How long should things last?

Discussion in 'Just Talk' started by vrDrew63, Jun 9, 2022.

  1. vrDrew63

    vrDrew63 Active Member

    More of a philosophical question than anything else. But one I think is worth keeping in mind.

    How long should things we build, or buy, or make last? Because I'd argue that, with very few exceptions, artefacts ought to have a finite practical useful life.

    Do you really want to be driving around in a forty year old car or van? Think of the safety and performance improvements that have been developed in that time. Airbags, ABS, fuel economy, emissions, braking and tyre performance. Just to name a few. Old cars are fine for collectors and museums. But as working daily drivers? It's probably for the best that most of them have long ago been scrapped.

    The same is probably true of houses and other residential and commercial structures. To be brutally honest, most of the houses and flats built 100+ years ago are simply no longer fit for purpose. They are woefully energy inefficient. They have substandard plumbing. They don't have storage or electrical systems compatible with modern life.

    I'm sure we can come up with exceptions. And, at least as far as architecture is concerned, there are some structures that should be preserved indefinitely.

    But if we look to the natural world, death is the norm. Neither natural evolution nor God Himself have created organisms that live forever.

    Why do we make an exception for hideous, useless, dangerous examples of late 1960s Brutalist architecture?

    Last edited: Jun 9, 2022
  2. stevie22

    stevie22 Screwfix Select

    There is something in what you say but the contra view is "if it ain't broke....."

    There's a rail bridge over the Thames built by Brunel that still carrying trains a century on, and those trains are something like 3x faster and 10x heavier.
    CGN likes this.
  3. furious_customer

    furious_customer Screwfix Select

    I think the legally correct answer to the question is "a reasonable amout of time" - where "reasonable" will differ depending on what the item in question is.
    In the example of the building above, I think its time was up about 40 years ago.
  4. AnotherTopJob

    AnotherTopJob Screwfix Select

    Most buildings if constructed properly from traditional materials should last well. Stricter building regs, deeper foundations and modern durable materials etc should in theory mean a very long life. Some hastily constructed timber-frame new builds possibly not though.

    Services like electrics, plumbing, insulation etc will always need to be modernised over the years, not just because they fail but new improved technology comes along. It doesn't mean the building itself is no longer fit for purpose.
  5. vrDrew63

    vrDrew63 Active Member

    There are a lot of residential buildings, dating from the mid-Victorian through Edwardian eras that were built without (original) provision for indoor plumbing. At some point this deficiency was remedied, which is why you see a profusion of pipes running up the exterior walls. What were once the residences of single affluent middle-class families (with a few servants living in the attics or cellars) are now broken up into a multiple of flats, with provisions for kitchens, bathrooms, and bedrooms on an ad hoc basis. What was an attractive front garden is now turned into a couple of jealously-guarded parking spaces.

    Lifestyles have changed. "I couldn't imagine being so poor I couldn't afford servants. Or being so rich I could afford a car." I think is the quote that comes to mind.

    And yet millions of people in the UK are still living in buildings dating from that era.

    Now Britain is looking at two looming problems with its housing stock. Housing is becoming increasingly simply unaffordable for a growing percentage of our population. And many of these Victorian and Edwardian buildings, well-made as they may be, have no provision for cavity-wall insulation. They were built to be heated with coal-fuelled fireplaces. Significant fractions of the interior volume of the building is given over to unused, and unusable, fireplaces and chimney flues. While Britain generally enjoys a mild and temperate climate (at least compared to most of our Scandinavian, Eastern European, and North American contemporaries) - millions of people in Britain will find it increasingly unaffordable to heat their (overpriced) homes.

    I'd argue that many of those buildings have outlived their useful life.
    Abbadon2001 likes this.
  6. Sneeze

    Sneeze Member

    Do you really want to be driving around in a forty year old car or van?

    Depends how clean the roof is
    candoabitofmoststuff likes this.
  7. AnotherTopJob

    AnotherTopJob Screwfix Select

    It's the energy cost crisis that's made older, uninsulated houses unaffordable to heat. Whether that means they have outlived their useful life I'm not sure.

    They will always have been inefficient regardless of the heat source, and most owners will have accepted running costs will be higher than a modern home.
    It's just recently costs have escalated beyond what anyone anticipated.
    stevie22 likes this.
  8. Tilt

    Tilt Screwfix Select

    Most things are built to a price nowadays..... and also people have gotten used to a throwaway culture.

    @vrDrew63 What you mention regarding old vehicles, most of what you mention can be fitted and / or upgraded / tweaked anyway, and frequently this is what happens. I get what you say tho.

    Personally, I hate the throwaway culture. If you watch the programmes on things like landfill issues and plastics in the ocean, I think it doesn't look good.
    I work in student accommodation and the amount of stuff and sometimes a lot of perfectly good things that get thrown away amazes me......

    I think, and would like to see, things that can be, being built to last longer, better quality items rather than lots of cheap throwaway tat, but I guess it will never change.
  9. vrDrew63

    vrDrew63 Active Member

    I hate the "throwaway culture" too. I personally wear (and treasure) watches and use tools owned by my grandfathers. They are, in every sense of the word, functionally and aesthetically superior to what I can buy today. They were, might I add, almost all serviced and cared for throughout their lifetimes.

    But they are all less than a hundred years old. And I recognise that there will inevitably come a point at which they might need to come out of daily rotation. That the vintage Omegas and Hamiltons might need to go into a safe-deposit box, and the Starret micrometers and dial indicators might best be sent to an engineering museum.

    I respect and treasure the past. But I'm also acutely aware that our world doesn't belong to our ancestors. No matter how much we might revere and honour them. The world belongs to the young, to the generations yet to come. We owe it to those generations to bequeath them a world as clean, as unpolluted, as vibrant and healthy as we possibly can.

    I'm far from convinced we're doing future generations any favours at all by dogmatically "saving" architectural mistakes like the Scottish seminary I referenced in my original post. And probably a couple million more old brick residential structures here in the UK.
    Abbadon2001 likes this.
  10. AnotherTopJob

    AnotherTopJob Screwfix Select

    But knocking down existing buildings and constructing new ones is anything but clean and unpolluting.
  11. Tilt

    Tilt Screwfix Select

    Interesting to see how 'environmentally friendly' Electric cars actually prove to be ....... in the long term.

    Taking into account the battery's limited lifetime, and the production of the electric itself...... amongst the other usual build materials.

    Not saying it's a bad thing. I like the idea but don't like just scrapping older cars just for the sake of it.
    gadget man and rogerk101 like this.
  12. AnotherTopJob

    AnotherTopJob Screwfix Select

    Older ICE vehicles should be able to continue running for some years after the EV deadline. However, they will probably be priced off the road eventually through escalating fuel and taxation costs.
    Abbadon2001 likes this.
  13. Tilt

    Tilt Screwfix Select

    Yes, I was more referring to the old scrappage scheme and the likes of.

    I agree re them being priced off the road eventually tho. Cheers.
  14. Harry Stottle

    Harry Stottle Screwfix Select

    Electric cars are throwaway items, once the batteries have reached their charge/discharge cycle limit, the cost of replacement reduces the cars to only scrap value.
    BiancoTheGiraffe likes this.

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