Never you say! Often we’re asked how long we think a particular home system or part might last. It’s a difficult question to answer because there are many factors, which can go into determining this.
Have you ever gone to your car one morning and tried to start it but it fails? You can’t figure it out because the day before it worked just fine. You sit there, turning the key in the ignition (probably wearing the battery down too), but to no avail. The only thing left to do is to get help from some one, the motor league, perhaps. You make the call and they’re on their way. You wait with the car and decide to give it another go. To your astonishment, it starts, just as the tow truck pulls up. Or possibly even more embarrassing is when it starts when the tow truck operator turns the key.
Maybe the easiest way to explain part of this phenomenon is to tell you that the unit is mechanical. That’s it. In the same way you can’t get the lighter for the barbeque to fire up every time (especially when company’s coming) so can other units in your home fail…sometimes permanently and sometimes not. For example, a hot water heater which is a couple of years old may work fine and be nowhere near the end of its’ economic life yet it fails the next day. On the other hand a rusty old furnace which is 20 or 25 years old and at or near the end of its’ economic life may continue to work for years to come. How many of you have seen one of those old refrigerators down in a friend’s basement or garage running just fine even though it’s missing a shelf or two inside? Or how about one of those classic cars from the 1950’s that just purrs even though the manufacturers warranty ran out during the first few years it was driven off the lot?
A Home Inspector, with his trained eye, looks for the “tell tale signs” which may indicate a potential problem. For example, how old is the unit, is it functioning now, are there any signs of wear, has it been well maintained and inspected regularly. Just like the classic car, many of the items you buy in your home can last longer than the manufactures’ warranty too; it’s just that now you are working with borrowed time. Here are some ranges for the estimated useful lives (in years) of some household items:
Estimated Life Span (Years)
- Heating Systems: 10 to 25
- Heat Pumps: 10 to 15
- Cooling Systems: 10 to 15
- Dryers: 10 to 15
- Washers: 10 to 15
- Ranges: 10 to 20
- Refrigerators: 10 to 15
- Water Heaters: 10 to 15
- Roofs: 5 to 75
- Decks: 5 to 25
As you can see these approximate life spans can vary greatly. In part this can be due, in the case of a roof for example, to the type of materials used (e.g. asphalt, wood shingles, tile, underlayment), the roofing system itself (e.g. component parts, ventilation), and the conditions surrounding the installation (e.g. season, weather, expertise of contractor).
Homes’ that may look alike can be built or maintained differently with techniques being proper or improper on a scale from economy to deluxe. So, knowing what you’re getting is only half the battle. Knowing the condition it’s in is the other.