Remember when you were a child and your parents told you sternly, “go to your room?” Oh those happy times of yesteryear. . .
This post exhorts you to go to your crawlspace! Now! – before the end of this month and every year thereafter!
If you are one of the fortunate who: 1. rent, 2. have a house on a slab foundation, or 3. have a full basement, then disregard this exhortation.
As an inspector, much of the action is seen in the underbelly of structures, in the proverbial “deep dark places” that few people ever see or care to see. As noted in previous posts (e.g., “rotten butts”), a structure can be all pretty and nice on the topside, well maintained, etc., hugely expensive with an ocean view, but be a lemon based on conditions on the down low.
You the homeowner should get into your crawlspace yearly and go to all areas under your house (or twice yearly if you are a nut job) and look for things. Pay to have this inspection done if you are allergic to crawl spaces. [You aren’t but you may think you are.] What things to look for?
- Obvious moisture from the ground, from the outside. Gutters overflowing will almost always show in the crawl space in hard rain conditions. Flooding from a bad topography outside, where water directs toward your structure. High water table. Standing water from a source other than your interior house plumbing. If no water, staining from past water.
- Moisture from leaking interior plumbing, whether in your pressurized lines (incoming) or your non-pressurized (outgoing). This necessitates that you get under each plumbing point (bathrooms, kitchen, laundry) and look at the plumbing coming down through the flooring. Before checking while topside, you can run the water for a while and flush a couple-three times to make sure enough water has passed to show signs of leaking.
- Foundation wall integrity: are there cracks or signs of movement or flaw? Moisture?
- Support posts and their underlying blocks. Each post should be dry, free from rot or weakness, with a vapor barrier (plastic sheeting or an oversized roof shingle) between itself and the concrete block on which it sits. I try to hit [with a hammer] and/or kick every post to make sure it is firm and solid. Water should never be allowed to the lowest level of any support posts, ever.
- Support blocks that have moved or are sunken. If moved, these may need to be re-placed or their respective posts re-shimmed.
- Integrity of sub flooring under plumbing points and in the SW corners/sides of structures [here, the weather sides].
- Screens should be integral and their respective apertures kept OPEN YEAR ROUND. I recommend replacing every vent screen with ¼” stainless steel screening and stainless fasteners, available at Englund Marine in
. As many of these as possible should be installed
from the exterior of the structure, not the crawl space interior. Exceptions
are only where exterior access is blocked. Do every vent point! Astoria
- In our temperate environment, I prefer no insulation in crawl spaces. However, if you have insulation, it should be applied between the upper floor joists and supported in place by one of several means. It should not be drooping, fallen, or rat-holed or fouled.
- Black 6 millimeter plastic should cover every bare earth area of your crawl space. You should see no earth when in your crawl space. Edges should roll up the foundation walls by several (6+) inches; laid edges should overlap by 12 inches. Use black plastic; clear plastic allows certain plants to grow under the plastic in a greenhouse-type environment. Use plastic garden spikes to fasten the plastic to the ground, or bricks, etc. Never wood blocks.
- All rodents, animals, neighborhood children; homeless persons OUT. Do what you need to do to extricate all forms of life from your crawl area. I won’t even let moles into mine – everything OUT!
- All garbage or stored material OUT! All wood and rottables OUT! Especially nice is when people store extra rolls of carpet in their crawl spaces! Gee, I want to have my bedroom re-floored with THAT carpeting!
- All wires that droop down should be carefully stapled or fastened up to the underside of joists.
Consider establishing a fixed date to enter your crawlspace. I do mine every year on a fine, wet fall day in the midst of - or after - a strong storm so that I can see the space in the worst of conditions. You can make this date a fixed date, to become part of your cherished family traditions in a decade or two. Perhaps one bright day in the future "national crawl space day" will be a federal/state/school day off, like c'mass or t'giving or the like!
A note on PPG (personal protective gear) and crawls. The two inspectors I shadowed when entering this profession used nasty unwashed cloth coveralls and no respirators/goggles/etc. when accessing crawl spaces. They were men’s men doing things the old-school way of doing things. They looked slovenly – disheveled, and stunk like crawl-space as a result. Their lungs and eyes carried the nastiness of what they encountered whilst down-under. You've heard of "black lung" for those who have worked in coal mines. Well, welcome to "crawl lung!"Contrarily, I look like moon-boy banana supremo when I access a crawl space. I wear an interior white Paint spray suit, a yellow plastic or rubber exterior rain suit over this, high boots, twice plastic gloves, a good particulate respirator, ski goggles that do not fog up, a hood and a plastic helmet with an affixed light. I’m not dragging your nasty crawl-disease-skank home by showing up at the party under-dressed. Even though my own crawl space is as near perfection and cleanliness as one can find, I still suit up appropriately when diving down-under. I recommend wearing a rubber rain suit, boots, goggs, respirator, and gloves when doing your yearly rounds. You will get hot under the collar perhaps to extreme discomfort, while leaving the nastiness on the outside of your bod.
Lastly, don't neglect this task. I cannot emphasize how often I get into a crawl space and see through long term neglect of simple maintenance or of simple observation how a homeowner has let things go to seed to their financial detriment of thousands, tens of thousands, and occasionally hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is a gamble to own a structure and to omit getting into a crawl space just because you are afraid of a few cooties or are lazy.