work done for you. Have smoke detectors and sprinklers installed, easy due to the openness. I certainly would buy an Eichler in a minute for its spacious feel and connection to the outdoors, if I were house shopping and couldn't get a bungalow.
Re above, I like hearing animals, rain, the trees, etc.
Posted by KC Marcinik, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Jan 28, 2007 at 12:47 pm
I would like to take on this assumption that Eichler houses are so inefficient that tearing them down and building new houses in their place actually saves energy and resources. It’s not hard to add insulation to the walls and roof; it’s a part of any major renovation to an old house. Hydronic radiant heat is a very efficient heating system, especially if you install newer high efficiency boilers and programmable thermostats. You can do this as a retrofit to an old system. I would be more than willing to compare the energy costs for my insulated Eichler with any other house in town.
One thing I said on a different thread was misunderstood. I said that the new houses are not more energy efficient PER FAMILY because they have twice as much volume to heat, more bathrooms, vastly more built-in electric, water and gas usage. Again, I would like to compare the energy usage for a family of four living in a typical 1500 square foot Eichler house with the energy usage for a family of four living in a new 3000 square foot house built to current efficiency standards. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong.
Posted by Anonymous, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jan 28, 2007 at 1:26 pm
After remodeling an Eichler for the third time, I've concluded that mine at least should be a tear-down. If you remodel, it's more expensive per square foot and when you are done, it's still an Eichler. If nothing else, move the ground floor higher so you can get flood insurance. Large parts of Palo Alto are sitting on old bay bottom and will be old bay bottom again.
Posted by Yvonne, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Jan 28, 2007 at 6:26 pm
I just wanted to expand on one comment made earlier (we otherwise really like the Eichler we live in, energy inefficiencies aside): If you purchase one & have children, PLEASE make sure you replace the floor-to-ceiling windows with safety glass. Our son fell against one of ours, it broke and doctor and glass/window company person both agreed that he is lucky to be alive. The original windows are really dangerous.
Posted by jq public, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Jan 29, 2007 at 2:35 am
Fairmeadow (between E. Meadow and Charleston) was built in 1952 and Cu was in short supply, so the hydronic heating was built with galvanized steel. I don't know about other developments such as Greenmeadow which as marketed in 1954.
These steel systems they are pretty much at the end of their lifespan if they are still in service. We retrofitted ours by pouring a new slab on top of the existing slab to upgrade to Cu. This requires raising the sliding door height so it doesn't work unless you're planning on windows/doors which have already happened for you. These days you can upgrade to a nominally 80+% efficient boiler for a few thousand $ or spend somewhat more for a 95% efficient munchkin or polaris unit.
Either way, understand what the piping/boiler status is currently as well as what your upgrade alternative would be.
We were very happy to use the opportunity to remove paneling so we could insulate and add ground wiring to the electrical outlets which otherwise are 2-prong. As somebody else pointed out the electrical panel needs upgrading too (which had already been done by the time we moved into ours).
With a foam roof, proper insulation, and high quality (lo-e, gas filled, double pane) windows, we found our house to be extremely comfortable.
Posted by KC Marcinik, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Jan 29, 2007 at 7:56 am
Fifty years ago, when Eichlers were being built and marketed, “Victorian” homes were considered competely outdated. Buyers believed them (Victorians) to be
wasteful: damp basements and dusty attics,
inadequate: lacking modern plumbing, electric power, heating and appliances,
ugly: old-fashioned proportions and fussy gingerbread ornamentation,
and irrelevant: belonging to the past rather than the future.
In short, Victorian homes were fit only to be torn down and replaced. Fortunately for those who lovingly restore and adore this part of our architectural heritage today, not everyone could afford to scrap their antique house.
Eichler houses are now as old as Victorian houses were at their nadir of popularity and while obviously many here feel their time is over, there is a new generation who appreciate the clean lines and open spaces. The single story plans opening into private gardens and courtyards are comfortable and convenient, especially for the very young and very old.
The current new home “style” is the McMansion which has complicated roof forms and overscaled entry features (official description from the National Building Musem in Wash, DC); they’re designed to look impressive from the outside. California Modern houses are modest and private from the street, but interior spaces open up - they’re more impressive from inside. Your mileage may vary, but my favorite view is of distant trees, seen through three separate expanses of glass and the entire length of the house.
Posted by Angela Hey, a resident of Portola Valley, on Jan 29, 2007 at 2:11 pm
When a realtor first took me to an Eichler she said "you can use a pea shooter to shoot through the walls". I hated the flimsy construction, flat roofs and huge windows with no curtains being British they felt cold to me.
Then I fell in love with my husband and found his Eichler home to be very practical. I still don't like flat roofs. They are Usonian homes based on Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture.
The pluses are:
1. Large living areas
2. Open, airy feeling close to nature where the indoors and outdoors blend
3. Large overhanging eaves to shade them from the sun - so despite the big windows they can be really energy efficient if insulation is improved.
4. Good for allergies with underfloor heating.
5. Easy to clean - all on one level
The minuses are:
1. Flat roof
2. The windows can lose lots of heat (my solution to that in our current home which is also a Usonian home, but not an Eichler is to buy room darkening blinds with a mirrored layer in them that can be closed on cold nights).
3. If pipes break in the underfloor heating not good.
4. Small bedrooms
5. Walls that don't go up to the ceiling around the kitchen area in particular collect dust.
They are very efficient in the use of floor space and have many walls with high or no windows for bookshelves. The back garden was very private and when landscaped was really quite relaxing.
I never adored my husband's house with dark stained walls (Frank Lloyd Wright said you should never paint wood only stain it then it doesn't have to be stripped and maintenance is easy) and yellow shag carpet. It was however a very practical and friendly home.
However after he sold it, imagine my surprise when it was featured in a Palo Alto paper as a dream house by a lady who put in white carpets, painted it and put in skylights. So one good thing is they are reasonably easy to modify and renovate - a profit opportunity maybe.
We have an extraction fan on our current flat roofed house - I don't see the problem unless there's some Palo Alto building code that prevents it.
Posted by Cashed out already!, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jan 29, 2007 at 3:38 pm
*Eichler concept orginally designed to be afforable housing for the masses. [cheap]
*Eichler designs promoted a radiant heating system providing at the time revolutionary 'water pipes buried in cement pad'
*Eichler theme of enjoying CA weather with glass, glass + glass
*Eichler style is unique, atriums and 7 plus sliding doors
The newest designs were built in the early 70's so the best you may find is 34 years old.
You cannot build a NEW Eichler today simply because the materials, construction techniques would never be approved by today's building standards.
Opinion: Having the opportunity of living in 3 different units over the past 30 years, each presented different character, all were drafty, all were noisy, [I heard EVERY neighbour's secrets in all 4 directions ...hee hee] all had inadequate storage, all had construction that made modifications challenging at best [no crawl spaces, no joists, hell I even drilled into the ceiling once to hang a simple lamp only to find sunlight pouring in the hole! One had the cemented in heating pipes burst and really, you only need a jack hammer and patience after visiting home depot..., But all had unique character that at first glance is stunning. The morning sun peaks in the atrium and leaves in a golden sunset, the mood changes hour by hour... But like a Ferrari, ALL exotic rides get tired, then retired....PT Barnum was right, for a staggering 50K in 77, and a cash out of 1.21M in 2000, I really liked mine!
Posted by KC Marcinik, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Jan 29, 2007 at 4:41 pm
Cashed Out -
I’m glad you got so much out of your experience. This, however, is not a fact:
“You cannot build a NEW Eichler today simply because the materials, construction techniques would never be approved by today's building standards.”
I’ve been involved in two projects building brand new houses based on the original Eichler plans. The new houses are insulated, including the glass, and the structure has a bit more steel hardware. They meet all current structural and energy codes.
Posted by Wouldn't buy one, a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Jan 30, 2007 at 5:23 pm
If you have mold allergies or asthma, do not even look at McKay's or Eichlers (with the exception that a well-cared for Eichler with a still functioning radiant heat in the floor may be okay).
Storage is abysmal. Sound insulation worse. You already know about energy loss. If it has old electrical, it's a nightmare to upgrade. Talk to a few people who have had to dig up sections of their slab when the pipes leaked -- you should at least weigh whether you are willing to go through that because it's a distinct possibility. (Unless the radiant heat isn't working, in which case the house is a mold factory because of the slab foundation.)
Posted by kenc, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Jan 30, 2007 at 8:55 pm
Some deficiencies about Eichlers apply to all old houses. Code issues related to pipes, electrical, roof insulation, seismic, safety glass, energy efficient windows. I grew up on the East Coast and my house was originally built in 1920. I owned a San Jose bungalow built in 1954. Stucco exterior has cracks but its got a texture that is so desireable now. Plaster interior walls are hard to patch, but very solid, great for sound insulation, huge mass for thermal transfer, and I like the texture and feel. My attic/roof did not preclude simply adding insulation, so I threw in batts. And upgrading electrical and plumbing was largely done before I owned it. The issue I see is that the Eichler were founded on a way of quickly building many homes with "modern techniques". Saving construction money was a specific design goal as well. These things don't preclude achieving some of the other fine ideas mentioned on this blog like community, but I personally found there were strong and disagreeable tradeoffs. The homes were meant to be very affordable, very easy to build, and something that sustains a developer's business model. I mean, there's nothing preventing a fine built "modern home" but that was not the highest priority on the list for many US home builders and developers after the war. Personally I prefer the construction methods and quality in my 1954 bungalow compared to an Eichler any day. They put a little more time and money into it, and it shows in how it's nicely weathered the years.
Posted by Eichler owner, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 3, 2007 at 10:04 pm
Here is a comment I havn't seen in the previous comments: Carpeting with padding will block the heat from the floor heating. We have a bedroom with carpeting and one without carpeting. The one with carpeting stays cold and a elect heater is used to heat it.
Posted by Eichler owner, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 4, 2007 at 9:43 am
New to area
I am wondering if you were able to find any helpful advice in this forum and what you decided to do. Palo Alto is a great place to live and one of the reasons is because everyone has their own opinion on things and we do not always agree. It doesn't necessarily make us difficult to live with, more that life here is always interesting.
Posted by Leaving the area, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2007 at 2:00 pm
Our questions were answered too, thanks for all of the marketing, the abundance of consumers, we certainly will unload ours this summer as our last child leaves for college. We came here only for Paly and have our fingers crossed this Eichler holds together till then.
Posted by Rick Cannon, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jan 27, 2011 at 10:13 pm
Cupertino Fairgrove Ca:
Never liked them; school district was A1. Bought one that had been fixed up. Replaced tile floor and all windows. In California the weather is beautiful and rarely drops under 32F. Installed thin laminate flooring so heat would not be trapped. Remember I hated the look.
No hot air pushed around the house. Radiant heating is wonderful; it works. You walk in and the house is warm in the winter. 30 min to heat up; put a fire on, that will do it if you need it to get hot fast.
when the it rains, you can hear the gentle pitter patter on the flat roof; it can be romantic, if you are not with someone, it can be very peaceful listening to the sound of the rain; very relaxing knowing that you are inside.
The large window allow the light to get in, and gives a freedom next to none.
It's California, there are a few weeks that it can be very hot in the house. Manage it. Keep the blind closed while at work. When you arrive home the house will be cool. Wait until later that evening to open the windows and have several fans strategically positioned to move the cool air in. The court yard is beautiful and relaxing. I have an upright pool in the summer for the kids.
I have lived and renovated houses in Boston and California. They all have ups and downs. It depends on what stage of your life you are at and what you need.
I still think they look terrible, but I am very happy to live in mine.
Posted by Eileen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on May 1, 2013 at 12:06 pm
We are remodeling our Eichler and during the process a plumbing leak developed. Any recommendations on how to re-plumb an Eichler? Our contractor says the new pipes will have to run inside, along the ceiling and be boxed in. Is this the only way to re-plumb and Eichler? Any suggestions?
We were told original pipes were placed under the foundation in direct contact with the soil, which causes them to degrade. Newer pipes have sleeves place around them to prevent direct soil contact.