The Handyman: Find out lifespan of household elements

Glenn Haege
Special to The Detroit News
  • Know how long things are supposed to last to see if it makes sense to repair or replace something

When you own a home, you are often faced with decisions regarding whether to buy new items or repair the old ones. Generally, when the cost of repair is close to or even more than the cost of a new product, it just makes sense to buy a new one. But it is also a good idea to know how long things are supposed to last to help determine if it makes sense to repair or replace something.

This time of year, the furnace is one item that homeowners consider replacing, but your furnace can have a longer life expectancy than you may think.

“Newer furnaces are built to last easily 20 years or more if they are maintained properly,” said Jeffrey Sheehan of Johnstone Supply, a wholesaler of heating and cooling equipment, (248) 391-4543, He also said the newer 95 plus models should maintain the higher-efficiency levels for their life expectancy as long as they are maintained.

According to DTE Energy’s Energy Calculator (, if you have an older furnace with a 60 efficiency rating and spend $1,200 a year on your gas bill, replacing it with the highest efficiency model could save you almost $800 a year. So if you plan to stay in your home for five or more years, you can recoup your costs just with the energy savings.

Another item that gets a good workout is your water heater, but often it can live longer than you think.

“A water heater can last 7 to 12 years on average if it isn’t overused and is maintained,” said Mark Ratliff of Hartford and Ratliff, (800) 466-3110, “I had one that lasted 27 years, so it is possible to get long life out of them.”

Maintenance of items like your furnace or air conditioning unit can extend their life, but some things can deteriorate over time based on extreme weather conditions or due to the low quality of the product. A wood deck, for example, has a 15-year life expectancy according to Appendix C, “Life Expectancy of Housing Components,” featured in the Residential Rehabilitation Inspection Guide published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ( The guide provides a list of lifespan on just about everything around the home. But for something like a wood deck, that assumes you properly maintain it, including staining and sealing it regularly with a good quality deck stain or paint. If you never maintain it, you probably won’t reach anywhere near that 15-year life expectancy.

Some item’s life can be extended through regular maintenance; others are often at the whim of the elements, the product quality or the amount of use it gets. Roof shingles can have anywhere from 15 to 30 years of life expectancy, but that wide range is often based on the harsh weather conditions your roof may be exposed to, or even the quality of the roofing shingle itself.

Often, replacement decisions are also made based on personal preference. So that carpet or vinyl floor that still has a lot of life left may have gotten a lot of wear over the years and makes your home look dated. Or while that 10 year old television may still work fine, you may want a new Smart TV with all the bells and whistles to make your sports and movie viewing more enjoyable.

Refrigerators are one item that often outlive their standard life expectancy of 17 years, and are relegated to the man cave or garage to keep beverages cold. But buying a new Energy Star model can save you as much as $15 a year on your energy bill if you replace a 24-cubic-foot model, according to DTE’s Energy Calculator. That doesn’t seem like much, but it will help pay for the cost of a new model that you will probably keep for another 20 years, while making sure it doesn’t break down the day of the big game.

With so many things you could replace around the house, understanding how long things last can help you make educated decisions on which ones to keep or upgrade.

If you would like to suggest a question for this column, e-mail If you want to talk to Glenn Haege, call his “Handyman Show” on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536 between noon and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. “The Handyman Show” can be heard on more than 130 radio stations.