I’m seeing a trend lately with home buyers. Lots and lots of people are looking to buy a house in the 15 year old category. 15, give or take a few years. But buying a house in that age range can be the kiss of death. Because almost every big ticket item within a house has a lifespan of…you guessed it…about 15 years. And that can be a big hit to your pocketbook.
Most homes in my area are asphalt shingles. One of the biggest misconceptions in the industry is how long shingles really last before they need replacing. Shingles are rated and sold in years: 20, 25, 30, and so on. Very, very few actually last that long. Usually, shingles last 75% of their marketed lifespan. So a 20-year shingle will net you 15 years, or close to it. Most homes have 20-25 year 3-tab shingles. If you follow that 75% rule and are looking to buy a 15-year old home, you’ve got just a few short years before it will need a roof if it doesn’t need one already. Much of a shingle’s life depends greatly on location and exposure. If the home sit in the sun all day with no shade, the shingles will dry out sooner than a home that is tucked away in the woods.
No pleasure, no rapture, no exquisite sin greater… than central air. Remember the movie Dogma? No? Never mind. We are a culture who base our buildings’ HVAC design on heating. The A/C is an afterthought. But ask anyone in Louisville, KY in August what’s important. A/C will be the answer. A central air conditioner is a piece of equipment that has an average lifespan of 15 years. Could you get more out of it? Sure. But I call those blessing machines. Every time it comes on is a blessing. Many folks know the sting of having a unit go out before its time. My old Goodman died at only 9 years old in the middle of a sweltering July. It happens.
It’s not uncommon for a gas furnace to last longer than 15 yrs. I see lots of 15-20 year old furnaces. However that 15 year number is considered the average lifespan. If you are lucky enough for your A/C to last 15 years or so, you’ll be faced with the decision of replacing it by itself and leaving an old furnace, or doing a complete upgrade and getting a new furnace as well. Most HVAC companies offer a discount if you get both new furnace and A/C at the same time. In my book, it only makes sense to pull the trigger on both pieces at the same time, especially if you are past that 15 year mark.
Most water heaters never make it to the 15 year mark, but some do. Leaving a water heater in place until it fails is never a good idea. It is the one device that can actually cause damage to your home when it dies. If you have a water heater older than 10-12 years, take a close look at it. If it’s starting to rust and corrode, it’s time to replace. If you wait until it dies or starts to leak before replacing, it could cost you twice as much…because in addition to the cost of the heater, you’ll be repairing water damage as well.
It is important to remember that all of these numbers are averages. I’ve seen 30 year old furnaces still working, and water heaters replaced after 6 years. But as you search for your new home, pay attention to the age of the mechanics and the roof. Pay attention to the sellers’ disclosure as well. The age of all of these items should be stated there. Sometimes sellers have these marked as “unknown,” which usually means “It’s old, but I just don’t know how old.” It happens a few times a month during my home inspections in Louisville – potential buyers get that wide eyed look of fear when I tell them they need to plan on replacing many of these components soon. If all of those purchases hit you at once, you could easily be looking at $20,000.00 in cost. It’s a scary number for sure, and it’s not something you want to get caught with.
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