1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

How long do buildings last ?

  1. Dec 6, 2007 #1
    How long do concrete - steel constructions last in time ? Does anyone know ? For example how long would the buildings (skyscrapers and even the normal 2 floor buildings) in NYC last without any further maintenance ? 200 or 1,000 years ?

    And more in general how long can we expect concrete - steel buildings to last of any type, even one or two story buildings ? How long can wood frame homes last as is usual in suburbs of the US ? Is a wood home of 100 years old almost finished as far as lifetime goes ? Can they last more than 100 years ? Thanks if anyone has any ideas.

    And at what point is maintenance costs higher than just tearing down the buildings and building a new one ?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 6, 2007 #2
    Concrete constructions can fail due to several reasons, not restricted to just wear and tear. If you want to estimate the lifespan of a building, you would also have to take into consideration factors like whether new buildings will be built near it etc. Such factors may introduce cracking or differential settlement in the building, which may lead to failure over time.

    Generally for steel constructions, you'd have to see if the steel has been prestressed before construction. Prestressed steel are typically more durable and able to sustain larger loads as compared to steel which have not been prestressed.

    Wood frame homes are more susceptible to failure as they're prone to getting insect attacks (i.e. termites). If we're talking about timber, it generally lasts for about 20yrs if it has been treated before construction. Otherwise, its lifespan is significantly shorter.

    Hope this helps a little. ^^
  4. Dec 6, 2007 #3


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Huh? My father is living in a timber-framed house that is over 200 years old, and it shows no signs of falling down anytime soon. As long as you've got a decent roof, siding, etc to keep out the weather, wood is pretty durable.
  5. Dec 6, 2007 #4
    So any quick estimates in general ? Wood frame 100 to 200 years ? Concrete and steel 200 to 300 years ? I ask also because I am thinking of how old the USA infrastructure is geting and how much it could cost. Also bridges, roads ? Will it cost too much ?
  6. Dec 6, 2007 #5


    User Avatar

    Yeah, there are a lot of 600+ (?) year old houses around, made from wood.
  7. Dec 6, 2007 #6

    jim mcnamara

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Not to digress, but there are adobe buildings in the Pueblo down the road that are at least 800 years old. There is documentation from the time of the Conquistadors for these buildings, and oral history dates them further back.

    There is no one good answer because there are too many variables. All structures and infrastructure elements require maintenance. Bad maintenance = short longevity, good maintenance=longer usable lifespan.

    Overuse affects our current interstate road system. Many interstate bridges have expected lifespans of less than forty years, and are rebuilt on that schedule.

    What you are referring to is failure to maintain. This 'no spend' mentality will eventually cause more and more emergency repairs and rebuilds. We are far behind the curve right now in the US.

    The American Society of Civil Engineers view things with this report card for the year 2005:
    http://www.asce.org/reportcard/2005/page.cfm?id=103 [Broken]

    The link above answers the 'will it cost too much' question...
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  8. Dec 6, 2007 #7


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    The maintenance costs for structures is always a big part (billions) in a country's budget. Sometimes the structures could be restored, and sometimes they must be replaced. In the structural sense asphaltic concrete pavements tend to be more expensive rather than reinforced concrete, wood and steel structures. The reason is because of the long length of highways which require a sizable volume of asphaltic concrete mix. Sometimes patching is enough, but overlays are common.

    Btw, Highways are designed commonly for periods of 20-30 years. This means the highways combined of the country need replacing in shorter time than buildings (assuming these are kept in working conditions).
  9. Dec 7, 2007 #8


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Every now and then in Pennsylvania, someone will rip the siding off of their old house (not knowing just how old it is) and find they are living in a 250 year old log cabin.

    The frames of buildings don't really need maintenance, just protection. The exterior needs maintenance, and what often kills buildings is that the maintenance isn't done on the exterior, which then leads to degredation of the frame.
  10. Dec 7, 2007 #9
    You might take a look at some of the writings of Albert Speer, Hitler's architect. Forget the NAZI stuff - that was just idiotic - and read the work he did on the ruins value of various buildings, i.e., if you abandon a cathedral and come back in 500 years, what does it look like?
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2007
  11. Dec 23, 2007 #10
    There are several kinds of commercial building construction commonly used in North America. So why would someone build a commercial warehouse, retail space, warehousing, a church, school, farm, or municipal structure choose a steel building?

    The simple answer is that steel buildings offer a cost effective, flexible, low maintenance and energy efficient structure that can be designed to fit almost any situation.

    The strength of steel also makes it an ideal material for buildings where a large open floor space is required. Steel buildings can have a clear-span of up to 300 feet wide. This gives the designer and builder of commercial buildings a very large space that is column-free, and adds the flexibility to satisfy complex space designs while maintaining an obstacle free space.

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 23, 2017
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook