Homebuyers Guide Homeownership

How long do houses last?

There are some really old houses where I live. Really old. Like, date-back-to-the-1700s old. Of course, these homes haven’t just stood the test of time on their own. They’ve required a lot of loving repairs over the years and several full-blown renovations. So, when people ask how long houses last, the answer isn’t so straightforward.

More than anything, you'll want to look for a property that's been cared for.

Technically, they can last hundreds of years, depending on the material and type of build (more on that below). Still, based on a House Method study from 2020, the average age of homes in the U.S. is much, much lower, clocking in at about 42 years. As the study shows, home age varies substantially state by state too, with houses in the northeast tending to have an older median age than elsewhere in the country.

While it’s hard to predict how long a house will stand, given weather events, fires, and other unforeseen events, you can get a general idea by looking at a few key factors. If you’re searching for a home that will last and last, consider the various characteristics below.

Read more:
What You Need to Know About Buying an Old House
Wood vs. Brick Homes: What You Need to Know

What is the exterior made of?

Looking to Europe can give you a pretty good idea of what materials will last a hundred or more years. Homes with exteriors made of stone or brick are extremely durable, built to withstand the elements, and they're fire-resistant. Between the two, stone is stronger while being about the same price as brick when it comes to raw materials.

It’s worth noting, though, that these materials—brick, natural stone, and manufactured stone—are more expensive than other options like wood or vinyl. If a home has vinyl siding, you can expect it to last about 60 years before it’ll need replacing, according to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors.

Is it a single-family home or part of a high-rise?

Although high-rises certainly use hardy materials like concrete (which can last as long as brick or stone), their life expectancy could be significantly shorter compared with a single-family home—but it’s not what you think. These types of dwellings are perfectly safe and often boast high-end amenities and interiors. In certain parts of the country, like Miami, they’re even specially built to withstand natural disasters like hurricanes. 

The reason they tend not to last as long is that they’re usually torn down before they become obsolete. Think about it: If you live in a high-rise, the HVAC systems, glass windows, code requirements and more might need upgrading across several hundred units. It may be cheaper for the building owner or developer to tear down and rebuild a new, more modern iteration than to repair.

What kind of plumbing does it have?

We’ve covered the exterior of a home and what makes it more likely to withstand the test of time, but interior materials matter, too. When it comes to plumbing, copper pipes are a popular choice due to their reliability and durability. Stainless steel pipes are an even better (though more expensive) choice. Be sure not to confuse stainless steel with galvanized pipes, which are prone to rust and have a shorter lifespan.

What’s the home electrical system like?

Similar to pipes, copper is the gold standard when it comes to wiring. It’s stable, reliable, and offers excellent conductivity. Aluminum wiring is less costly, but it's not as durable as copper, according to electricians.

What’s the condition of the windows and roof?

Just like plumbing and electrical, the windows and roof are other big-ticket items that can impact the lifespan of a home. While a roof’s lifespan will vary based on weather and material, it’s widely accepted that an asphalt or metal roof will last at least 20 years and even up to 40. Windows—whether wood or vinyl—boast about the same lifespan.

How old is the ducting?

According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, ducting can last up to 100 years, but if you’re buying an older home, it’s worth checking when it was last replaced.

What types of floors does it have?

Hardwood floors are a sought-after feature in many homes—and they can also attest to a property’s durability. Hardwood is a long-lasting option, similar to other natural flooring materials like stone and brick. Although hardwood requires special attention for cleaning (water and steam can damage the wood joints), with proper care they’ll endure much longer than flooring like vinyl.

What are the countertops made of?

You’ve probably already guessed it: Natural materials like marble and stone will last longer than laminate countertops. Of course, you’ll pay more up front, but the payoff? Enduring, high-quality counters designed to last for decades.

Although the above considerations are a helpful guidepost, more than anything, you’ll want to look for a property that’s been cared for—and continue that care yourself long after those closing papers are signed.

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