This Is How Long Buildings Last

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When putting up a building, how long do we expect the roof will last over our heads? How long will our investment last us before the next major renovation? Why have buildings of the past lasted decades and now a house barely lasts 50 years? Here we’ll peek at the factors that come into play, which hopefully help you in your next property purchase.

Buildings typically stand from 40-60 years. This however is heavily dependent on the building type, usage, location site and regular maintenance. By law, architects and building professionals are held liable for building collapse and damage for 15 years from its construction with 10 years to report from the moment the incident occurs.

Of course this is all relative to the building’s intention. Like perhaps the goal is really to make a temporary facility or a structure easy to disassemble in order to relocate the structure to its permanent site in the future.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we see buildings lasting centuries like the pyramids of Giza. Serveral architecture jewels in history would have lasted up to today if not for wars, bombings and terrorist attacks, so it’s safe to say that buildings (if protected and maintained) can and is expected to last 50 years, soon after which they’d be considered heritage.

How do we make them last so long?

If built well to building standards and taking into account the site conditions, they will stand the test of time.

Lifespan Per Building Type

A recent study and release from the Getty Center stated the average life of a building, typically built in masonry and wood is approximately 120 years. In contrast to “modern” buildings of concrete reinforced with steel and a glass curtain wall (many of what we see today) are only expected to last half of that. (1)

This may be tied to the idea of “trends” and trying to keep the built environment relevant to us, however it also comes down to price. And, often, it can come out cheaper to demolish rather than restore. (1)

Buildings deteriorate and age due to the following factors:(2)

  1. Environmental Impact (weather, calamity, natural disaster)
  2. Human Usage (if used and worn out more than usual hours expected)
  3. Poor Design (under specified, cheap materials, lack of foresight at the conceptual and planning stage)

Homes can last from a range of 40 to 60 years. Apartment buildings are said to age quicker, due to advancements in the mechanical systems that could easily affect the entire structure. New technology in elevators, internet, fire protection and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems will change the utility core and overall planning.(3)

Commercial buildings on the other hand average from 50 to 60 years depending on management and maintenance.(4)

Other statistics will state concrete buildings will last 70 to 100 years. However this only pertains to the building shell and not the functions within, wherein the true problem lies.(5)

Image from RDH Building Science | How Long do Buildings Last?

Analyzing the study above, new homeowners are like new parents the moment the house is turned over to them (or 1 year old). Within this time frame, nothing should be faulty and everything should be working 100%.

In the next stage of “childhood”, homeowners may experience a few small repairs, like repairing or replacing water heaters and pumps. Preferably still within the warranties of many things initially purchased. Owners should slowly build toward a fund dedicated solely to maintenance for the future.

Stage 3 would ask one to be more attentive to critical facilities such as modernizing elevators, plumbing or fire protection systems. Whereas Stage 4 of “Adulthood” already has major upgrades and renovations come into play. This would be the heaviest expenditure after buying the house.

50 years in, the house is expected to have continued maintenance and care, and is still able to last plenty past. (6)

Factors That Contribute

The shell may easily last 50 years, however without proper care of the building’s “organs”, the building will age and deteriorate rapidly.

Your building utilities and systems are “what makes your building work”: Plumbing pipework, electrical wiring, the appliances or creaky windows and doors. The same goes for the building “skin”, which would be your flooring, ceiling, wall paint, roofing and exterior cladding. Without proper protection, their rust or decay will ultimately transfer onto the building skeleton or structural frame.

These systems embedded in your structure typically last only 15-30 years. (5)

After using up your warranty, perhaps it’ll be 5-7 years before it gives you creaky floors, doors, cracks and leaks in pipes and the roof, faulty wiring, etc. This is why having a regular inspection every few years is important for the longevity of a building. (4)

“Moisture in the internal air can lead to the growth of mold and fungi that can weaken the foundations of the building. Extreme humidity in the closed environment can lead to corrosion and condensation that may cause roof leaks and cracks in the walls. Faulty plumbing can lead to seepage and moisture laden walls. Excessive heat in the building can also have its share of consequences such as swelling, distortion, cracking of materials and components.” (4)

Properties by the sea and within coastal areas are more susceptible to building damage from the heat, humidity and salt in the air. Avoid metal components as the salt content can rust your balustrades, stair cases, railing and all metal facades.

If your city experiences heavy rainfall, perhaps the conventional roofing and waterproofing will not suffice. Adequately protect your structure from your climate to prevent cracks and leaks into the building’s structural frame. (2)

How to Sustain & Maintain Your Building

How do we prevent this? First, ensure your utilities are easily accessible for repair and replacement. Do not opt to have your pipes concealed by embedding them into the concrete or machine bolted. If they are tucked behind a cabinet or drywall, this would make it easier to access when there’s a problem. (5)

If within the early stage of planning and design, choose “sustainable materials.” By that I mean locally sourced materials, which are most likely made to withstand your climate, suited to the weather and can easily be replaced, supplied when needed. (2)

A building’s location is another thing to consider. Perhaps the project site is no longer a central hub of activity, meaning it’ll be difficult to bring in the good traffic you need for a business to survive. At the city government level, more attention to security and up-to-date utilities will be provided if the location is still strong and relevant with the local community. (5)

Sadly buildings with the pressure of multiple costs added onto construction, the overall structure may be compromised to meet the demand and client goal. (5)

The key is to have a maintenance plan early on and to save up on a maintenance fund. (6)

An estimate of about one percent of the building’s cost should be saved every year as a renovation reserve in order to maintain the building every 30 years. (5)

It is not true that the oldest buildings are in weaker condition than “younger” ones. Newer buildings may actually be in poorer shape due to lack of maintenance, use of cheap material and heavy usage. (6)

Our Lasting Impression?

Another is to ensure they will remain relevant to society. If places are left neglected and unwanted, they are unused and can rapidly deteriorate due to abandonment.

This is also where your architect’s creativity and design vision is tested. Many famous structures today were perceived as an eyesore and flat out “ugly” when they were first built — only to find years later they became the icons of the city.

The Eiffel Tower was initially viewed as a monstrosity opposing the overall look of Paris. The Louvre Glass Pyramid by I.M. Pei was also seen as a contradiction to the classical language of the existing landscape and was debated to have removed. 

Images from 50 Inspirational Home Remodel Before-And-Afters – Choice Home Warranty

It’s true all designs are ultimately a prediction. However good designs are those that have a deep thought process put into it.

Leading to the conclusion of why architecture is a science and an art, it’s because a building can stand for centuries but once neglected by society, will be up for demolition to have something with value built in its place.

 

References

  1. Donnelly, B. G. (2015, September 6). The life expectancy of buildings. BRANDON DONNELLY. Retrieved March 2022, from https://brandondonnelly.com/2015/09/06/the-life-expectancy-of-buildings/
  2. Gupta, S. (2021, November 30). What is the average age of a House. What is the average age of a house. Retrieved March 2022, from https://www.makaan.com/iq/buy-sell-move-property/what-is-the-average-age-of-a-house
  3. Jones, D. (2021, May 4). Life expectancy of a house: Will it last 50, 100 or 200 years? Buyers Ask. Retrieved March 2022, from https://buyersask.com/structural/life-expectancy-of-a-house-will-it-last-100-years/
  4. Werner, K. (2021, March 24). What is the lifespan of a commercial building? – ask the expert: Shingobee News. Shingobee Builders. Retrieved March 2022, from http://www.shingobee.com/About-Us/News/entryid/191/what-is-the-lifespan-of-a-commercial-building-ask-the-expert
  5. *. (2017, May 8). What is the lifespan of a house? Swiss Life Group. Retrieved March 2022, from https://www.swisslife.com/en/home/hub/what-is-the-lifespan-of-a-house.html
  6. Albrice, D. (2015, January 28). How long do buildings last? . RDH Building Science. Retrieved March 2022, from https://www.rdh.com/blog/long-buildings-last/