An Eichler home is sort of a California thing. Joseph Eichler, a developer, turned many areas into tract home developments from the late 1940s onwards. He built roughly 11,000 single family homes in California with a fairly unique but consistent style. The Eichler style is often referred to as modern. This, even though most of the homes are now over 50 years old.
The style emphasized simple geometric shapes. Generally, a few box shapes covered by a flat or only slightly peaked roof. 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. It 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. It is probably the most widely appreciated feature 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. This is why, with the houses limited to one-story, the 6-foot high fence separating homes provided adequate privacy.
A neighborhood composed of all Eichler homes can be quite attractive. A ranch style home among them looks out of place and many people feel makes the neighborhood less attractive.
Common Concerns About Eichlers
Eichler homes were built to be affordable. As such, it took advantage of being located in a mild climate by fusing multiple purposes into the design. Heating was provided by running hot water through pipes in the cement floor. This gave the home a very quiet and very even heating. In time, this has provided some problems as some of the pipes carrying the hot water have often developed leaks which are costly to repair. The homes don’t have an attic or 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. Many homes have been retrofitted with insulation on the roof to reduce the poor heating efficiency. The homes were built assuming plentiful cheap energy and a mild climate.
People living in Eichler neighborhoods enjoy the fact that all houses are single story. It prevents their yard from being in the shadow of a tall house and the fence provides adequate privacy. A lot of these neighborhoods are getting city regulations enacted that prevent two story homes from being built.
The interior walls were often covered in wood paneling. If a fire starts in the home the wood paneling can burn quickly. In a lot of cases, the wood paneling has been replaced with sheet rock. The floor is a cement slab so it would slow the spread of a fire but the ceiling could readily burn.
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 brick homes in other states. Plywood is a fairly inexpensive building material and 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.
The most common local weather related problem is due to the expansion of 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 may provide a path for termites to enter the home.
Some people say "you either love Eichler homes or you hate them". This is a bit simplistic. A lot of people love the feeling of their 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 home. Given the rising cost of land it is highly unlikely that any single story housing tract will ever be built here again.