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Constructing Healthy, Comfortable, Durable, Energy Efficient and Environmentally Responsible Homes and Buildings


Building More Durable Buildings


Durable buildings

$65 billion to $75 billion is what Americans spend annually on maintenance, repair and replacement of parts of their homes according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

"Homeowners don't have a way to quantify the value of durability so they don't value it, so they don't clamor for it from builders. Builders tend to offer the lowest-cost options,” says Stephen Weber economist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Christopher White, a research chemist, with NIST says, "As customers understand the value of durability, then the builders will recognize and offer more durable products. This gets people away from just going with first-cost estimate and lets them evaluate life long costs. People know almost to a penny what their mortgage costs, but have almost no ides what it costs to live in their home."

Durable buildings are a combination of durable materials and a durable design and adequate construction detail to allow these materials to function properly.  One of the more important aspects of a durable building is its ability to control moisture - inside and out.

Keep in mind the expiration date of your building materials!

Durable materials 

Examples of durable materials are concrete, native stone, brick, factory enameled metal roofing, copper roofing, slate, tile, hardwood flooring, bamboo flooring, galvanized nails, bronze bolts, etc.

Copper roofing will last 400 years plus. Sure it is more expensive initially, but when measured over time it is the cheapest! Plus you never have to work on it - zero maintenance. It is fully recyclable. As a bonus it is beautiful to look at (for all 400 years).

Slate, clay tile or cement tile roofing is durable but these materials are heavy and requires stronger and more expensive roof framing. Their useful life is about 25 to 50 years.

Cedar shakes and cedar shingles are flammable and will not pass the test of time. Their useful life is about 20 years.

Composition roofing lasts 15 to 25 years. This not a durable material and is not a earth friendly material. Over 300 square miles of composition roofing goes into landfills every year.

Fiber cement siding is durable (50 years).  Vinyl siding is hazardous to the environment to manufacture and is not considered an earth friendly material.  Cedar siding uses up some of the last cedar that is available and it will not last as long as fiber cement.

A concrete and/or stone patio is far more durable than a wood deck.

Plumbing fixtures - cheap facets with plastic parts will not last. The old fashioned chrome plated brass facets with replaceable washers and stems are durable. Plastic toilet tanks ball cocks distort under pressure and time. I have replaced the rubber washers in 50 year old brass faucets to keep them working.

Plastic hot and cold water distribution piping in houses have a checkered past. Galvanized iron rusts a tiny bit every year but is reasonable durable. Copper piping is durable.

Metal is almost always more durable than plastic or wood. Stone and concrete are more durable than metals.

Carpeting is not durable nor is it healthy because of all the dust, mites and critters (think spider eggs and hatchlings) that reside in it. Hardwood flooring is durable and easy to clean.

Linoleum is better than vinyl. Vinyl materials are hazardous to the environment during manufacturing.

With all material, proper maintenance is important.


Durable design

Here are some elements to consider in your design that effects the durability of  buildings.

Keep roof designs simply. Complex roof designs that have dormers, valleys and intersections creates opportunities for ice dams and leaks. Dormers that are too close to each other can trap snow and ice.

Roof runoff should not be onto a walkway or front entrance for safety and maintenance reasons. Runoff should not be allowed to splast back against the house. Down spouts should have extensions to carry rain away from foundation.

Here's a receipe for frozen pipes and moisture problems - a floor plan that has a part of a bathroom project out over the wall below it. The outside cold air hits the bottom of this projection and causes the problems.

Try not to put a tub or shower on an outside wall. Moisture problems in the wall due to condensation is a real potential problem.

Built longer roof overhangs so rain and water running off the roof lands further from the house and walls. Also the solar damage is less to the siding.

Gutters get torn from a roof from the weight of ice and at the minimum are a maintenance item. Plan roof slopes away from entrances if possible.

Don't vent a bath exhaust fan into the attic. The moisture can condense in the attic area and cause unseen decay.

Do whatever you can to keep crawl space or basement as dry as possible.
Install perimeter drainage.

This lists can also go on and on. Just be thorough in your analysis.

Durable construction details and maintenance items

Remember that water and moisture is the number one enemy to the longevity of your house. Attention to construction detail is a must. Here's a short list of problem spots:

Flashing around windows (remember "the rain follows the plane").
Flashing around all penetrations in walls and roofs.
Maintain paint intregity.
Slope kitchen counters away from wall.
Clean gutters and downspouts of leaves.
Run bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans for longer then you think is necessary.



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