We already had the discussion on consumable melee weapons last episode when we talked about breaking metal pipes. Let’s not have the exact same discussion about shivs. Instead, let’s talk about buildings:
In the episode I said that buildings ought to be standing after just twenty years. (Assuming they weren’t bombed.) I mean, there are hundred year old buildings all over the place (especially around Boston) and buildings shouldn’t suddenly fall over just because people stopped sweeping the floor. But then Josh pointed out bursting pipes, and now I don’t know what to think. Let’s just set aside the bombed-out scenario we see in The Last of Us where (basically) warfare has turned the place to rubble. Let’s just imagine one of those “everyone is suddenly gone” scenarios:
I could easily see how burst pipes could slowly destroy a building in just a few years, assuming you’re far enough north to get a reliable freeze / thaw cycle. Overflowing water gets into the cracks in the basement, then freezes and expands to widen the cracks. Repeat that a few times a year and you’ll have cracks in the foundation and all the support pillars. Then again, the OUTSIDE of a building’s foundation is always exposed to the weather, and the freeze/thaw cycle doesn’t chew it apart from the outside. Sometimes buildings need to be patched up once a generation or so, but over the span of just twenty years most stone, brick, and concrete structures ought to be just fine.
Then AGAIN, we’re talking about flooding from the inside. Assuming a burst pipe fills everything below ground level, that water is going to be far, far more damaging than the freezing rainwater that slides ineffectually down the sides of the structure. Maybe all those tons of freezing water could turn the support pillars to rubble in just a couple of years.
Then AGAIN, where is all that water coming from? No people means no electricity, and no electricity means no water pressure. Either the power is on and the building is heated (which means no freezing in the winter) or the power is off and there’s no pressure in the pipes. Sure, they might burst and dribble out what they were holding, but that’s not going to catastrophically flood anything larger than a house. The floors will get wet, then the water will evaporate. No harm done.
Then AGAIN, maybe we’re worrying about the wrong sorts of water. Without city workers maintaining the storm drains, eventually they will get clogged. I have no idea how long that might take, but once it did then every rainstorm would result in some amount of flooding. Also, if people aren’t shoveling and salting the snow it might really pile up. In the winter it might pile high enough to present some serious spring flooding.
Then AGAIN, who cares about spring flooding? Most of it should be long gone by the end of summer. So again, there’s not enough water to tear apart the basement. Er, unless a window breaks. (How? What broke it? I can believe random circumstances might break an odd window every couple of years, but windows just don’t break that often, not even when the city is filled with busy, angry, careless, and clumsy people.) If the right window broke, then maybe a regular supply of showers would be enough to keep our basement full. It’s dark down there and not easy for the moisture to escape. So the basement would effectively become a pond (it is below ground, after all) and thus be subject to winter freezing.
Then AGAIN, there’s a lot of insulation in buildings and basements are deep. It’s supposedly 50°F (10°C) underground all year. Basements aren’t quite that deep, but the ground is a pretty good insulator. Also, even in water that’s exposed to the elements (like a naturally occurring pond) isn’t going to freeze solid. So our flooded basement would need to have just the right amount of water: Enough mass to damage the foundation, but not so much that it’s too massive to freeze.
Then AGAIN, our buildings are kind of complex and made of a lot of different materials. Perhaps some combination of elements and weather would be enough to rot out all the wood, drywall, plaster, and fiberboard, leaving behind a mostly empty shell of a building. I’ve been in some older structures that had wood floors, and it’s easy to imagine unchecked moisture would cause everything to fall into the basement, leaving only the outer brick and stonework in place.
Bottom line: I have no idea. My gut tells me the buildings should be fine, if only because we have medieval castles that are weaker, colder, and wetter than any modern structure, and they aren’t torn to rubble by the elements. But I don’t know. Modern buildings (by “modern” here I mean “less than 100 years old) are a different solution to a different problem, and might have some vulnerability I’m not thinking of.
From a game design perspective, it’s probably smarter to do what people expect rather than do all the research to figure out what would actually happen. Perhaps this is why the writers introduced the idea of saturation bombing to their story. They didn’t know, and didn’t want to do something that would feel wrong to the audience, so they punted.
Either way, it’s an interesting question.