If installed correctly, the seal between the walls and windows of this house in Richmond, Calif., should last about 25 years. Without upkeep, however, it will crack and disintegrate over time.

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Water Damage

By now, you have a nice-sized hole in your leaky roof. Water is coming in, and worse, it’s spreading. When it’s not raining, and it’s cold outside, the hole in your roof will allow lots of cold, dry air to enter. Your cellar, basement or crawlspace, however, will retain warmth and humidity. Condensation forms where the two meet and create a miniature meteorological front. The resulting moisture will cause the paint and wallpaper to peel. This is, by far, the least of your worries.

The roof isn’t the only place water can enter. The caulk that your homebuilder used to seal your windows has about the same lifespan as your roof shingles, so you can expect the seal to crack and disintegrate within about 25 years of its application. This, too, will allow rain, snow and frost to enter. It will rot the wall surrounding the window, and allow moisture further into your home’s envelope, causing rot and collapse.

Interestingly, a brick home won’t fare much better. All things being equal, says home restoration expert Les Fossel, wood and brick homes will deteriorate at about the same rate. If your home is built of brick, moisture gets into the shell inside the brick exterior. Or, if your home is built with more than one layer of brick, the moisture will find its way into the gap between the two brick walls where it will freeze and contract, depending on the climate where your house is situated. Once this happens enough times, the brick walls of your home will collapse. Even if you live in a warm climate, the mortar holding your brick walls together will eventually deteriorate enough so that they will no longer bind the brick together. This, however, would take much longer than compression from freezing water.

If water is still running to your house, it will escape through cracks in the gaskets that deteriorate. This will add plenty of extra water to your home’s interior, further accelerating rot. If they are drained before you neglect your home, though, your metal plumbing and gas pipes will be among the last remnants of your home to remain, long after your house collapses.

Water also serves as a catalyst for other processes, too. In addition to rotting the wood that holds up your house, it also attracts all manner of bugs. Termites -- which are found more often in warmer climates -- love to eat wood, using bacteria in their stomachs to break it down into cellulose. But colder climates don’t get off scot free. There, carpenter ants have the same effect on wood, boring holes into the wood for use as nests. There are also many other varieties of insects that love to eat or live in the wood that was used to create your home’s structure -- and all of them work best when moisture is present.

So now you have peeling paint, a major hole (or holes) in your roof, wasted drywall, and precipitation entering through the gap between your windows and your walls. Are you ready to give up your protest and start taking care of your house once more? No? OK -- read the next page to find out about your home’s final years.