You can count on a well-constructed house to last a lifetime — maybe even a century or longer. Some of the components that make up a house, however, tend to have shorter lifespans and need repair or replacement in order to endure the test of time.
With many houses in Australia designed for just a 30-year lifespan (alongside some that may only last the length of the builder’s warranty before major repairs are required), a massive amount of embodied energy is being wasted in our housing stock. Surely we should be designing buildings to outlast us.
We do have examples here in Australia of houses that are 100 to 200 years old. Overseas, many still-useful houses are even older. But effective longevity requires more than just lasting the distance. Looking for the best home constructions? Look no further! Hitch Property Constructions has the ultimate list of home designs for you to choose from.
Why do houses age?
It’s all good and well knowing how long your new house is going to last on average but do you know why? Many factors can influence the longevity of how structurally sound your build will be.
Knowing these factors prior to building, while you are building and after your build is complete can help ensure your home is going to withstand time and the elements it is put through.
The factors include:
There is no question that quality materials and products last longer, and it is the same when it comes to your new home—building your home out of materials that are sustainable and of high quality can ensure that it is going to be standing tall for generations to come.
Remember, things that are used more frequently are going to degrade faster over time, so be sure you invest in the right products for your home to last many lifetimes.
Materials that can last a lifetime (60 – 100+ Years) include:
- Natural Stone
- Bricks (They require less maintenance and can provide better insulation. However, they can make the building process longer and more costly)
- Wood (Wood is more prone to wind, water and fire damage if not properly maintained. However, wood is more common in areas that are prone to earthquakes as they are more flexible )
- Metals (Slate, copper etc.)
- Most types of insulation
- Locally-sourced materials
This is one of the most important factors in ensuring your home has a long lifespan. Good quality workmanship can prevent issues arising too soon due to an iffy join, or a seemingly ‘innocent’ crack. A home that is built poorly will degrade much faster than a home that had every detail paid attention too.
With tens of thousands of houses being built each year, there is bound to be a couple that slips through the cracks and can have an issue or two – but it is the same with any mass production.
Ensuring that this does not happen with new builds are put through detailed assessments at each stage of the construction from measurements and materials to assessing possible outcomes of each decision made.
They also have to rigorously follow the rules and regulations to ensure everything is kept to the same high-quality standard to provide you with a home that will last generations. Most newly built houses will come with a 10-year structural warranty certificate to give you a little peace of mind.
Finding a builder/contractor who comes highly recommended is your best bet at ensuring good, quality workmanship on your home. Sloppy workmanship and a poor design can come with issues, replacements and repairs much sooner than they are required.
Things get old, whether they are living or non-living they are bound to wear and tear, damage and break – it is no different for your new home. You may not need to do too much maintenance within the first few years, but it will come. Keeping on top of the maintenance, your home requires will ensure that it is going to last much longer.
Your home is made up of various components, and while your house may be sound for many years, the components that make your house a house may not be as resilient and last as long.
Here are some of the components of your new house that have a shorter average lifespan that will require repair and/or replacement:
- Aluminium roof coating (3 -7 years)
- Enamel steel sinks (5-10 years)
- Security system (5-10 years)
- Carpet (8-10 years)
- Smoke detector (less than 10 years)
- Faucets (10-15 years)
- Garage door opener (10-15 years)
- Air conditioner (10-15 years)
- Asphalt (12-15 years)
- Termite-proofing during construction (12 years)
- Trash compactor, compact refrigerator, microwave oven, humidifier (9-10 years)
Unfortunately, mother nature is something that we can not control, and when it comes to your new home, you need to be sure that you build it for the environment that it is in. Your home will need to be able to withstand years and years of harsh elements and whatever else mother nature decides to throw at it.
Using materials that are locally sourced is a great option at ensuring your home’s longevity as the materials were made with the climate and conditions of your environment in mind.
Keeping the environment and weather your home will be prone to in mind is vital to ensure a good construction and adequate upkeep that provides you with a long-lasting home.
Long-Lasting Building Materials Every Homeowner Should Consider
If you want to build a house that lasts, you need to focus on the materials you use. As you wander through the design and selection phases, here are the durable building materials you might consider using for your new home. At HP Constructions, we have the best home constructions selection to make your house a dream come true.
It should come as no surprise that brick is one of the most durable building materials on the planet. Just look at some of the most famous structures in the world — such as the Great Wall of China, the Pantheon, the Roman aqueducts, and the Taj Mahal — and you’ll notice they were constructed primarily with some type of brick.
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “Give me a brick, and it becomes worth its weight in gold.” He didn’t seem to be exaggerating. Buildings made from brick tend to retain their value over time, largely because of their incredible durability.
Stone is another material that’s been used for centuries and has proved its ability to hold up over time. As quarrying methods have improved, the stone has taken on a number of unique appearances.
It can be installed in a raw form for a rustic look, or a finished form for a refined and modern style. Because of the durability of properly cut stone, it’s able to protect homes from any number of environmental threats.
Steel is a material that has predominantly been used in industrial and commercial architecture over the years, but it’s becoming increasingly popular for residential structures now — particularly in the case of steel windows and doors. One of the biggest benefits is the durability: When properly cared for, they can last a lifetime.
Like any part of your home, steel windows will require some upkeep, but with proper protection and care, they will last 75+ years. Galvanized and painted steel are easy to maintain. Inevitable wear and tear can be repaired onsite by a homeowner or handyman as this only requires to touch up paint.
Concrete is another material that holds up well over time. Made of a combination of stone, sand, cement, and various binders, concrete has been lauded for its ability to be moulded into any number of shapes and then hardened for unbelievable strength.
Many people assume concrete may only be used for driveway applications, but there are plenty of benefits to using it for other purposes. When concrete pavers are used as flooring, they not only look good, but they don’t absorb and hold heat, which makes them more comfortable to walk on in the summer.
Some of the issues to consider when designing houses that last.
First up, there is no point designing a house to last if it doesn’t have all the basics right, such as good orientation and aspect, internal thermal mass (where appropriate) and a location with access to transport and connection to community and services. Tweaks can be made later but if the fundamentals aren’t right the house could be an ongoing liability rather than an asset.
Of course, existing homes may not have these fundamentals. It’s even more important to make the most of the housing stock that we have and renovate well, when possible.
Sustainable design in our changing climate also means considering a warmer or more variable future climate. For example, with increasing heatwaves in parts of Australia, what is the role for thermal mass? In ReNew 130 (and a recent series in Sanctuary), Dick Clarke and the late Chris Reardon considered the difficult question of design for climate change in detail. Long-lived designs need to be adaptable to different future climates.
One term bandied around when considering the long-lasting design is ‘loose fit’: the idea that spaces should be flexible and adaptable. People’s needs for housing change over time— small children want to be in the same space as their parents, so the open-plan design works well; teenagers wish to more separation and privacy; eventually, the house may become home to multi-generations, with parents and adult children (and their partners) living together, or it may house empty nesters. A well-designed house should be able to adapt to these changing needs without needing to go through multiple renovations. Flexibility for all via universal design is one approach to this.
Another thing that changes a lot over time is technology. Who knows what cooking appliances, for example, maybe available in 30 years? That built-in microwave and coffee machine may look good in your new kitchen, but do you really want to have to replace your kitchen joinery when the appliance dies? A loose-fit design with adjustable shelves and panels can adapt to suit the new fridge or have space for as-yet-unknown devices of the future.
The simpler a system is, the less there is to break down and the easier it is to repair. When selecting a system for use in a long-lived house, ask yourself whether it could be repaired if the original company goes out of business or they stop making that product or component.
For example, I prefer close-coupled solar hot water units over split systems, as they don’t need a pump to shift the water from the panels into the tank. Another example, perhaps more controversial, is a preference for timber window frames over thermally broken (insulated) aluminium as the hardware to operate them is simpler and can be replaced. The frames can be repaired and even partially rebuilt if needed.
Many people would probably think of durability first when considering long-lasting design, but I think it’s less important than the categories above.
Very few materials will last 100 years without any maintenance. The materials your house is built from, particularly the external skin, are exposed to the elements and wear and tear.
However, some materials can last a long time as long as protective coatings such as paint are kept in good condition. There are also plenty of materials out there designed for a longer lifespan, often particularly targeted for the marine environment where everything degrades so much faster.
To get an idea of the expected durability of a material, you can look at the warranty period offered. Although a long warranty doesn’t ensure quality, it is the best we have to go on, along with user and Choice-style reviews. There is more that governments could do here, to regulate for longer warranties and end-of-life disposal requirements by manufacturers, making it more attractive to build in quality.
When it comes to housing, in general, the more solidly built a house is, the more durable it is—thinks of all those European examples. Masonry materials such as stone, brick, concrete and rammed earth can all last extremely long times. However, there are issues with using these materials as a protective skin; in many climates, they may need external insulation to get effective thermal performance. In addition, some of them have high embodied energy.
Inert metal cladding materials such as zinc and copper come at a cost premium upfront but can be maintenance-free for 60+ years. Many examples exist such as church roofs in Europe that have lasted over 200 years.
As another example, conventional metal roof sheeting can come with a premium finish such as Colorbond Ultra, with a 25- year warranty in a coastal (fast-wearing) environment. Even cheap, lightweight materials such as fibre-cement sheet can last an extremely long time—think of those 1970s fibre-cement beach shacks. Forty years on and the base material is doing fine.
In terms of longevity, timber needs careful consideration. Depending on the species and orientation, exposed external timber surfaces may need replacement after 25 years. Painted weatherboards can last much longer but require regular maintenance. Internal polished timber floorboards can only be sanded back three times before they become too thin, so for longevity use oil finishes that can be touched up without sanding, or provide coverings to areas with most wear.
Embodied energy is a major factor to consider; a primary reason we want long-lived buildings is to reduce the waste of those buildings’ embodied energy. The energy used to make the materials and products in our houses is huge, as is the transportation to get the products to the site. The construction industry by some estimates is responsible for 40% of waste to landfill—this includes new materials being thrown away because they are offcuts or imperfect, or they were ordered by mistake.
Anything that requires heating in its production (bricks, lime for concrete, aluminium etc.) has higher embodied energy, but this can be weighed up against its lifespan, maintenance requirements and where it is made (hence transportation requirements). [Ed note: Life cycle assessment (LCA), giving total energy impacts over the building’s expected lifetime, provides a way to quantify this, though it is complex. Architects/designers can use rating or LCA tools to enable you to make decisions about the tradeoffs between embodied and operational energy.]
Anything secondhand or diverted from landfill is preferable to new materials (reduce, reuse, recycle). Probably the most important thing we can do to reduce the embodied energy in the construction of our homes is to reuse what was there before.
In the end, longevity is not just about whether the materials last, but rather a combination of appropriate design, durability, maintainability, embodied energy and reusability. To make wise decisions, you need to consider all these factors.
How can you increase the lifespan of your home?
When it comes to prolonging the lifespan of your home, there are a few measures that you can take. A lot of it comes down to common and basic routines that can prevent disaster from striking. Checking on a regular basis will allow you to catch any new damages, breaks or wear before it becomes too costly or repairs or replace altogether. Check out our extensive range of home designs at Hitch Constructions.
Things that can prolong the integrity of your house include:
- Regular cleaning – This prevents the growth of bacteria, mould and fungus, which can compromise aspects of your home.
- Proper separation and disposal of waste
- Check for termites, pests, insects – This prevents possible irreversible damage caused by termites, insects and pests in and around your home.
- Look out for damp walls, water leaks and seepage
- Check for plinth, foundations and bases of any structural components
- The right material for the needs and requirements of your house
- Regular and proper maintenance
While the above averages can give you an idea of how long your home and its features will last, they don’t account for things like weather, overuse, abuse or neglect — all of which can speed up deterioration. As you look for a home, keep this in mind when you compare the age of the house to what projects you may need to do if you were to become the next owner.