Reuben Saltzman

End of life expectancy: what does this mean during a home inspection, and what should you do about it?

Here at Structure Tech, we struggle with the phrase “end of life expectancy”. This phrase strikes fear in the hearts of first-time home buyers and sometimes leads to expensive demands from home buyers to home sellers. So what the heck does that mean, and what is a buyer supposed to do with this information?

What is “end of life expectancy”?

The ASHI Standard of Practice requires us to report on things that “are near the end of their service lives”. Most commonly, this is large appliances such as furnaces, air conditioners, boilers, and water heaters. These components all have average life expectancies, just like people do. So here’s where it gets uncomfortable.

My Google machine tells me that men in the United States have an average life expectancy of about 77 years. If I applied these home inspection standards to a person, I might report a 70-year-old man as being near the end of his life expectancy. And I would report on a 77-year-old as being at the end of his life expectancy. If I were a 77-year-old man and someone told me that, I wouldn’t appreciate it one little bit. I plan to still be in great health by the time I’m 77 years old… but the numbers don’t lie. Averages are simply averages. Some die much sooner, while some live much longer.

This applies to appliances, too. I’ve seen furnaces that had to be replaced after a few years, and I’ve seen furnaces last 50 years. I’ve personally replaced many water heaters that were only seven years old, and I’ve seen plenty of water heaters that were over 40 years old.

So when your home inspector tells you that an appliance is at or near the end of its life expectancy, we’re simply reporting on averages. We’re not telling you it’s going to die soon. Your appliances could still be working fine a decade from now.

What to do with this information

When your home inspector tells you that a component in a home is at or near the end of its life expectancy, they’re giving you information about the house. They’re not giving you an action item.

Most of the stuff we report on has three components: (1) what the condition is, (2) why it matters, and (3) what to do about it. When we report on stuff that’s old, we’re not telling people to do anything about it, other than to plan on replacing it when it fails. That’s it, that’s all.

So what should you do about this? If the appliance is old but still functional, simply be aware. If you want to take action, maybe you’d want to adjust your budget to ensure you can cover the cost of the appliance when it dies. Or perhaps you’d want to purchase a home warranty, or maybe purchase a home service plan like those offered by Centerpoint Energy. Remember, your home inspector cannot know how long an appliance will last. We’re just reporting on averages.

What to not do

Don’t ask for the replacement of old but functional appliances from the home seller. If you’re buying a used house, you’ll have many components at various stages of life. This comes with the territory. Most real estate agents I’ve talked to agree that it’s downright unrealistic to ask home sellers to replace stuff just because it’s old. The only exception would be if a seller gave you false information about the age of their appliances.

Average Life Expectancies

Here are some average life expectancies for appliances in Minnesota homes:

  • Furnace: 15-20 years
  • Air conditioner: 15-20 years
  • Boiler: 25-30 years
  • Water heater: 10 years