Skip to main content

A quick guide on the meaning of the design life of buildings

If you are in the midst of having work done to your existing commercial building, or if you are planning a new build, you will notice all kinds of lingo in your contracts and paperwork. Some of it is more explanatory than others! One of the buzz phrases you may come across is the `design life` of buildings. In this quick guide, we explain the meaning of the design life of buildings and why it matters. We hope you find it helpful and please feel free to contact our expert team if you have any questions!

What is meant by the `design life` of buildings?

The design life of buildings essentially means the life expectancy, or how long they can be expected to last based on the materials, products, techniques used – etc. This is not to say a building will be unacceptable for use or spontaneously combust after a certain time period lapses – it’s just an approximate figure based on stats gathered on other buildings and structures of its kind.

What is the typical design life of a building in the UK?

The typical design life of a building in the UK varies greatly and depends on lots of factors like the era it was built in, the materials which were used to build it, the location, the climate, exposure to elements (leading to corrosion, etc.), and the purpose of the building. For example, we can expect an untouched historical temple to live for many more years than a concrete office block that is frequented by hundreds of workers every day. If we are talking about commercial buildings (which are most applicable to you), the average life span is in the realm of 65-100 years. The vast majority of commercial concrete buildings can be successfully rehabilitated during or after this time period, prolonging their life and use. At CCUK, our concrete repair team specialises in rehabilitating commercial concrete buildings and structures of all shapes and sizes. To book your free feasibility study and cost analysis, contact our team.

Examples of buildings and their expected design life

According to construction community, the design life of buildings is, approximately:

  • 500-1,000 years for historical structures;
  • 100-150 years for steel structures (120 years for steel bridges);
  • 100 years for concrete structures and buildings;
  • And 60-80 years for other commercial or private buildings.

Many buildings and structures go on to outlive their expected design life, with and without rehabilitation, repair, and strengthening techniques.

The design life of buildings can also be broken down into the life expectancy of the materials and products used – but, of course, these individual assets can be rehabilitated or replaced as and when necessary:

  • 100 years for substructure;
  • 100 years for masonry;
  • 100 years for concrete slabs and reinforcements;
  • 50 years for glass;
  • 40 years for plaster;
  • And 15 years for paint.

These figures also depend on the quality of the product used – we all know brands of paint that will not last 15 years without warping, cracking, or chipping, and the same goes for poorly installed slabs or a sub-par plaster job. Choosing an experienced contractor is just as important as the materials and products themselves – if not more important!

What is the difference between design life and service life?

There is a minor (but important) difference between design life and service life; design life is based on expectancy and approximates and the service life is based on real-world results. Though, there are more similarities than differences. According to commercial law site, both design life and service life are based on factors such as:

  • Fitness for purpose;
  • Durability;
  • Strength;
  • Serviceability;
  • Maintainability;
  • Operability;
  • And defects.

Design life in construction contracts

Arguably the most important role of design life is its place in construction contracts. Before commencing work on a project, the contract between the client and project workers will outline the requirements of how long the building, structure, or parts of it must last. This is approximate and not based on exact real-world results (as we are talking about design life, not service life). If something drastic happens to the building or structure due to errors in the design, it can lead to `premature failure’, which can be disputed amongst both parties due to its containment in the contractual agreement. If you notice a lack of information about design life in the paperwork for your upcoming project, it may be a good idea to raise this with your contractor or construction company working with you.

Ask an expert about the design life of buildings

Want to learn more about the design life of your building or the products used within it? Get in touch with our specialist concrete repairs team today – we’ll book you in for a free feasibility study and cost analysis. Call 01485 425250 or fill in our contact form here.

Suggested reading for you based on the design life of buildings

A Guide to Design Rights for Buildings

A Contractor with No Design Liability – Here’s Why Your Project is in Trouble

What is Design Liability?