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Survivorship bias is a really important caveat: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survivorship_bias

Many cheap brick buildings from 100 years ago are gone, where the high quality ones are more likely to remain.

Also, steel Lintel are often used over windows in brick buildings. They don't last as long, but are fine for cheap construction that is not expected to last. AKA the kinds of building that are unlikely to be around in 100 years.

My last house was built in ~1936. It was cheap for the time, but the entire estate of houses it sat in was complete - virtually nothing had been removed. The form of the buildings had changed somewhat (extension for bathroom instead of toilet in the garden), but the brick walls were incredible and the internal timberwork (joists, frames, etc.) was all hardwood of a quality that would be very expensive now.

My current house was built in ~1985. The brick quality isn't bad, the walls are much straighter, but the wood is cheaper and the materials thinner and lighter. It might be the case this place will last 100 years, but I wouldn't bet on it. It's a middle market house, for the time, not cheap but not high end.

While survivor bias is important, where I live (London) the main reason houses from 100 years ago aren't around now is simply the war. The stuff from then that's still about - including "cheap" factories and other stuff - is now wildly fashionable and still well-built. Stuff built in the 50s was laughably awful and a lot is gone, stuff from 60s and 70s is going the same way. There are definitely other things going on.

I think one thing is buildings are now are built closer to their required engineering tolerances. In the past many building were massively over engineered, while modern buildings seem to be built for their exact expected lifespan.

The one thing I really hate about most modern buildings here in Australia is the ceiling height has been reduced. A lot of modern buildings have ceiling heights around 7’ while old buildings will have ceilings of 10’ to 12’.

Shorter ceilings are better for climate control, though. No need to heat up a bunch of air that just floats around over your head.

Not a huge concern in most parts of Australia... Having high ceilings (and fans) is actually an advantage.

It's the opposite in countries with a hot climate - high ceilings make ventilation (without an AC) better.

This is only true if your climate makes it more expensive to heat the building than to cool it.

Ceiling heights of 7 feet? Are you sure? Many tall people would only just fit upright...

7' is accurate for many new Housing Estate houses eg AV Jennings. The buildings all look similar except for roof color. It's very disorientating.

My house is 1860s with a 12' ceiling. Those other places feel like claustrophobic rabbit holes in comparison.

Low ceilings minimize material costs and maximize profits.

This is exactly right - it is done to reduce the building cost.

Of course having a ceiling this low is terrible for natural cooling so you then have to run air conditioning all the time costing far more in the long run. I live in a 1920s building with 11’ ceilings and I don’t have or need air conditioning because the place stays cool enough even through the height of summer.

most places in the UK don't run AC even during the summer.

> Low ceilings minimize material costs and maximize profits.

They also minimise heat loss, which is strictly regulated in the UK. Hence that other annoying feature of many modern build - tiny windows.

Why is heat loss regulated? Shouldn't I be able to heat my home as much or as little as I want?

The regulation is about energy efficiency of new-build construction, not how much you have your heating on. Partly it's a green thing, partly it's pragmatic, in that the UK has failed to invest in serious power generation for decades and faces the real possibility of brownouts in the not too distant future.

Plants are approaching EOL and they haven't been building new capacity to replace them. They've thrown a bunch of money at wind, but I think that's been more of a handout to (traditionally Conservative-voting) landowners than a viable strategy.

UK STILL don't fixed those issues?

UK since middle ages was already infamous for having cities (specially london, but not just london) that have energetic problems and rely a lot on coal (and now other fossil fuels), leading to the infamous killer fogs, and to the victorian fashion (in victorian era, people tried to use stuff that would not have issues in a highly polluted air, for example extremely thick and dark curtains, so that people don't notice you aren't washing them a lot...)

Across Europe there are strict standards for building efficiency. This is not just about insufficient infrastructure, it's to keep energy waste in check. People want as cheap a house as possible (which I understand, it's hugely expensive and most people have to make serious sacrifices) and when having to choose between not terribly energy-inefficient and full-height bedrooms, they'll often choose the latter. Which is unsustainable in the aggregate. Hence, tight regulations on energy efficiency.

> Which is unsustainable in the aggregate.

Isn't that just implying that most energy is artificially cheap, relative to its externalities?

Why can I own two new homes with 8' ceilings and heat them both(even if I don't live at one for 90% of the time), but I can't own one new home with 12' ceilings?

"Isn't that just implying that most energy is artificially cheap, relative to its externalities?"

Yes it is. But if you're going to charge 'real' price (even assuming you can), people with the least disposable income will have to pay disproportionally more for their energy, which is a a basic need in 2015. Plus it would cause ripple effects that are impossible to predict. So the prudent way of mitigating this is with targeted policies, like building efficiency. It's a political decision. Of course one might say 'we should charge everything at the full rate and let the market sort it out', which is a fine position (one I personally lean towards, for as much as that matters) but it's irrelevant to the fact that there are many groups that don't agree. So what we have now is a system with many groups pushing in various directions, and 'patches' for situations where that causes unwanted effects that all parties can agree on (well, a majority can agree on) should be mitigated somehow.

"Why can I own two new homes with 8' ceilings and heat them both(even if I don't live at one for 90% of the time), but I can't own one new home with 12' ceilings?"

So to come back to the issue at hand, I can also buy a 10MW heater, put it outside in my garden and have it 'waste' energy 24/7. We don't have laws against that (afaik). But our policies rely partly on the assumption of economically rational actors, which to a degree and in the aggregate is the empirically verified reality.

In other words, for ever policy I'm sure one can think of 100 ways to stay within the law yet violate the spirit of the policy. That's just the nature of governance, and it works fine in the vast majority of cases. Law is not a closed rule-based system like computers are, and that's fine.

(actually that last part is up for debate; even Montesquieu (who was the guy to come up with the original theory of 'balance of three powers') was of the opinion that perfect law should be just that, and that judges should do nothing but apply rigid rules to facts. But that's getting way more off topic than is reasonable...)

It's a the result of new of building code, which has minimum energy efficiency requirements. Residential energy efficiency is projected via heat loss calculations among other things.

Not when your country imports oil and you have a negative impact on its trade deficit (and/or environment).

Shouldn't I be regulated as to when I can open my windows then too? (as in, not in winter)

Well, "should" or "shouldn't" can get too complex to analyze.

There's no god given set of rights -- what we get to do is what the era/society/legal system we live in allows us.

And what's moral/good to do even outside or against what's allowed, is a matter of philosophy.

People expected to be able to smoke even on an airplane in the 70s. Nowadays not so much. Asking someone not to smoke "within 30 ft of this building's entrance" (a common sign), would seem as ridiculous to them as the regulation of heating to you.

The difference being that I don't pay a tax to the people who are inconvenienced when I smoke. Suppose everyone in an area set a price that they would be willing to smell cigarette smoke during their meal. If I pay them all that price, why shouldn't I be allowed to smoke? And some people would set it at +infinity, which is fine too, which would mean I don't get to smoke.

With heating, the government is placing a +infinity price on heat retention for buildings(with ceilings > 8'), but isn't actually enforcing that price in any other manner. Why not just charge progressively increasing amounts for electricity/gas expenditure? Right now, I can have a 100% legal, heat-efficient home, and heat it day and night by leaving the windows open. I wouldn't do that because I don't like to waste money, but that is just like I would not live in a house that was extremely energy inefficient.

Basically, if I want to pay for tall ceilings in my house, shouldn't I be able to, assuming I pay the appropriate amount?

>With heating, the government is placing a +infinity price on heat retention for buildings(with ceilings > 8'), but isn't actually enforcing that price in any other manner. Why not just charge progressively increasing amounts for electricity/gas expenditure?

Because they just want to impose a rule for what they believe is better for the environment.

They don't want to make it into a market product.

>Basically, if I want to pay for tall ceilings in my house, shouldn't I be able to, assuming I pay the appropriate amount?

That just makes it into something the rich can do while the poor can't. While indeed it also servers to lower the number of people doing't it -- it's not what any society that holds to high esteem any values besides net worth would want to do.

And I'm not just talking about the "tall ceilings" thing here, which might or might not be reasonable, but the more general question "shouldn't I pollute/waste as much energy as I want if I pay enough for it?".

Somethings we don't allow people to do at any price. Like kill people. Even if the victim also agrees. I, for one, don't believe payment trumps any morals in principle, and I wouldn't want that to be the case.

Whether it happens in practice (e.g. bribery etc), that's OK. But I wouldn't design a system where that's accepted and celebrated too.

Mate, this is bloody Oz. It hit nearly 46C (114F) last year in my city. Last thing I'm trying to do is minimize heat loss.

UK tenements had few or no windows due to the perverse tax formula.

Yep it totally claustrophobic if you are over 5’ in height. I really, really hate low ceilings.

Huh, I grew up in a house with ceilings no higher than maybe 7'2" (though that was not usual for buildings) and am 5'11" and wouldn't dream of calling it "claustrophobic". My father is even a couple inches taller. I guess it depends a lot on what you're used to.

Meanwhile my current residence has ceilings so high that I haven't bothered to install some LED bulbs that I have lying around since I don't have an easy safe way to reach the light fixtures.

I am sure different people feel differently, but for me low ceilings are a non-option. In a climate like mine high ceilings avoid the need for air conditioning.

You can get special poles for changing high bulbs. I have seen them before, but I can't remember what they are called.

Ah you must mean the good old "ceiling puncher". :)

Actually I think the pole is just the regular extension pole you'd use with a paint roller. You get a light bulb changing attachment instead.

That opens the question of expected lifetime of a house though. The interior might need to be ripped out and plumbing or sewage etc retrofitted, but in plenty of cases there is simply no reason why the foundation, framing, or other things can't be retained. Which, given the value of high quality timber, seems like a goal worth striving for, rather than disposable houses.

From a purely economic perspective a building that lasts more than 50 years is probably not worth doing. In theory you could invest the initial savings and replace the whole building in 50 years from the income.

The downside of pushing the engineering to the limit is the builders often cut corners to make their own savings so that the building does not even make 50 years. Plenty of new buildings here in Australia are having major structural issues after only 5 to 10 years because of this.

Agreed. I was a victim of this in my former home in Adelaide.

It was a newly built townhouse complex so we were a body corporate. Within 4 years of building completion, we were suffering from rising damp and completely loose paving in the shared driveways. The paving was too high relative to the damp proof course and the base wasn't prepared properly.

It took a couple of years of legal stuff to claim on the building warranty.

Having been through this, I now are more acutely aware of how dodgy new building are around Australia. New apartments especially.

There is no way I would ever buy a new apartment. One of my friends is a builder and the number of horror stories he tells me about current building practices is near endless.

It is absolutely criminal how much we let builders get away with, and since building inspectors are no longer independent (the builder pays for them) everything is stacked against home-buyers these days

It's unlikely that the design and layout of a house will remain up-to-date over 50+ years. People's expectations change, see for example the role of a kitchen in a house. 50 years ago, the kitchen was were the wife cooked. Now kitchens are open, connected to the other living spaces, and very much the central point in the house. Re-doing the plumbing is one thing, dealing with that sort of changes is another.

Are you 100% sure its 7'? There are a number of people [if small percentage wise] that are 7'.

Seriously. And it's not just the seven-footers who'd have issues. I'm 6'3, and I'd feel claustrophobic in a home with 7' ceilings. I'm above average in height, but, like, not wildly so. I certainly don't think I'm an outlier or anything.

Assuming you are a male in the USA you are in the 95th percentile [0] by height. And if you are 7 feet tall then you don't need to worry about low ceilings in council housing because you are probably an NBA [1] player.

[0] http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr010.pdf

[1] http://www.truthaboutit.net/2012/05/true-or-false-half-of-al...

It would make for an interesting ADA claim...

High ceilings help when you don't have air conditioning. They are nice aesthetically but unnecessary and even detrimental (more air volume to cool) when you have it.

The same argument can be made against windows.

High ceilings not only avoid the need for air conditioning (my home has 11' ceilings and no air conditioning), they make you feel better in the space. When I am in a building with low ceilings I feel totally claustrophobic and tense - this is not something I want to feel in my own home.

Modern windows can be made very energy efficient. In fact, it's possible to design an almost all-glass energy-neutral house in much of Western Europe.

Feels like nitpicket but: volume of air is in itself not a problem. There's not a whole lot of energy in air. The issue with heating/cooling is the surface area.

With active heating/cooling, what really helps is better insulation. In Scandinavia and Germany people are insulating walls in new houses with 40 cm rockwool, or the equivalents thereof.

My experience in the US is that 8' ceilings are pretty much standard. I've helped build a few stick-built additions and houses, and when you are buying stud timber in bulk, it comes precut either to 96" or 92 5/8" - which, with standard 2xX top and bottom plates, works out to be 8'.

There's a saying that goes something like: "Any idiot can build a bridge. It takes an engineer to build a bridge that is just strong enough to stand given the weight it's meant to bear".

A lot of older structural "engineering" was figuring out how much material was required, then multiplying it by 80 just in case.

It's also interesting to see 2x4s that are actually 2 inches by 4 inches

I laughed at this post because my current home is all brick house built in 1930s, with a brick extension built in 1980s.

An inspector said, "those are very good bricks from the 30s. They don't make bricks that strong anymore"

Yes they do, if you pay for it. I know several brick factories that will make you those 'high-quality' ones. But they don't stock them (instead they make them custom if you want them) because the demand is so low due to the 100% price difference with other bricks that, realistically, serve they purpose just as well.

Not when it comes to this particular issue: build quality between 1800s and today has declined.

If anything, a whole bunch of perfectly decent old buildings have been torn down. Because they were no longer of any use (prolonged vacancy is the worst for any building), not because they were falling apart.

Somewhat of a tangent. Good architecture has three properties: it's useful, it's robust, and it's beautiful. That's a three-legged stool from antiquity, and I firmly believe architects and builders sat on it for centuries. Modernism was an ideological project that discarded two of these legs: only utility was important. the pursuit of beauty was either for old-regime bourgeois or for unenlightened proles, and robustness was not all that necessary for the beancounters anyway, eternity is not a concept for the godless machine age.

Is is also fairly recent that the architect needed to take on all aspects of architecture. For example, architecture training was often taught in the fine arts faculties. The structural issues then were then taken on by the master-builder. It worked, the latter had a wealth of experiential knowledge, an architect didn't need to tell him how to frame a window, or ensure water didn't drip along the wall. The architect becoming first a licensed professional in need to defend his title, then some sort of artist willing a new pristine creation in the world, claimed more and more roles. Now every detail needs to be in the plan almost, less room for correction by skilled craftsmen (who also are thinning out..).

> the godless machine age

Which began in the 1700s or earlier, with the Dark Satanic Mills.

1800s. Blake wrote that in 1804.

More significantly, it took a fair bit of time for modern methods to enter into construction. Structural steel and skyscrapers along with many other "modern" inventions date to the 1880s. Modern "stick" housing began largely in the 1940s.

You can find catalogs of old housing, literally, in Sears Roebuck catalogs, detailing design and construction.

No way. Talk to anyone involved in construction.

Every component in a building today save plumbling, windows and electric is inferior to its complement in 1915. The bricks are of lower quality (to the point there is a thriving market for used bricks), the wood is garbage, and quality of labor has shifted from skilled craftsmanship to glorified assembly work.

My home was built in 1927 as a cheap starter home (upstairs was delivered unfinished for buildout when the owners had kids). It's build quality today would only be seen in a custom home with a very wealthy/particular owner and cost a minimum of $750k. (Current value of my home is around $250k)

> Talk to anyone involved in construction.

I am going to take a guess and say that we are not reading a commented written by someone involved in construction. HVAC anything? I'd love to see you sell a house for 750k with asbestos wrapped around all the vents. Vermiculite versus blown in closed cell poly? Poly versus waxed floors? LVLs? Exterior fasteners? Lead paint? Can you imagine how much longer this list would be if I was not content to stick to residential construction?

I could go on and on. TLDR Housing materials have significantly improved since Calvin Coolidge's time. Oh yeah, I forgot Contruction Adhesives...

This. Mine was built in 1964.

The entire floor both upstairs and down is tongue and groove 2x6 planking... vs today's 3/4" OSB.

For being over 50 years old, the "skeleton" is in outstanding condition. There are some very minor foundation issues that I've been slowly fixing with a little elbow grease, and that's about it.

If the drywall and electrical were redone, this thing would be in better condition/quality than a large percentage of BRAND NEW homes on the market today.

I don't really disagree. But copper and mortar plumbing from 1915 might not be shabby at all.

Yes, but when you have entire rows and city-blocks of colonial-era buildings standing, and entire cities of century homes where many new office buildings have gone up and been torn down in the meantime, it's hard to just point to survivorship bias. These aren't a few isolated cases, but large contiguous seas of old buildings.

I would imagine that well-built buildings are not evenly distributed; well-off individuals and businesses, who could presumably therefore afford to build nice buildings, would likely congregate near each other.

In Portland, Oregon, there are whole neighborhoods of 80-90% buildings from the 1880s through the 1930s. There still may be some survivorship bias on a whole-neighborhood level since those were mostly the middle-class areas with higher building quality. But if you compare those buildings to those built recently for the middle-class market, the craftsmanship is obviously different. And urban buildings for wealthy people have recently sidestepped craftsmanship entirely with minimal geometric styles of architecture. There's not a lot of room for ornamentation when the external walls are entirely glass.

The craftsmanship is obviously different, but is it better? I hear the argument that modern houses are all going to be just awful in a few decades. Yet I heard the same argument in the 70's and 80's, and those houses seem to be aging just fine (aesthetic choices aside). A stick built house built in 1970 is 45 years old at this point!

Today's track houses have MUCH improved insulation, much stronger moisture barriers, and are much more efficient than even the nicest houses built 100 years ago.

I just don't believe that construction has regressed the way we all seem to think it has. Of course I type this from a 103 year old house which is awesome, but drafty :)

> A stick built house built in 1970 is 45 years old at this point!

When I was living in London a couple of years ago my house there was a former council house built in the 70s - so it was built to be as cheap as possible. Other than being tiny and having thin drywall everything else was fine.

The problem with the "survivor bias" argument is that it allows for a lazy denial of actual trends in things: sometimes stuff does get worse.

The same applies to "every generation thinks the next generation is horrible". That may or may not be true, but sometimes there are horrible generations.

> but sometimes there are horrible generations.

What do you mean?

There was generation of Germans for example who thought a good idea to elect Hitler, and then cheer for him even as he dismantled the state.

Or there was the boring generation of the 10's, compare with the more lively roaring 20s.

Or consider the 60s vs the more conservative 50s.

Hitler was never elected. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_presidential_election,_... He ran for office twice and lost by more than 15% both times.

Even then Germany was a parliamentary system where the Chancellery goes to the biggest party or coalition in parliament. And the NSDAP was the biggest in the elections in 1932-11 and 1933-3. There were enough idiots who voted for Hitler and his party in those early years.


He got voted cancelour by a majority. That is as democratic as it gets. And yes, this should attack anyones assumption that the people always vote for the best. Thats why there are non-voted pillars of power in a good democracy, that can not correct a bad course, but can at least keep it in check.

>And yes, this should attack anyones assumption that the people always vote for the best.

In democracy people are not meant to "vote for the best".

They are meant to vote for what they want, as they judge it for themselves.

I'm not sure what he meant either.

But it might be this: https://www.reddit.com/r/ledootgeneration/

It's unlikely survivor bias - Montreal is full of really shitty build "plexes" for example. They are not falling apart - there is a 'brick works' for them - remove whole brick facade and redo it again. Those "plexes" are rarely torn down in fact. At the same time bank buildings on the same street are very sturdy and never seen 'brick works' since the birth. I tend to think 'plexes' used to be cheap [and crap] and banks, factories [but not schools!] are expensive and good. Construction errors on those 'plexes' are abundant and repeated over and over in today's plexes, yet those are OK with building codes.

not only that, but back in the day brick was the fancy expensive option, today it isn't. those with big budgets and ambitious design goals choose other materials (steel, glass, etc.)

I thought brick was more expensive today due to labor costs and that steel and glass were comparatively cheap. Is this false?

Generally true. The relative cost of wood vs brick also varies from country to country depending on local availability.

wood is definitely cheaper than brick but i have a hard time believing that a brick building will be more expensive than one made of steel and glass. the architecture, engineering, transport, etc. is where most of the cost comes from, not the building materials.

Depends a lot. If you can just install prefabricated elements large elements, steel is not that expensive.

On the other hand every brick has to be laid by hand. Good bricklayers are scarce because brick has not been in fashion. And therefore they are expensive. Bad bricklayers are slow.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10522334 claims that brick is expensive enough for people to steal buildings!

I suspect that survivorship bias is not much of an issue here since the old building still looks a lot better than that new building.

Actually that confirms the point; the old building was clearly state of the art for the time, and the new building is a cheap rush like student dorms sometimes are.

No, there are many buildings in London surviving that were built simply to get the money when they were demolished to build railways but it never happened, and they are still standing. 19th century buildings were mass produced, not always very well.

Examples? Presumably you're not claiming the Citizens Bank building from TFA is such a building, and mass-produced 19th century buildings might look quite different from it.

I dunno, there's a lot of cheap 1880s "workers cottages" around here which have nonetheless been built with a lot more style and care than the average new building.

Survivorship bias means that the only objects available for comparison are ones that bias the comparison. For example, the brick buildings from 2,000 years ago were built way better, because look at this brick building still standing that was built 2,000 years ago, look how great it is! Of course, the bad brick buildings built 2,000 years ago can't be found because they crumbled a long time ago.

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