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How to Build or Renovate a House that Lasts Longer, for Less Money

Updated: Jul 8, 2023

Your House May Not Last Longer Than Your Housecoat

Why do most houses that haven't been renovated in 20+ years usually look neglected? Some rare treasures of the world were designed and built to last ages, but strangely your house isn't one of them. I will tell you how to change that.

Planned obsolescence and general poor quality manufacturing has resulted in nearly everything falling apart much earlier than it should, and that includes your two largest purchases - your car and your house. Both home renovation costs and new house building costs in BC are huge. Affordable construction is only a relative term, so if you're building a new home or updating your existing one, you need guidance to stretch the money you're spending.

In an earlier article "Top 10 Ways to Reduce the Cost of Building a House", I spell out the ten main cost-saving strategies and a dozen common ineffective ways people try to reduce the initial construction price. In this article, I will focus on the THREE MOST IMPORTANT ITEMS to replace in a renovation or to incorporate in a new house build that will have a big impact on the LONGEVITY OF THE HOUSE.

Water-resistive air barrier

Your protection against the biggest and most insidious threat to the integrity of your house is the air barrier - a layer whose job is to prevent air from the exterior from entering the home and to prevent treated air inside from escaping to the outdoors.

Most house construction no longer uses the stiff, black paper ("building paper") and instead uses a polymer-laden, white paper-like sheet (usually Tyvek). The clear plastic sheet on the inside of the walls can trap excessive moisture in the wall yet is not an effective, continuous air barrier. Instead, use a self-adhering non-woven air barrier. To read more about air barriers, read my article "Better Indoor Air Quality Using Better Air Barriers".

Heat Recovery Ventilator

Imagine paying to heat the entire volume of air in your home during the winter, then blow it all out the door and bring in new, cold air. Do that several times an hour. Every hour, every day. Consider the money you're wasting there. It sounds stupid, but it's roughly how any furnace-heated house works in the winter. In the summer, you simply don't get an appreciable amount of fresh air - you're breathing someone else's bad breath and stale farts..

Imagine instead that before you blow the warm, stale air out the door, you use it to heat the incoming fresh air almost up to room temperature. In the summer, you use the cooled interior air to cool down the incoming fresh air. This is what happens inside the Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) - basically a sophisticated heat exchanger - that provides fresh air ALL THE TIME, YEAR-ROUND. To learn more about typical stale-air systems and the HRV fresh-air system, read my article "HEALTHY HOMES: Breathing Better and Saving Money With A Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV)"

Continuous Exterior Insulation

Run cold water through your kitchen faucet for a couple minutes, and watch the condensation. In very cold weather, the studs in the exterior walls are cold, and condensation forms in the wall. Similarly, notice the bathroom mirror after a steamy shower. The outer face of your walls may do the same thing during hot, muggy weather if you have an air-conditioned housed. In both cases, that condensation provides the moisture necessary for the growth of black mold that rots your structure and contaminates your interior air.

Since you're installing a new, better air barrier membrane, you should take the opportunity to install insulation outside of the plywood/OSB sheathing. This could be either extruded polystyrene or mineral fibre, but both will eliminate or greatly reduce the occurrence of condensation within the walls.

These three upgrades are the most impactful things to incorporate into either a renovation or a new home build. Most people think about cosmetic upgrades - interior or exterior - which already cost a great deal of money. If you're renovating, don't wait until the damage has occurred. If the structure - the bones - of the house are already failing, the new cabinetry, new siding, or new flooring will have to be taken out anyway when the bones are replaced. Making these three changes instead will give your house a LOT longer life.

Those who are dreaming of a much better house can ready my article, "Grab The Keys To An Ultra High-Performance Home", but anyone can download my Home Performance Assessment to see how their existing house fits on the spectrum of performance and accordingly understand if it's likely to last longer.

If you'd like to discuss your options for improving the longevity of your existing or new house, please book a free, 30-minute Diagnostic Session using the link below.


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