All endurance needs is a failure to fail
Failures happen, eventually, to everything. Some things last longer than others, and those are the things we want to use in this project. The attribute of timelessness in any man-made structure is relative, so let's be practical. We're not trying to build anything eternal; we're trying to build a house that can hang together, largely without needing major repairs or replacements, and if we're lucky, not suffering overly much for its age. 40 years... 40 drops of the ball at Times Square... but 5 times longer than most people live in any one house.
What are the enemies of endurance? For wood, it's moisture and termites and sun. For windows, it's big temperature swings, frost intrusion and frame distortion. For foundations, it's water incursions and surrounding soil instability. For roofing it's natural aging. For pipes, it's scaling inside and stresses outside. For wiring, it's corrosion. For interior walls, it's moisture and stress. And the list goes on.
Components of failure
We're starting to see a few common threads.
There's moisture, which is capable of rusting metal, encouraging mold growth, softening gypsum walls, distorting window frames, warping boards from roof to floors and other forms of damage.
There's extreme heat and cold, and their effects on expansion, leading to stresses that invite failures.
We can't ignore insects, especially termites. Neither should we ignore the larger rodents (mice, rats, chipmunks and squirrels) or, for that matter, birds. If they can get in, damage will follow.
Time, of course, also has its impact; even once the accelerants of deterioration are removed, nothing can prevent the entropy of aging.
Components of success
What are the antidotes to those components of failure?
We can't immunize against entropy but we can choose materials that age more slowly than their traditional counterparts. We have to be clever in choosing the right ingredients for the house.
We know, for example, that engineered lumber ages much more slowly than dimensional (traditional) lumber and is all but immune to moisture. We know that adding borate to the insulating foam of an ICF foundation does a great deal to discourage insects.
We know that better insulation (both insulation inherent to the building materials we choose and insulation we add) helps keep the extremes of temperature from coming indoors. We know that backup power and redundancy are important to electronic systems.
And we'll get into more specifics in our Products discussions.
Huge differences in expectations for longevity don't always appear when making choices among building materials and techniques, but where they do we must seek them out, and when the differences are less than huge they may still be worth pursuing.
We mentioned using engineered lumber rather than dimensional lumber; we can mention some similar decisions here, but deeper discussions happen in our Products section.
We choose SIP (Structural Insulated Panel) walls instead of a stick build (with 2x4 studs and ad hoc insulation). We choose an ICF (insulated concrete form) foundation instead of a concrete block or concrete slab. We choose metal sheets rather than asphalt panels for roofing. We choose an extra inch of driveway depth.
Every time we do the math on the total cost of ownership, it more than justifies the higher initial prices of the better materials.
Chain of consequence
Is there some positive counterpart to the negative metaphor of dominoes falling, taking others in line to their downfall as well?
Chain-of-consequence effects can have as much of a positive impact on longevity as better material choices. Our favorite example is treating the whole-house water supply with special attention to eliminating scale. Scale can shorten the life expectancy of hot water heaters, plumbing pipes, faucets, shower heads, washing machines, dishwashers and more.
There are other examples. Better insulation at the outer shell of the house makes internal insulation less critical. Insulated (double-wall) ventilation ducts eliminate heat and energy waste as well as noise. Autonomous operation of lighting and devices goes beyond convenience to also reduce energy waste.
And, as it turns out, some of the things we do to improve endurance are things that also improve survivability.
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