Buying a home is probably the largest investment that the average person will ever make. As such, it is logical that you might want to know how long that investment will last. Although a well-built home should last for many years, nothing lasts forever. In this article, we will delve into this question: What is the average lifespan of a house?
When we begin to research this topic, it is surprisingly hard to get a straight answer. It seems that there are many different opinions on this matter and no simple answer. So, let’s begin by looking at three qualified opinions.
Three Different Opinions
Let’s begin with this study, conducted by a Canadian forest services company. This study included data from all sorts of buildings in North America, so it represents a pretty wide sample. Out of 227 buildings that were condemned and demolished, the majority of them were less than 50 years old. This is a sad indictment of the lax building standards that have become all too common these days.
However, we get a more encouraging picture when we look at the data more closely. When the buildings are broken down by age groups, we see that only 12 percent of buildings fail before 25 years of age. However, the numbers take a huge jump in the 26-50 year range.
Another table within that same study tells an interesting tale. We see that, when it comes to material failure, most buildings do not have to worry about it until they are 90-100 years old. This is good news, as these numbers indicate the maximum lifespan of the home. If you don’t get that lifespan, it will be because you failed to take care of your home properly.
Now let’s look at something a little less academic. This article from Architect Magazine is a reasonably authoritative source, and they give an open-ended answer to the question. Their perspective is that it’s all a question of maintenance.
This perspective makes a lot of sense. There are historical buildings made of wood and clay that have been standing for centuries and which are still in good shape. Of course, these structures have survived because people cared enough to maintain them. As the article says, a well-maintained home will outlast you and probably your children as well.
Even they acknowledge, however, that materials and methods of construction will make a difference. If a building is made with inferior materials and unprofessional methods, you can’t reasonably expect it to last as long. This is a good argument for never buying the cheapest homes you can find. Chances are, they will be made with shoddy materials, and you’ll be lucky to get 25 years out of them.
So, as for our third opinion, let’s look at this problem from a different angle. We were unable to find a single number to represent the average lifespan of a home, but we were able to find a set of lifespan figures for various home components. This study included everything from the roof to the kitchen sink.
This one comes from the National Association of Home Builders, and they seem to be pretty respected in their field. If you would like a neat and tidy summary of their results, you can find it here. Some of these materials are rated as “lifetime.” That means that these materials/items will last forever if they are cared for properly.
Perhaps the most important thing to examine from this report is the lifespan of a foundation. Once a foundation goes, the house is pretty much gone. Yes, foundation cracks can sometimes be fixed, but would you want to buy a house with a repaired foundation? We’re willing to bet that the answer is no. According to our data, a cement foundation lasts only 50 years before needing repair, while a poured concrete foundation will last about 200 years.
Based on the above, we think that we can give you a decent answer to this question. Without special care and maintenance, the maximum lifespan of a house is about 200 years. Yes, there are historical buildings that are far older, but those have received special maintenance and preventive care that few other buildings receive. Of course, it might be worth studying this topic further if you want some ideas on how to maximize the lifespan of your home.
As for a minimum lifespan, we would say that 25 years seems to be the bare minimum. In our demolition study, there was a huge difference between the 1-25 range and 26-50 range (12% to 47%, respectively), and this indicates that 88-90% of all homes will make it past their 25th year.
At the same time, it is important to remember that your home is not a single unit, but a conglomeration of many things. On a basic level, you have the foundation, the frame, and the roof. Those have a certain lifespan, while other components have a different kind of lifespan. The lifespan of your home will have a lot to do with the quality of its parts.
Home components that have a particularly long lifespan include:
- Cast iron bathtubs (50 years)
- Toilets (50 years)
- Exterior overhangs (100 years)
- Garage doors (20-50 years)
- Electrical wiring (100+ years)
- Poured concrete foundation (200 years)
- Concrete block foundation (100 years)
- Brick/stone walls (100+ years)
- Staircases (50-100 years)
- Slate roofing tiles (50-100 years)
- Aluminum siding (50 years)
- Drywall and plaster walls (30-70 years)
Home components that have a particularly short lifespan include:
- Dishwashers (10 years)
- Garbage disposals (10 years)
- Fiberglass bathtubs and showers (10-15 years)
- Laminate countertops (10-15 years)
- Garage door opener (10 years)
- Paint, stucco, and plaster (3-5 years)
- Sealers and fillers (1-5 years)
- HVAC window units (10 years)
- Humidifier (8 years)
- Sump and well pumps (10 years)
Things That Can Affect The Lifespan Of A House
When we look at the lifespan numbers given so far, we should remember one thing: All of these numbers assume that a home has been properly maintained. Lack of maintenance (or improperly performed maintenance) can lower the lifespan of your home by a great deal. As we mentioned earlier, a home is made up of components, and each of those components can be replaced if they fail. Other than a poured foundation, any part of your home can be replaced. Here are some general tips that will help you to increase the lifespan of your home.
Water Damage Is The Worst
Of all the hazards that can damage your home, water damage is probably the worst. Even a small leak can quickly become a large one if it is not properly addressed. That’s why the roof should always be your first maintenance priority. A well-maintained roof makes for a very low risk of water damage. When checking for leaks, it’s a good idea to go into the attic. Any water leaks that may be present are likely to start there.
A lot of people might be surprised at how quickly water can cause massive amounts of damage to their homes. It all comes down to one thing: Some materials are made to resist water, and others are not. Tiles and other roofing materials are waterproof enough to protect all the non-waterproof components beneath.
Get An Annual Inspection
Unless you happen to be a construction expert or an architect, it is likely that you might miss potential problems. Even if you think you know what you are doing, there is no substitute for the consultation of an expert. We would advise that you get a thorough home inspection about once a year. Twice a year would be better, but once a year should be enough. The whole point of this is to catch those big problems before they become big problems.
Use Some Enamel
Most homes will have some steel fittings. Whether it’s a door hinge, a cabinet handle, a deadbolt, or anything else, it will be vulnerable to rusting over time. Although these kinds of steel accessories are usually coated with some other metal, it would be a good idea to give them some additional protection.
Enamel is kind of like paint, except that it’s a lot harder and more durable. Its purpose is to create a thick, waterproof shell. We would recommend the spray-on no-bake enamel, as it is the easiest to use. This can do a lot to help those steel components last longer. In coastal areas, this is even more important. The salty air in these locales can have a devastating effect on uncoated metal.
Keep Everything Clean
There are several reasons why clean homes tend to last longer. For one thing, we should consider the growth of algae, mold, mildew, and fungus. All of these things have a tendency to infest dirty surfaces. Once there, they can cause a lot of problems. Fungi and mold will actually eat away at the surface of wooden materials (and many other things). Algae, moss, and other such things will hold water, and lead to a greater amount of wear and tear on the exterior of the home.
A clean home will also be less likely to attract bugs and other pests. In terms of damage to your home, rats and termites are probably the two worst problems. Both of these can gradually eat your home away, so don’t give them anything to eat or any filthy places to hide!
Don’t Forget About Humidity
There is a different kind of water damage that can destroy your home and its contents. We’re talking about humidity, which is just the amount of water vapor in the air. In a humid environment, metal will tend to rust more quickly, and wood will be more prone to rotting. Pressed wood, especially, is prone to a phenomenon known as hygroscopicity. A hygroscopic substance will absorb moisture from the surrounding air and hold it in place. Silica gel is probably the best-known example of a hygroscopic substance.
Pressed wood and plywood are composed of wood scraps held together with glue. Over time, moisture can and will break down that glue and make the whole thing fall apart. That’s why we recommend that you get at least one hygrometer. A hygrometer measures humidity, and that will let you know if you have a problem. We would recommend that you put one in every room of your house. Anything above 65% is cause for alarm.
There are two main ways to reduce the humidity in your home. The first step is to increase your home’s ventilation. If the wet air is not allowed to settle in one place, its water vapor is not released. One way to do this is by putting a fan in two different windows. These windows should be located on opposite ends of the house. One fan should be pulling fresh air in from the outside, and the other should be pushing stale air out the window.
Another thing you can do is to make use of desiccants. Some have reported success with hanging bags of silica gel, but these will have to be heated outdoors from time to time. That’s the only way to let them release their moisture outside of your home.
We thought that this would be a simple question, and you probably thought the same. Alas, few things in this world are simple or easy. As it turns out, the lifespan of your home cannot be accurately estimated, because each case is unique. The best thing we can tell you is this: The better you take care of it, the longer it will last. If you have found our advice to be helpful, you can get even more of it by filling out the contact form below.