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How long would it take for your house to fall completely apart?

The Demise of Your Poor Home
Dry vegetation can catch fire and cause a dilapidated house like this one to go up in flames.
Dry vegetation can catch fire and cause a dilapidated house like this one to go up in flames.
Courtesy Les Fossel

You should be happy that there are no laws governing home abuse, because you'd be locked up by now. By the time your house really begins to completely fall in on itself, however, you probably would have died of the damp collecting within your house -- or of old age. If your home was in good shape when you lost interest in its upkeep and your roof was relatively new, it will take decades, or possibly centuries, before the death knell tolls for it. And it won't be a pretty process of dying along the way.

Cosmetically, your house is now a wreck, with holes in the leaking roof and peeling paint, dissolved drywall and loose wallpaper inside. Most likely vandals have happened upon your overlooked house and wreaked havoc, accelerating the deterioration process. Structurally, the house is in big trouble, with moisture rotting away at wood and boring insects taking care of the rest. The weight of the roof may no longer be supportable, and has collapsed in where the supporting studs have rotted. Or, if the nails holding the trusses together have lost their grip, the roof may have entirely slid off in sections.

There will most likely be holes in the floors beneath the largest holes in the roof. Walking around in the house has already reached the point of being dangerous, since it could collapse at any time.

Vegetation growing around your house can pose a two-fold threat to your home. Grass left unmowed in your yard can dry during periods of drought and winter. If the tall, dry grass directly outside catches fire, your neglected home may, too. But vegetation can also contribute to a much longer, but equally dramatic, destruction of your home.

When you care for your house, you pull saplings and cut down large trees in your yard to keep the root structure away from the foundation. But you're not caring for your house any longer, and a tree growing beside the house will cause the ultimate damage. When your house was built, it was most likely constructed on top of a piece of ground which was adequately dense enough to support the structure. On top of that your home's foundation was built, and on top of that your house's structure was constructed.

The roots of a tree growing beside your house will loosen the dense soil that make up your house's footing, allowing water to penetrate into the soil and further weaken it. After several years, the footing will no longer be able to support the house. This will cause the foundation to shift and crack. This shifting causes the house's structure to move as well. This alone could cause already structurally unsound walls to collapse, regardless of whether they're brick or wood. A major shift in the structure of the home can even cause a brick chimney -- which should be the last structure standing in your neglected house -- to collapse, too.

Over time, the disruption of your home's footing could also create a sinkhole -- a wide and deep hole in the ground beneath your home. If a deep enough sinkhole formed, your home would be swallowed by the Earth.

So how long would it take your house to deteriorate if you neglected it? Again, that depends on where you live. In warmer climates, humidity would accelerate the rotting process, causing the structure to fall quickly. In colder climates, though, freezing cold winters can cause frost to form within your house's foundation, causing it to crack and lose its structural support.

Don't forget, how well your home was constructed is also important. Home inspector John Badger recounts a story he heard of a house that was a "goner" after just several years. But home restorer Les Fossel says that he's seen a house that was neglected for 40 years and was able to be saved.

For more information on houses and related topics, read the next page.