[OPE-L:1837] Houses and construction materials

glevy@acnet.pratt.edu (glevy@acnet.pratt.edu)
Fri, 19 Apr 1996 18:02:36 -0700

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Alan wrote in [OPE-L:1834]:

> What I am getting at, is that material depreciation is a factor
> independent of price movements brought on by external circumstance, and
> which is a direct function of the material and physical exhaustion
> of an artefact.
> Question 1: Is this peculiar to houses? Or is it a general attribute of any
> durable artefact (eg means of production)

In general, yes. The use value of material objects depreciate with both
use and as a consequence of the material properties of the product
(abstracting from market related questions).

> Question 2: Is it in principle possible to estimate the *physical*
> life of an artefact independent of market factors? That is, can we say
> how *long* it would be before the unmaintained house ceased to be a
> house, and became a ruin? It seems to me that in general, it is.

In principle we can estimate the potential "life" of the artefact in the
absence of maintenance. We should also be able to estimate the "life" of
the artefact with customary maintenance (as well as the maintenance cost).

Even if we abstract from market factors, though, we can not abstract from
the material properties and construction of the artefact to make a
reasonable projection. For instance, the depreciation schedule and
maintenance costs would be sensitive to the materials used in
construction, e.g. steel, plywood, fiberglass, ferrocement, etc. Each of
these materials have different material properties and wear out
differently. For instance, steel rusts, aluminum corrodes, wood can rot,
fiberglass (glass-reinforced plastic) can suffer from osmosis, etc.
Additionally, one would have to know the "grade" of material used, e.g.
mild steel or Corten steel; oak or pine, etc. After these materials have
been used for a period of time, reasonable estimates can be made.
However, it is more difficult to make estimates concerning "life" when a
new material is first introduced. For instance, fiberglass was claimed
to last "forever" when it was first introduced in the 1950's. It was
only in the 1970's that the problem of osmosis was discovered (which,
BTW, prematurely decreased the "life" of many thousands of boats and
increased maintenance and repair costs radically).

In OPE-L Solidarity,