Longevity of Outdoor Signs

The average life span of an outdoor sign depends partly on the material it's made from and partly on environmental factors such as weather. Although every sign is different, it's possible to estimate a sign's longevity if it's made of durable materials. Here are some key elements that will help you better anticipate when it's time to replace outdoor signage.

Why Materials Matter

Metals such as aluminum have a longer life span than wood or plastic. That's why aluminum is one of the most commonly used materials for signs, particularly traffic signs. Imagine how much money local governments have to spend to replace those signs every decade. Any given major city has thousands of street signs alone. That's why governments with tight budgets have to plan ahead and look for solutions with the greatest efficiency--that means finding long-lasting signs for the lowest price. Aluminum, which lasts for about 7-10 years before degrading, is usually the answer to that puzzle. One of the reasons that aluminum is popular for outdoor signs is that it doesn't rust, whereas certain other metals do. Aluminum is also lightweight and can be shaped in an infinite number of ways, making it ideal for designs.

Another sign material with good longevity is an aluminum composite panel, in which corrugated polyallomer is placed between two sheets of aluminum. This type of sign is more common for hanging or mounting on walls.

Plastics tend to degrade faster than aluminum, as the life span is closer to 5-7 years before action must be taken. These signs can have extended longevity if UV coatings are applied. Vinyl banners, however, don't last as long but can hold up in wind and rain. Wooden signs can last up to a decade if appropriate maintenance is conducted periodically, but they can also degrade rapidly in adverse weather conditions.

Protective Coatings

Traffic signs typically use protective overlays manufactured by 3M. This transparent film is solvent resistant and is protected by a removable liner, which serves as protection to reflective sheeting. This film further helps protect the sign from vandalism. Protective sign coating adds years to a sign's durability while protecting against moisture, corrosion and extreme temperatures.

Different Climates Produce Different Results

Regardless of the materials used for signage, a bigger factor for outdoor signs is weather. Severe wind, snow, and thunderstorms alone can cause significant damage. On the other hand, regions where there's sunny weather most of the year can also have a degrading effect as UV rays cause sign lettering and coloring to fade. Calendared PVC is an affordable vinyl solution with the understanding that colors may fade from exposure to sunlight after a few years. This material is more useful for temporary signage.

Wind and pollutants are other factors that can accelerate sign degradation in states such as Arizona and California. The best way to get the most out of outdoor signs is to monitor them periodically to assess the condition. Some officials and organizations elect to upgrade faded signs with restoration work rather than replacement. While there is no real time limit to fix a commercial sign, the Federal Highway Administration mandates regulatory signs must be fixed or replaced within hours of spotting the damage.


The durability of outdoor signs comes down to how the sign was made and where it is placed. The main concerns should be whether or not the sign can be easily read day or night and how well it's posted or mounted. Contact Zumar at our Arizona, California or Washington location to learn more about the best matches for your signage needs.