What level of performance degradation is expected?
Is failure of the component gradual or catastrophic?
Will functionality or appearance dictate repair/ replacement?
Will aesthetically compromised but functional components require repair or replacement?
Will lifestyle choices support functionality and durability targets?
Are use patterns, employment requirements, skill levels, and other factors consistent with functionality and durability targets?
Making Good Choices
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Choices between functionality and durability can be conflicting. For example, using a wood stove for heating requires a great deal of daily input (monitoring indoor temperature, lighting and stoking fires) to be functional, as well as regular maintenance (ash removal, chimney cleaning). However, a woodstove is also a remarkably durable appliance unlikely to need replacement for generations, and any required repairs tend to be straightforward. Conversely, a thermostatically controlled heat pump doesn’t require any daily input or regular maintenance from the homeowner, but it may need replacement within 10-20 years, and any required repairs will need to be done by a licensed technician. Either choice can make perfect sense for the right homeowner.
The critical factor when considering functionality and durability is to be realistic about your own commitment to interacting with the functionality and maintenance of your home.
It is important that decisions about different components are not made in isolation. Having one or two daily or weekly “chores” to maintain functionality may seem feasible, but each seemingly reasonable choice can add to an overall regimen that is overwhelming. Similarly, committing to a small amount of regular interaction with your home’s functionality can be rewarding and doesn’t have to be cause for avoiding certain choices.
The movement toward a more sustainable built environment will not reach its maximum potential until it becomes more culturally acceptable to participate in the functionality of our homes. Our creation of ecologically problematic buildings mirrors the movement to a “maintenance-free” built environment. Many potentially transformative building systems remain sidelined because of a general unwillingness on behalf of homeowners to engage in simple maintenance tasks of any kind. Opting for some kind of maintenance regimen — whether once every 10-20 years or once a day — is opening the door to more sustainable options.