Durability: How long should building elements last?

Post written by David Stewart.

As a professional consultant in cases of troubled construction, I have decades of experience in assessing durability failures and determining their causes. Nothing lasts forever, but there are minimum time periods for most materials. So, how long should your roof and doors, fixtures and floors really last?

Different components of a building have different durability requirements. Your roof has different demands placed on it than your floors, your walls than your bathroom fixtures.  Generally, building elements (roofs, floors, fixtures, building envelope, etc) must, with proper maintenance, continue to satisfy the performance requirements for at least the period specified by the manufacturer.  

The following are some handy guidelines for generally accepted life spans: 
Building elements that should last the life of the building (no less than 50 years). These include floors, walls and fixings, which are
  • elements providing structural stability 
  • difficult to replace 
  • elements that, if they failed to resist damage, this failure would go unnoticed in the normal use and maintenance of the building. 
Building elements that should last 15 years (building envelope, exposed plumbing in the sub-floor space, in-built chimneys and flues) are
  • elements that are moderately tricky to access or replace
  • elements that, if they failed to resist damage, this failure would go unnoticed in the normal use of the building but would be easily detected during normal maintenance.
Building elements that should last 5 years include services, linings, renewable protective coating and fixtures and are
  • elements that are easy to access and replace
  • elements that, if they failed to resist damage, their failure would be easily noticed in normal, day-to-day use of the building.
These values are meant to give you a general idea and, if taken care of, many building elements can last much longer than their guarantees.  Vinyl siding should last for 15 years but often, if properly detailed and maintained, can last usually about 25. 
Keep these time-spans in mind, Owners, because if a building element is not living up to its guarantee, it’s replacement shouldn’t be funded entirely by you. For more information on how I can assist you in making a claim, please have a look at the subsection entitled 'Construciton Claim Preparation' and get in touch.

Photo credit: Khánh Hmoong / Foter / CC BY-NC

Posted: Fri, 15 Feb 2013
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