How long would it take for a building to decay?

Homes are built to last for ages as they protect you against elements such as wind, snow, sunshine, and rain. But they’re not indestructible. The same elements they protect you against eventually act on them. So, how long would it take for a building to decay?

Buildings usually take hundreds of years to decay, but the actual destruction happens faster. Factors such as shape and size of the building, construction materials, maintenance habits and age, water, weather, vegetation, and the quality of construction will determine how fast a building collapse.

These factors will eventually affect the house’s structure and lead to its collapse. But it might take centuries or even thousands before these materials eventually turn into natural matter. Here, we discuss the factors that cause buildings to decay.

Factors that Cause Building Decay

The time it’ll take for a building to decay will depend on several factors. These include:

1.  Shape And Size of The House

The shape and size of the house will also determine how fast it’ll collapse and then decay. This is because the bigger it is, the more matter time has to act upon. For example, a skyscraper will take longer to deteriorate and eventually decay than a single-family home. Skyscrapers are built to last for between 500 to 1000 years, so they would take much longer to crumble and eventually decay.

2.  Materials

The materials and quality of construction will also matter because building materials vary in strength. Biodegradable materials such as wood will decay faster when compared to others such as concrete or brick. For wood, there are lots of weather elements that could act on it. Water could make it rot; a fire could burn it into coal or even ashes. If it’s not properly treated, termites could infect it and eat it till it collapses. This makes the fastest material to decay.

Others, such as bricks and concrete, will take longer. For example, although brick is made from the earth, which makes it biodegradable, it has passed through various processes to become a brick, and it’ll take a lot more time to reverse the clock and return it to its initial form. Concrete generally lasts for the longest time. Reinforced concrete could last for up to 500 years before it eventually falls apart due to steel inside the concrete rusting. Concrete can last for over 100 years before it decomposes, even though it might break down faster.

3.  Quality of Construction

The quality of the construction will also come to play. Untreated wood will rot faster and can easily be affected by termites. The same thing goes for low-quality concrete mixtures or concrete that isn’t cured properly. They develop cracks faster, allowing water to enter and cause further damage, which could eventually lead to collapse. Poor quality concrete will also break down faster due to weather elements.

4.  Maintenance Habits and Age

Maintenance matters, and that’s why most homes that collapse are usually abandoned. It’s possible for a structure made with any material to last for decades or even longer and still look like they’re in excellent condition. This is due to the proper maintenance of the structure. If a building is left uninhabited for a few years, the decay rate will be much faster. The age of the house when maintenance stops will also matter. For example, if a new home is abandoned, it’ll not decay as fast as if a home that’s already decades-old is abandoned. The reason most homes decay when abandoned is due to lack of maintenance. So, if you’re living in a house and choose not to maintain it, it could also suffer the same fate as if it was abandoned. But first, it’ll become unbearable for you to keep living it.

5.  Weather

Weather plays a significant role in the collapse of the house and the speed of decay. When the structure is in the open and has to face all the elements, the kind of weather in the location will affect how quickly the house will crumble. A high amount of rainfall and snowfall will speed up the destruction and eventual decay of the building.

6.  Water

Water is the foremost enemy of any building. The chain of events that’ll eventually lead to the collapse and eventual decay usually starts with water, whether at the roof of the foundation. When water enters through the roof, it seeps into the trusses and shingles holding the roof together and gradually leads it to rot. Shingles are usually supposed to last between 20 to 30 years, and exposure to water from rainfall will generally quicken their decay. Once they rot, the water gets into the house itself and affects the roof.

If water doesn’t get in through the roof, it could enter through the house envelope, which is the exterior walls, door frames, and window sashes just outside the outer shell of the building. While it’ll usually start on a small scale, it’ll gradually go deeper, causing rot if it’s a house built with wood or weakening a concrete or brick wall. Thus, homes in areas with a large amount of rainfall or flooding will likely collapse and decay faster than those in dry areas, even if the house is built with bricks or concrete; once water can enter the walls and freeze and contract in the winter, further weakening the structure. It might take longer in a warm climate, but as long as the water is able into the property, collapse is inevitable. Water generally catalyzes other things such as rots, compression, and termites.

7.  Vegetation

Water usually encourages vegetation on buildings, and when plants start growing, this further weakens the structure. The common things you’ll find in any abandoned building are moss, fungi, and plants all over the walls. These plants will attract other organisms such as animals, insects, and birds to the house, further quickening the decay.

In Conclusion

There’s no set time for how soon a building will decay. But before it decays, it’ll first have to collapse, which could take decades or centuries depending on several factors. Of course, demolishing the house yourself will speed up the collapse, but the decay process could still take centuries. That’s why most materials from demolished houses are used as sand fills for other places instead.