Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to buy something new and have it be new forever?

A set of dishes would break or chip. A new sweater would stay fresh and in shape. A new car would always have that clean, out-of-the factory smell.

But the ability to stay brand new would be most useful with a home. Ideally, your new home would stay in the same condition as the day you bought it – or after the punch list had been fixed.

Your new house would never have loose caulk around the bathtub. It would never need a new roof or require repainting to stay in perfect condition. It truly would be a maintenance-free home.

You can eliminate some of the work needed on a new home or a new renovation by choosing low maintenance materials. For example, vinyl siding will need only to be power-washed every year or two and brick will need tuckpointing every 15 to 20 years, if it’s done right. But if you choose to put clapboard siding on your home, it will need priming and painting every few years.

A slate roof will need to be replaced every 100 to 150 years. A cedar-shingled roof will need replacing every 30 to 40 years. But a less expensive asphalt shingle roof could go in 15 to 20 years.

It wouldn’t be so bad to have to replace something every 20 or 30 years. But like their owners, homes age. And if you don’t do regular maintenance, your home will deteriorate quickly.

Why is that? According to Criterrium Engineers, a structural engineering firm, homes are built out of materials that decompose. Wood, which is still used to frame most homes, starts to deteriorate as soon as the tree is cut down. Wood is susceptible to rot, insect infestation, and damage from water. If you don’t maintain the interior structure of your home, what you do with the rest of the home won’t matter.

Water can destroy much of your home. Without properly grading your landscape away from your home, rain and snow can seep down the side of your home into your basement. Even if your basement is watertight, water can worm its way along the edge of your foundation, slowly wearing away at hairline cracks in the cement until it manages to seep into your basement. If you don’t maintain your water drainage or storm sewer systems, it can cause a backup into your basement through the pipes.

Grout and silicone sealant failure allows water to seep into the cracks between your tile and tub, working its way into the greenboard or drywall behind. From there, water will find the lowest level, and a leak could cause substantial damage to various parts of your home.

A tiny roof leak left untended can cause large parts of your house to rot and become unsafe structurally.

Although wood is relatively delicate, requiring much maintenance, the man-made materials used to build your home require maintenance as well. If you don’t change your air filters frequently (perhaps even monthly), it’s possible for dirt and bacteria to begin circulating through your home. Nails can rust, glass can break, and a bad wind or snowstorm can pull off your roof shingles or siding. All of these things can shorten the lifespan of your home.

After a couple of years, the way you use your new home or renovation affects how the property ages. Your new home may settle, causing cracks in the ceramic tile or even tiny cracks in the foundation. If you don’t maintain enough humidity inside your home during the winter, your hardwood floors (not to mention your wood furniture) may shrink or crack. Rain may wash away part of your landscaping, allowing water to seep in near the foundation wall. Your blacktop driveway may start to break off or develop chips on the edges.

You could let your home go, and not worry about maintaining it. But then the deterioration escalates. Consider this example: Under previous owners, a century-old brick home was beautifully maintained. In the four years since it has been sold, its wood fence has fallen down in parts and started to rot, the roof has deteriorated in places, and the landscaping has been let go. Instead of being an asset to the neighborhood, the home now seems to need substantial renovation to bring it back to where it was just four years ago.

Until the building industry develops housing materials that last a thousand years, be prepared to maintain a new home from the get-go.

Nov. 12, 2001.