The crawl space is one of the most common types of foundations in existence. It may actually be the most common, depending on the area and soil conditions.
Something else that is common about crawl spaces is the fact that they can be problematic. You may find that you have issues with your crawl space, which could be major (such as having standing water in the crawl space) or something you consider to be minor (such as an old house smell).
In reality, these issues may be relatively common, but you should never consider them to be a normal part of homeownership. The fact of the matter is that any issue that exists in the crawl space can be significant on its own–but combined, they can cause problems below your home, and even in your living space.
Identifying the potential problems with the crawl space often means identifying the signs associated with it. You can then make the decision to do something about the situation, having the crawl space inspected and perhaps repaired or encapsulated.
We have some of the most common issues associated with crawl spaces listed below, along with some options for correcting the problem. Most of these do not fall within the realm of DIY projects. They will require the help of a professional.
Moisture Is the Big Problem
Although we will discuss a number of different issues associated with the crawl space, many of them will circle back to moisture in some way or another. High humidity levels are a problem, and may also be a sign of bigger issues.
Without proper crawl space encapsulation, this crawl space is naturally going to be higher in moisture. Although that is true, it is not a problem you want to face because it can lead to many other issues. Some of these issues are going to be broken out separately below, but others could include some significant problems.
One of the biggest problems moisture can cause is the growth of mold and mildew. In fact, an unencapsulated crawl space is an ideal environment for mold growth because it provides air, moisture, and material for growth.
Another issue that can be directly associated with moisture is wood rot. As the wood beams rot under the floor, they can undermine your foundation and cause the floor to be loose and possibly uneven. Do you ever notice that the furniture is shaking when you walk across the room? This could be due to wood rot in the crawl space.
As we will discuss below, anything that is happening in the crawl space is also going to be happening in the rest of your home. The moist environment also creates an unhealthy breathing environment for your entire family.
In fact, one of the big signs of crawl space problems is additional respiratory issues and colds among your family members. This is especially dangerous for those who are immunocompromised or who may have an existing breathing problem, such as asthma or COPD.
The bottom line is, moisture is common in a crawl space, but it is not something you want to contend with forever. It will eventually cause additional problems, and if it isn’t corrected early, it will cost more to correct later.
Is Your Crawl Space Being Invaded?
Another potential problem you may run into with the crawl space is an infestation of either rodents or insects. These can be a problem on many different levels, from damage caused by the invaders to the diseases they may carry.
The moist, dark area below the home in the crawl space is the perfect environment for rodents and insects to live in. You may find that you have rats, mice, and even raccoons visiting the crawl space on a regular basis.
The problem with rodents is not just the fact that they are unwanted visitors to the home; they can actually leave behind diseases that could be potentially deadly. For example, rat and other rodent droppings may carry a virus that is potentially deadly to humans.
In addition, if you have an infestation of bugs or rodents in the crawl space, they are not likely to stay there permanently. Eventually, they will find their way into your living space–and that is even more unacceptable.
Most people try to combat this on a periodic basis by using some type of pest control service. A permanent solution, however, is to make the crawl space uninviting, which is done through encapsulation. Some repairs may be necessary, depending on the damage done, but once the floor and walls are wrapped, the bugs and rodents will be gone.
The Hidden Danger of the Stack Effect
Have you ever heard of the stack effect? If you haven’t, you certainly are not alone. It happens in every home, but most homeowners are not aware of it.
Hot air rises, which means that the warm air in your home accumulates at the ceiling, and eventually finds its way into the attic and exits through the roof. This creates a natural vacuum inside of the home, and air is naturally pulled out of the crawl space.
Just how much of an effect will this have on your living space? According to some estimates, 50% of the air in the crawl space will eventually end up in your home.
If the air in the crawl space is moist, infested with mold, and otherwise unhealthy, it is going to make the air in your home unhealthy. That is why many people with asthma and COPD have difficulty when the crawl space is having problems.
The stack effect will take place because it is a natural occurrence. You can beat it, however, by improving the air quality in the crawl space through crawl space encapsulation. As the dryer, healthier air enters the home you live in, it will not have the negative impact of unhealthy air.
Your Crawl Space Is Increasing Your Energy Bills
One common complaint among many people who eventually have their crawl space encapsulated is that their energy bills continue to increase. This is something that is not necessarily the fault of the power company, as it is directly connected to the crawl space.
Since most crawl spaces are moist and, as we discussed, the air from the crawl space enters the home, then you will naturally have higher humidity in the home. This can affect your ability to keep the temperature comfortable in both the summer and winter.
The higher humidity in the air is going to make your air conditioning unit run more frequently to keep the air at a comfortable temperature. You may find that you are even lowering the temperature, but it isn’t the fault of your AC unit; it is because you need to have the temperature lower in order to be comfortable when the air is moist.
In the winter, the moisture in the air makes the air more difficult to heat. As your heater continues to work harder to keep up with the moisture in the air, your energy bill rises in response.
Reducing the humidity throughout the home by encapsulating the crawl space is a great way to combat the high energy bills you are experiencing. You will start seeing the savings in the first month after the work is done.
Are Structural Problems Hiding Beneath Your Home?
The crawl space is a type of foundation, and there are times when the foundation may fail. This could be due to any number of different issues, but it often has to do with moisture.
Moisture in the surrounding soil can cause issues–especially if the soil is expansive. As the wet soil expands, it puts pressure on the walls of the foundation (hydrostatic pressure) and could eventually cause them to crack or buckle.
In addition, the foundation may be shifting or sinking if the soil is unable to support the structure properly.
Fortunately, problems with the foundation can be repaired, and you can then take the next step of crawl space encapsulation.
Push or helical piers can be used as underpinning to support the structure–and even raise it, if necessary. Cracks can be repaired with the use of carbon fiber straps and epoxy injections.If you have structural problems, this is certainly not something to ignore. These problems will not get better on their own; they will just get worse over time, and could eventually make the home uninhabitable.
Should You Consider a DIY Solution to Crawl Space Problems?
Many homeowners tend to take a DIY approach to repairing their homes. They might even consider doing so with the crawl space–but is that a good idea?
Although it may be physically possible to wrap the walls with poly sheeting, as would be done during a crawl space encapsulation, that is often just covering over the issue and not addressing the problem before the encapsulation takes place.
Any structural issues should be handled by a trained and qualified professional. If water in the surrounding soil or in the crawl space is a problem, then a drainage system, sump pump, and dehumidifier may be necessary.
Fortunately, many companies that offer these services also offer a free foundation inspection. That is the first step in the process, and once you have the inspection done, you will know better where to take things from here.