How long will my new house last?
It’s a good question. And it’s the wrong one. I’ll tell you why.
The moment a new house is completed, it starts to wear out. The weather is at work on the components before the house is even finished. The ground around the foundations will be shifting. All the moving parts inside the house will start to disintegrate. The glazed units will be beginning to break down. And the water in the pipes will be looking for ways to escape other than via the taps. All that is a given.
Eventually something will go wrong. It will have to be repaired or replaced. As long as this ongoing maintenance is kept up, the house will remain serviceable indefinitely. It makes no difference if the house is masonry, timber frame, steel, concrete or any other building system, the principle remains the same.
So the question you should be asking is this. Which type of house is cheapest and easiest to maintain? Or put another way, what are the whole life costs of a house over, say, a 100-year period? Now that’s an interesting one to which there doesn’t appear to be a clear-cut answer. But it does raise some interesting additional questions. Like…
Windows: plastic v timber
The initial costs are pretty similar. However timber needs redecorating every five years or so, if it is to last. But well-maintained timber windows will last for centuries. Not so plastic, which has to be ripped out and replaced every 20 or 30 years. Such is the high cost of labour in this country that it’s actually cheaper to rip out and replace plastic windows three times a century than it is to install timber ones once and then repaint them 19 times. But will that relationship between low material costs and high labour costs persist for a century?
Timber frame v blockwork
Surely blockwork will last much longer than timber? Intuitively, yes. But timber, if looked after, will last indefinitely. In this case, unlike the timber windows, the frame doesn’t need maintenance to last the course, it just needs to be kept dry so the weatherproof cladding around it must be kept in good condition. So really it’s more a question about what external claddings last the pace.
What external claddings last the pace?
You’d think brickwork would be No 1. Sometimes it is, but it also has an alarming failure rate. It tends not to be very watertight and once the water gets through the brickwork it starts to cause all manner of problems behind it in the cavity. Soggy insulation, rusting wall ties, damp patches inside the house and, if timber frame, potential rotting away of the frame. The success of brickwork depends on a number of factors, the principal ones being how well it is built, how well the cavity behind it is detailed and built and what conditions it subsequently gets exposed to. If it works, then brickwork should be pretty much maintenance-free. But it’s a big IF. Of the main alternatives, render is prone to cracking and hence much the same problems as bad brickwork; tiles are prone to wind damage and cracking; timber boarding performs pretty well but can be prone to rot and needs attention on the decoration front if it is to continue to look good. In short, they are all less likely to suffer initial failure than brickwork but they are also much more likely to require routine maintenance, if not full replacement, before the century is up.
Labels: Timber Frame/MMC