Okay, I recently learned that most appliances/things start breaking once the house reaches around 20 years. I'm running 19 now.

From what I have heard, roof (although mine is apparently a 30 year roof), washer/dryer, stove, dishwasher, refrigerator, water heater (i have decided to replace it without waiting for it to break) will all start breaking by this time. Luckily my heater and A/C system is only 5 years old.

Is this generally true? I know it probably depends on the usage etc etc. I'm a first time home owner with 3 years under the belt now. I'm still learning even some of the basic things in most categories. So, my question is, is there anything I need to be wary of, anything I can do to prolong the life of these?

Everything is going up in price. To install a new water heater, it costs around $1050 with all the code equipment, installation etc. So, if I can prolong anything, I will.

  • 4
    Unless there is a problem with the water heater, why are you spending $1000 to replace it?
    – JayL
    Aug 23, 2011 at 2:14
  • 3
    Are you looking for "what will break next, so I can budget for it?" or "how can I maximize the life of my house and enclosed apliances?"
    – Jay Bazuzi
    Aug 23, 2011 at 2:15
  • 2
    To answer Jay L, I have heard that it is better not to wait for the water heater to have a problem. Its really old, so better replace it now before it floods the basement possibly. To answer Jay B, I suppose I am asking for an Idea about what to expect. What are the areas I need to look for that might break. Budgeting is one thing, if its broke, I have to fix it anyway in most situations.
    – coder net
    Aug 23, 2011 at 23:44
  • Regarding the water heater, it's probably a better idea to learn how to maintain and service it properly rather than replace it out of paranoia, possibly with a worse model. Here you go: waterheaterrescue.com
    – iLikeDirt
    May 2, 2014 at 13:42

4 Answers 4


It makes complete sense to replace your water heater early, because the failure mode for most of the older ones is "break and drain all over the inside of your house" -- and the 'drip pan' can only catch so much.

You don't say where you're from, so I can't give you any climate or region-specific suggestions on what to replace and what not to replace. I know that down here in Texas, a "30 year roof" does not mean that your roof will last 30 years because there are too many variables... including tree cover, rainfall amount, temperature, what kind of tar paper they used on the original install... the best you can expect is to have to replace the roof at 30 years; the nominal life of a "30 year" roof when installed perfectly is about 25 years before you start risking the sheathing. Once it's degraded to the point where shingles crack easily, all it takes is one good thunderstorm to blow a bunch of shingles off.

Depending on what kind of siding you have, the max life is also about 25 to 30 years -- especially if you have wood. I've replaced most of the T1-11 siding on my house with HardiPanel. It was worth it for the insurance discount as well.

Insulation in your attic is PROBABLY insufficient compared to normal modern standards, and your roof probably does not have baffles installed at the soffits. This is something I'd pay someone to do; have someone come in and add soffit baffles (and increase ventilation if you can safely) and blow in insulation until you're at R-60 in your attic. I feel the same about windows and doors, actually -- they should be replaced after 20-30 years of service -- but we're veering back into energy efficiency here.

Appliances are an obvious one. You can get by with not replacing a stove or a gas dryer, but washer, refrigerator, and dishwasher should probably all have been replaced by now with more efficient ones.

The only other thing I can think of off of the top of my head that tends to go 'boom' suddenly is toilet and sink shutoff valves, unless they're the quarter turn or ball valve type. If they aren't, consider replacing them with ones that are quarter turn or preferably ball valve.

Things I would have inspected or done yearly include pest inspection and treatment, chimney sweep/inspection, tree trimming if you have trees near the house, make sure your gutters are clear and clean and drain properly, and make sure that your yard is still graded so that water flows away from your house as opposed to towards it. Other things that haven't been mentioned but can blow up suddenly but can't be inspected for include foundation problems in slab-on-grade construction, garage door adjustment/spring, and issues with flooring if the flooring is still original to the house.

What you should be pursuing is energy efficiency. In the process of pursuing energy efficiency, you will probably uncover many of the problems you would otherwise experience before they become critical. A good example is when I put new windows in; I discovered a mold problem and an old insect problem that had never been remediated ... and ended up tearing down half of my house to fix it!

  • also add in replacing garage door with a more modern door if it is one of the older fiberglass doors, re-sodding lawn, repaint house/pressure wash, replace broken / missing soffits, look for cracks in stucco and seal them, replace garbage disposal with more efficient model ($399 for most expensive at Home Depot), re-seal driveway, plant new plants Aug 23, 2011 at 10:40
  • Ooh, Good point on the sealing cracks in a masonry fascia. Re-sealing expansion joints, too, and making sure that other cracks don't appear. I sort of do that without thinking. Aug 23, 2011 at 19:45
  • Thanks a lot for all those points. +1. I'm not sure about the whole energy efficiency thing though. For instance, lets say it costs me $3000 to replace all my windows. I may be losing $30 a month on an average for the whole year with some decent windows that I have now. Thats $360 a year and to add this upto 3k, its almost 8 years and this is not considering inflation and interest. But if I have to replace them, I might considering depending on cost benefit ratio.
    – coder net
    Aug 23, 2011 at 23:50
  • If you have single paned windows, it's almost always more effective to replace them with dual pane windows. If you have dual pane windows, and they're still in good condition (seals haven't rotted and allowed the fill gas out) then they're fine to keep. There's also a personal comfort and quality of living gain from dual paned windows: They block a lot more sound, which makes you sleep more comfortably. Aug 24, 2011 at 1:27
  • luckily i do have dual pane windows that are in good condition.
    – coder net
    Aug 24, 2011 at 23:18

If your refrigerator really is 20 years old, you should investigate whether it makes sense to buy a new, more energy efficient one. The electric utility may provide a rebate in addition to what you will save on electricity.

Most of the appliances you mention should last a very long time with little maintenance. For the dryer you should keep the lint trap and the vent hose clean. For the dishwasher, there is usually a filter inside that catches food that should be keep clean.

If you're concerned about having to pay for several appliances that might all fail close to one another, just start a savings account and budget a small amount into it each month.

  • Yes, I may need to have a budget just for this. Good point about the refrigerator. With roof and other appliances, i'm looking at around 10k, eventually.
    – coder net
    Aug 23, 2011 at 23:58

There are no definite answers here. Lifespan of your appliances depends on how often you use them, how well you take care of them, quality of the appliance in question (bargain basement vs premium brand), and dumb luck.

You can replace your water heater now as a preventative measure, and you'll be kicking yourself when your fridge dies tomorrow. However, you are correct that most of your appliances are starting to reach the end of their expected lifespan.

Your water heater is probably the riskiest item. It can fail catastrophically (leak, gush, water damage, bad). Most other appliances can fail and inconvenience you for a few days (spoiled food may be the worst part), but will not do any major damage.

Here is what I would do:

  1. Have a rainy-day fund. General financial advice is to keep ~6 months worth of income in a savings account. This is enough to cover almost any failed appliance and associated home repair.

  2. Invest in some leak sensors. Buy several of them and place them near critical points in your plumbing:

    • water heater
    • water softener
    • under every sink
    • condensation lines for your A/C
    • dish washer
    • laundry
  3. Inspect for Problems Regularly

    • Check your faucet screens for sediment. This can be a sign your water heater is breaking down.
    • What is the condition of your water heater anode? (Pull it out and check.) A depleted anode means your water heater tank may be on its way out.
    • Look in your attic for any signs of water infiltration or other damage
    • Climb on your roof and make sure all your shingles are still in place.
    • Check the basement for problems with any structural parts of the house.
    • Check the exterior for rotting wood or problems with the siding that can lead to water getting in.

I wouldn't worry about the appliances too much. Even if they break unexpectedly, it won't be the end of the world without a dryer for week. If you are looking for economical solution, I also suggest looking at craiglist. There's frequently very good deals on barely used stuff.

I would also be wary of various "energy efficient" improvements. If you have older wooden windows and you think that they wasting heat, it would be much cheaper to install extra storm windows then get new "efficient" vinyl windows. Not to mention the fact that vinyl windows a inferior to wooden ones.

  • 1
    "vinyl windows a inferior to wooden ones." It's a little more complicated than that. Like most choices, each has pros and cons.
    – RQDQ
    Dec 27, 2011 at 14:02

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