What’s the life span of a house?

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A house may survive for hundreds of years. But the individual components that make up the house may — or may not — be as resilient. Components made of concrete or brick can last a long time while major appliances are almost disposable, despite how costly they are to purchase, repair and replace.

Examples of especially sturdy products include cabinets in a garage or laundry room, brick pavers, a concrete or cast iron waste pipe and copper rain gutter downspouts, all of which can last 100 years or longer, according to a 2007 National Association of Home Builders, or NAHB, study of home components’ life expectancy. Other durables that can last a lifetime include natural stone or tile countertops, fiberglass, wood or fire-rated steel exterior doors, copper wiring, wood floors, walls, ceilings and most types of insulation.

Small appliances may die after just a decade

Household appliances such as a trash compactor, compact refrigerator, microwave oven and humidifier have much shorter average life spans of about nine to 10 years. A gas range, which has an average life span of about 15 years, is one of the longest-lasting household appliances, according to the NAHB survey.

Other household components that have a relatively short average lifespan include:

  • Aluminum roof coating (three to seven years).
  • Enamel steel sinks (five to 10 years).
  • Security system (five to 10 years).
  • Carpet (eight to 10 years).
  • Smoke detector (fewer than 10 years).
  • Faucets (10 to 15 years).
  • Garage door opener (10 to 15 years).
  • Air conditioner (10 to 15 years).
  • Asphalt (12 to 15 years).
  • Termite-proofing during construction (12 years).

Homeowners may choose to replace items early

The NAHB study cautions that these life expectancies are only averages and the actual life span of an individual house’s component will depend greatly on the quality of installation, level of maintenance, weather and climate conditions and intensity of use.

Many homeowners choose to swap out house components or appliances before the end of their useful life due to “changing styles and preferences or improvements in newer products,” the study states. Tax credits, rebates and the introduction of new models that are more energy efficient and thus less costly to operate also may spur homeowners to replace items before the originals reach the end of their useful life. Newer products don’t always have a longer life span than older models, however.

One-third of U.S. homes built before 1960

While it’s impossible to predict how long an entire house will stand, about one-third of the 124 million houses in the U.S. were built before 1960 and are thus now more than 50 years old, according to a 2005 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. This chart shows approximately what percentage of the housing stock was built in each decade:

Percentage of housing built by decade
Year built Percent of U.S. homes
2000 to 2005 8%
1990s 13%
1980s 13%
1970s 20%
1960s 10%
Prior to 1960 36%
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

The age of a house should be an important consideration for homebuyers because an older home typically will require more maintenance and replacement of worn-out components. Some of the most popular home repairs become necessary during those middle years when a house is no longer brand-new. For example, the NAHB study found that a wood deck can last about 20 to 25 years in a dry climate. A good-quality exterior or interior paint might have a lifespan of about 15-plus years. Rain gutters, lawn sprinklers and exterior wood shutters should last about 20 years. Many types of common roofing materials give out after about 25 to 30 years.

A new roof, replacement vinyl siding or replacement vinyl or wood windows can put quite a dent in a homeowner’s budget. This chart shows the national average costs for midrange and upscale replacements of these components:

Average replacement cost
Project Midrange cost Upscale cost
Roofing replacement $19,731 $37,359
Vinyl siding replacement $10,607 $13,287
Window replacement (vinyl) $10,728 $13,862
Window replacement (wood) $11,700 $17,816
Source: Remodeling Magazine 2009-10 Cost vs. Value Report

Date of manufacture may be marked on appliances

The expected remaining useful life of house components and appliances should be a consideration for homebuyers, though it’s not always easy for them to get that information since sellers may profess ignorance or misremember how long ago they made various purchases. Receipts and user’s manuals can be helpful resources if the seller has kept good records.

Another way to find out when an appliance was manufactured is to look for a nameplate or model and serial numbers on the appliance itself, according to Jill A. Notini, a spokeswoman for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers in Washington, D.C. The nameplate may display the month and year of manufacture, and if not, the model and serial numbers can be used to call the manufacturer and request the information or look up the information on the manufacturer’s Web site.