Author: Lexi Klinkenberg
Crawl spaces are often out of sight and, consequently, out of mind, making them easy to neglect. But without proper maintenance your crawl space is susceptible to moisture, heat loss, pests, and a host of other complications. These common problems can damage your home’s foundation, cause sky-high energy bills, and introduce toxins into the air you breathe. With as much as 40 percent of the air in your home originating from your crawl space, keeping up on your crawl space maintenance plays a big role in the air you breathe and the long-term health of your home.
What is a Crawl Space?
A crawl space is a small area, ranging from one to three feet in height, that resides between the bottom floor of your home and the ground. A crawl space provides extra room for your home’s electrical wiring, plumbing components, and HVAC equipment. The height of the crawl space is limited, and getting into the area must be done by crawling, either on your stomach or your hands and knees. If you’re a prospective buyer or own a home in close proximity to water or near a marsh, exploring the crawl space is a necessary part of a home inspection. So, if you’re considering moving to somewhere like Miami, FL, don’t overlook the crawl space when making an offer on a home.
What’s the Difference Between Crawl Space vs. Basement?
Crawl spaces are typically used in damp climates, where the ground is regularly too wet for basement construction. Supporting the home off of the ground keeps it away from moisture that could cause damage. In coastal areas where the soil is sandy, a crawl space can alleviate potential basement problems, like excessive water buildup that could put pressure on basement walls. Crawl spaces are also sometimes preferred in construction when a basement is too costly. Installing a crawl space is cheaper than installing a basement.
A basement is a popular type of foundation that can add space and functionality to a home. Basements are often used as storage space, living areas, or both. A basement combines elements of a slab and crawl space. The floor in a basement is very similar to slab concrete, and the support system used under the basement floor is the same as what is used in a crawl space. Although basements can be a great addition to a home, they cannot be built in areas with high moisture levels or unsettled soil. They also happen to be the most expensive type of foundation to build.
Crawl Space Solutions for Common Problems
Homes with poor ventilation are more susceptible to crawl space issues than others. Without regular evaluation and crawl space maintenance, you may not know there is a problem until it’s too late. Signs of excessive moisture throughout the home are often readily noticeable, but signs of moisture in your crawl space may be harder to detect. Unfortunately, moisture in a crawl space can be just as problematic, causing complications such as mildew, dust mites, mold, and wood rot. When there is nowhere left for moisture to go within a crawl space, it can then travel into your insulation, flooring, and walls to create even larger problems. Crawl spaces with exposed dirt most commonly have trouble with an excess of moisture.
Solution: Vapor Barrier
A vapor barrier is one of the best ways to protect your home against the encroachment of moisture. Essentially a large plastic sheet placed over the base of a crawl space, vapor barriers are intended to fully cover any exposed dirt. While this doesn’t completely eliminate moisture, it does slow the process significantly. At 50 to 70 cents per square foot, sheet plastic is a cost-effective barrier for moisture in your crawl space. A vapor barrier can be a DIY project if you’re willing to get down and dirty, but the labor that goes into covering the entire ground area can be challenging to accomplish on your own. You’ll need a friend to help you pass the rolls of sheet plastic back and forth through the crawl space, or if this sounds too labor-intensive, a professional contractor may be the way to go.
If a vapor barrier alone isn’t enough to tame moisture and ventilation problems, encapsulation can be a great alternative. The first step in this process involves a vapor barrier coupled with sealing tape and coverage of walls and ceiling areas. A complete encapsulation includes drain tile, a sump pit and pump, concrete, insulation, and a dehumidifier to properly condition the air.
While placing a vapor barrier can be done independently, encapsulation is best handled by a professional. The installation process takes expertise, and installing a dehumidifier is best left to a trained technician. Hiring a contractor for this work costs about $5,500 on average
Problem: Energy Loss
A crawl space isn’t a livable part of the home, but insulation is still important to keep the heat in. Crawl spaces can be a major source of energy loss. If you find yourself running your furnace all winter long, driving up high energy bills, yet still feel cold on the ground floor of your home, your crawl space could be the issue. If your crawl space isn’t properly insulated from the cold, you could be wasting energy and driving up your utility bills. If you want to live more sustainably and save money on heating bills, you should consider insulating your crawl space.
Insulating your crawl space depends on the general climate in your area. In warm or dry areas, insulation can be limited to just the area between the floor joists. However, in subfreezing temperatures, insulating the walls and sealing off the crawl space is most effective. A professional can evaluate the state of your crawl space, make a recommendation, and handle the insulation process.
Rodents and insects can be a problem anywhere in your home, and a crawl space is no exception. Crawl spaces can easily become a dwelling for pests if they are not properly maintained. Since most homeowners do not spend much time in their crawl space, it may be harder to determine if there is a pest problem. Pests such as mice, rats, termites, carpenter ants, spiders and more have the ability to damage insulation, crawl through vapor barriers, dig into wood, and even tunnel into your main living spaces.
Solution: Pest Control
Proper crawl space maintenance, including encapsulation, can keep your property safe from pests. When all entrances and exits are sealed, the possibility of rodents and insects gaining entry to your home is almost impossible. If you do see signs of pests, partnering with an exterminator can treat problems at the source.
Crawl Space Inspection Checklist
A crawl space inspection is typically included in a standard home inspection when buying or selling a house. This is an area where issues tend to arise and can throw a wrench in the home sale. Both home sellers and buyers should be aware of the state of the crawl space in order to mitigate any potential problems prior to the sale. Here are the red flags that professionals look for during a crawl space inspection:
As a seller, you may want to have your crawl space inspected prior to listing it on the housing market. That way you are aware of any issues and can have them fixed before the sale, or adjust the sale price accordingly
As a homeowner, maintaining your crawl space is critical to the health and longevity of your home. That means doing an annual inspection and attending to problems as they arise, as well as taking preventative measures to keep your house healthy. If crawling under your home doesn’t seem like fun, you can always partner with the pros and hire someone to ensure your crawl space is in good hands. With these tips and fixes, you can be sure the foundational part of your home is properly maintained for years to come.
Note: Blog post published at the request of, and with permission from, Lexi Klinkenberg. Original article can be found HERE.
Mold in air ducts is a serious concern if it arises in a property-both commercial and residential. Sometimes, signs may be present that there is an issue, such as:
-Leaks around the air handler
-Visible moisture in the ceiling drywall coming from the air ducts
-Odors in the property
-Visible mold spores on air vent
-Moisture streaking from air vent
The diagnosis of mold in an air duct is usually a team effort from HVAC technicians and mold inspectors. The mold inspector can test the air quality to see if there are any abnormal airborne mold spores in the property, as well as seeing if there is any visible moisture in the property via moisture readings. The HVAC technician can actually inspect the air ducts, as well as the air handler for any issues with the system.
If you suspect that there might be an issue, it is recommended calling these professionals out to the property for a further diagnosis.
Many clients who experience mold issues in their properties are often also concerned with their clothing in the immediate vicinity of a mold concern.
One of the first questions which arises is whether or not the client should throw the clothes away, or whether they are salvageable. The answer to this question, in short, is: it depends.
The following is a list of suggestions when dealing with mold affected clothing:
1. If there is no visible mold, then the clothing is salvageable by washing the clothes and drying them in the sun.
2. If there is visible growth on the clothing, but no holes, the clothing can be taken to a dry cleaner to attempt to salvage the clothing.
3. If the clothing has had mold growth on it for a extended period of time, and has been eating through the clothing/material, then the clothing is most likely not salvageable at this point.
Mold on clothing usually arises due to high humidity in a closet (especially when living close to the ocean). However, this isn't always the case.
If you are having concerns about mold on clothing or excessive moisture, it is always best to consult with a certified mold inspector to ensure the correct procedures are followed and the source of mold is delineated.
Many previous clients have reported seeing mushroom growth in their bathrooms. This can sometimes be jutting out of baseboards, or next to the shower from incidental spillage, and sometimes even be growing out of the base of the toilet.
When mushrooms are present in a bathroom, this usually indicates a wider moisture issue. Here are some examples:
Mushrooms growing out from under the baseboard: this can sometimes indicate an active leak within the wall cavity, and there could then be considerable mold growth within the cavity since the water profile was high enough that mushrooms have developed.
Mushrooms growing out from under the toilet: this can indicate a toilet leak, which could be from a broken wax ring. If mushrooms are growing, then moisture could have entered the surrounding tile/carpet which could need inspecting to deduce further information for mold concerns.
Mushrooms growing from caulking: this is rare, but if it's occurring, can indicate ineffective caulking whereby moisture is getting in behind the caulking and creating moisture buildup.
If mushrooms are present within your bathroom, it is wise to call a mold inspector or water damage specialist to further assess the area to address the area before it potentially gets any worse. Don't ignore it!
In a recent article published on the EMLAB P&K bacterial and mold lab testing website, the reasons why Ozone remediation in properties is flawed were outlined by Dr. Harriet Burge. The following is a list of fundamental reasons as to why the ozone medium isn't recommended for mold resolution:
1. No single peer-reviewed, academic study supports the notion of using ozone technology for mold remediation.
2. Although higher levels of ozone have been shown to reduce levels of fungi, these concentrations also have the ability to damage building contents.
3. Ozoning has been shown to reduce fungi levels on hard surfaces, and to be much less effective on porous surfaces. This is an issue since a lot of mold issues are present on porous materials, such as drywall.
4. The use of the ozone technique can create a separate air quality issue in the property and potentially be hazardous to occupants and workers.
The contents of this article are in reference to a previously published article, which can be found HERE.
MOLD HEALTH EFFECTS BLOG AND RESEARCH