A major home repair can tax any budget. But you don’t have to be surprised when something in your home goes kaput.
It’s possible to know, more or less, how long most home components are likely to last and plan for their replacement. Plus, knowing the life span of appliances and home fixtures can help you decide when to repair and when to replace.
The most expensive components of a home are generally the roof, electrical system, plumbing, furnace and air-conditioning systems. The stakes are high for homeowners because replacing any one of these systems can mean a bill of four or five figures.
“The main systems are 90 percent of repairs of a house,” says Cannon Christian, president of Renovation Realty, which repairs and sells homes in Southern California. “Everything else is pretty much minor.”
Knowing the life span of home components is also helpful if you’re looking at homes to buy. A home that needs all its major systems replaced can cost you a lot more than the purchase price. That’s a reason to get a thorough home inspection, pin down the age of major systems and then negotiate from there.
“Each of these things is really ammunition for buyers,” Christian says. If systems are old, ask for concessions or a lower price. “Are you going to get everything you asked for? No. More than likely, you’re going to get some help buying it.”
An inspection won’t always reveal the state of your plumbing, especially if it’s inside a slab and walls. But if a home was built with galvanized pipe, used in most homes before the 1960s, anticipate that it will need to be replaced sooner rather than later. “You can’t tell what’s going on until you notice something” is beginning to fail, Christian says of plumbing. “As soon as you do, you want to correct it immediately.”
Before you replace your air-conditioning system, furnace, water heater or appliances, see if your utility company offers any rebates or incentives, Christian suggests. Kansas City Power & Light, for example, offers rebates on air conditioning systems and Energy Star-rated refrigerators and freezers. You can check for rebates at your utility company or at the Energy Star website.
In general, if an appliance is more than six or seven years old, and the repair will cost more than half the amount of a new one, it’s better to purchase a replacement, advises Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List.
“Replacing an appliance with a newer, more efficient one can also save in energy costs,” Hicks wrote on the Angie’s List website. Angie’s List has an infographic giving the average cost of appliance repairs, average maintenance cost, cost of a replacement and some advice on deciding whether to repair or replace.
The National Association of Home Builders did a survey of manufacturers, trade associations and researchers in 2007 and produced a report called “The Life Expectancy of Home Components,” with estimates of life spans for everything from appliances to windows. Based on the association’s research and the research of others, here is how long you can expect these 10 home components to last.
Roofs: Slate, copper and tile roofs can last more than 50 years. Homeowners with wood shake roofs should expect them to last about 30 years, while fiber cement shingles last about 25 years and asphalt shingle/composition roofs last about 20 years, the NAHB found. Climate and weather conditions, such as snow, hail and hurricanes, can cut the life span of all types of roofs.
Air conditioning system: These last 10 to 15 years. Having your unit serviced every year or two, keeping filters clean and trimming bushes around the outdoor unit can keep your it working longer, but eventually the components wear out.
Water heater: A conventional electric or gas water heater typically lasts about 10 years. If you have a tankless water heater, expect it to stick around for about 20 years.
Appliances: Expect most popular appliances to last no more than 15 years: refrigerators (six to 15 years), ranges (10 to 15 years), washers and dryers (eight to 12 years) and dishwashers (eight to 10 years), Angie’s List reports. The NAHB estimates the life span of a microwave to be nine years. In its report, the NAHB also noted that appliances are often replaced before they quit working because consumers want new styles or technology.
Furnace: A furnace lasts 15 to 20 years. If your furnace is nearing the end of its life, upgrading to a newer, more energy-efficient model can also cut your heating bills.
Decks: Because of weather, the life span of a deck varies. In optimal conditions, a wood deck can last 20 years, the NAHB study found. A deck can last 20 to 25 years in dry areas, but is likely to last only 10 to 15 years in the South, where there is more rain and humidity.
Doors: Exterior doors made of fiberglass, steel and wood will last for decades, or the lifetime of the house, as will closet doors, according to the NAHB study. Screen doors last about 40 years, and vinyl doors typically last about 20 years.
Floors: Wood floors last 100 years or more, as do marble and slate floors if they are maintained well. Tile floors can last 75 to 100 years, and terrazzo lasts more than 75 years. Linoleum lasts about 25 years and vinyl up to 50 years, while laminate floors have a life expectancy of 15 to 25 years. Most carpet needs to be replaced every eight to 10 years, even if it’s maintained well.
Gutters: Aluminum gutters last about 20 years, while copper gutters last about 50 years.
Windows: Wood windows can last more than 30 years, while aluminum windows are expected to last 15 to 20 years.
A version of this story appeared previously at U.S. News & World Report.