As an inspector, one of the dirties, grimiest, spidery-webbyest, places I go is in the crawl space. Most of the time the home buyer says, “take lots of pictures and let me know if there’s a problem”. Crawl spaces have many uses and reasons they are part of a home design. Let’s discuss why we have them, what challenges there present, and then how to manage them.
Why do we have them in the first place? Can’t we have either a basement or a slab? Well, we could have one or the other, but there are several reasons, good ones, to have a crawl space. The main purpose of a crawl space is to promote air circulation through the home and to allow access to critical support systems. Such as electrical wiring, plumbing (which may include the water heater), and the HVAC (Heating-Ventilation-Air Conditioning) system, these would take up needed space in the main living area. What we give up in convenience we make up for in convenience (what?). We may give up easy access to the HVAC system to gain 20 square feet in the kitchen, likely a good trade.
There are several challenges that we face in managing the crawl space.
The first challenge is our own mind set regarding the crawl space. Nobody wants to go down there! Right? We should really think of the crawl space as part of the body of the home. If that part of the home is not as well maintained as the rest, it can bring the whole thing down (health-wise). Essentially have a plan, do your research, and manage it effectively. Make the crawl space a regular part of your home maintenance program. Out of sight and out of mind, in general, does not keep bad results away.
The crawl spaces that I inspect generally have either a dirt or gravel floor (occasionally they will be concrete). Being of a dirt floor it can be, well, very dirty and dusty. One of the main issues that it presents is that the HVAC system many times is also located in the crawl space. That may mean more maintenance on the unit to keep the air that flows through nice and clean for the entire home (yes the duct work is “normally” sealed, but over time duct can loosen and fall apart if not well maintained). Even if it is not pulling dust into the home, dust and dirt do settle in the working parts of the unit. That can shorten the active life of the unit. Taking steps that will reduce the dust in the crawl space will make your systems cleaner and run longer.
Sure is moist down here:
Yep, it’s more humid in a crawl space than outside in the open. It’s all about dew point, well sort of, and some other issues. There are three main reasons it is humid in a crawls space.
The first is bulk water. If there is standing water in your crawl space you either have a drainage issue or a plumbing leak, either is problematic. As you can see below.
That standing and moving water can make the whole space wet and humid and that can lead to the formation and growth of the “M” word………mold.
The second is ground moisture. Soil can be constantly evaporating water, that water begins to attach itself to everything in the crawl space. Which can lead to growing things, well, all over the place.
The third way, believe it or not, is from the outside air. As warmer air from the outside enters the crawl space, it begins to cool. If the outside temperature is 90 degrees and the relative humidity is 60% and that air then travels into the crawl space and cools to 75 degrees, the humidity goes up to 95%! Dew point is when that air cools off to a temperature that the relative humidity is 100%, that is when you will see water dripping off items and it seems to be coming from no where. Cool air holds less water than warm air and it has to go somewhere, so in the right conditions, it begins to attach itself to everything in the crawl space. Then, when not addressed, it can breed the perfect environment for cultures to grow.
The crawl space has a lot of organic materials, wood, boxes, paper, we store all kinds of stuff down there! When it gets wet, we don’t just loose memories, we can endanger our health.
How do I manage this MONSTER!
There are several ways to help reduce the moisture, dirt and dust in the crawl space. First is to call a professional, they can assist you in making the right decision for your home.
The options may include how to correctly vent the area using the vents on the side of your house. It could include how to use your HVAC system to assist. Most likely they will recommend sealing and dehumidifying in one way or another. Fortunately here in Colorado, dehumidification needs are lower. That does not mean, non-existent. Below is a set of pictures showing a small crawl space under an engineered basement floor, notice all the rust. Some of the metal strapping is rusted through, causing a low spot in the main sewer drain. Not a good situation.
Even if you choose to not call a contractor for help in managing your crawl space, you should at lease monitor it with a thermo-hygrometer. What? It’s a sensor that can monitor the temperature and humidity levels in the crawl space. It can even do it remotely. Sweet! Hop on Amazon.com or your favorite online store and you’ll find the one that best meets your needs. It may be some of the best money you can spend to prevent or find potential moisture related issues in the crawl space.
As with most things in our lives, when we have the right information we make better decisions. Call a contractor, get several quotes and ideas. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, be careful and thorough, you family’s health is involved.
When you have a clean and waterproof crawl space, you have a clean and healthy part of the house that is not as scary as it used to be. It can also be a more useful part of the house now. One that can be used for storage for items that are not used very frequently.
As the old “Red Green” show would say, we might not be handsome, but at least we can be handy. I hope you found this entry handy and useful.