When homeowners hear the word “crawlspace” it is no surprise that the first thought that comes to mind is of a horrifying cave full of rodents, darkness, dampness and creepy infestations. The unfortunate news is that almost all crawlspaces of the past (and even some today still!) were built with a misunderstanding of how to keep it healthy. Many homeowners don’t realize that an unhealthy crawlspace actually has major implications for the rest of the home. Let’s run through some of the most common issues homeowners face, so that you can catch a minor problem before your crawlspace becomes the Pit of Despair.
One Stone Causing Many Ripples
Almost all crawlspace issues can be traced back to a single enemy: moisture. Moisture is the single stone that over time creates more and more ripples in your crawlspace’s integrity. Identifying the source of the moisture is an integral step when addressing your crawlspace issues.
Moisture Source #1: Groundwater
When it rains, soil soaks up water like a sponge, then the water slowly evaporates upward again. If your crawlspace has a dirt floor, the evaporating water will release into and get trapped in your crawlspace. This problem can be heightened by poor water drainage around the home. For example, an improperly graded yard will hold more water against your home’s foundation, increasing the amount that evaporates into your crawlspace.
Moisture Source #2: Leaks
Very straightforward, leaks can be found in your home’s foundation, as well as damaged plumbing. These issues may go unnoticed for a long time unless the leak is substantial. Standing water will collect over time, creating the perfect environment for rodents, pests, and mold to move in, get a job, start a family, retire, and pass on happily of old age surrounded by loved ones.
Moisture Source #3: Ventilation
Most crawlspaces we work on have air vents. In your home, cross-ventilation is used to draw humid, musty air out, and dry, clean air in. However, the science with crawlspace vents is not the same as the rest of your home. There are two reasons for this: the cool temperature of the average crawlspace, and rules of air convection. Yet for some reason, contractors still love to install them.
On a humid summer day, hot air will enter the cool crawlspace. The more significant the drop in temperature from outside to inside, the higher the crawlspace air humidity will rise. Because it is already a humid day, the humidity in the crawlspace will exceed the amount the air can hold. This results in condensation collecting on the surfaces of the crawlspace.
Because hot air rises, it creates a vacuum in the home. Hot air entering into the crawlspace from outside is drawn up through the home and out through the attic, rather than travelling horizontal through the crawlspace and out the other side. So really what you’re left with is two crawlspace vents both bringing in more hot air, which builds more condensation. Not cool.
The Stone is Thrown… Now for the Ripples
Often, the moisture source is not what a homeowner finds first when they see their Pit of Despair needs to be fixed. Moisture is the source which allows other “signals” to present themselves. The “signal” issue may have to be addressed first before fixing the source of the moisture, or vice versa. It is important to have a professional come in to assess the situation, so that no stone is left unturned.
Signal #1: Water
With flooding, busted pipes, foundation leaks, poor ventilation, and groundwater breaking through, your crawlspace is bound to start developing standing water puddles. With substantial water, your crawlspace may flood, signified by white or chalky markings on your foundation walls. More subtly, condensation may be found on the surfaces of your crawlspace framework, columns, and walls. If caught early on, you can avoid the slew of problems standing water invites into your crawlspace. If not, you may find…
Signal #2: Rodents and Pests
Those crawlspace air vents are basically a big neon sign saying “Hospitality Here!” Moisture filled crawlspaces provide the perfect environment for bugs like ants, termites, spiders, and more thrive. With the crawlspace temperature staying relatively the same throughout the year, you may find your crawlspace has developed its own miniature ecosystem.
The same goes for rodents. They find access through holes in the foundation, broken air vents, and poorly installed doors. Mice, moles, and raccoons all love crawlspaces for their even temperature, and protection from other predators. You may find that your fibreglass insulation makes the perfect bed for a mouse to make a nest. Standing water make crawlspaces comfortably liveable for rodents all year long.
Signal #3: Mold
Damp crawlspaces are a fantastic environment for mold to grow. This creates not only a problem for your crawlspace, but your entire home. We know that the air from the crawlspace gets sucked up into the rest of the home due to the vacuum created by hot air rising. That means that the musty, moldy air from your crawlspace is what you are actually breathing in other parts of your home. If mold isn’t removed, this can lead to significant respiratory issues, or other health problems. Plus, the smell is horrendous.
Signal #4: Structural Damage
Structural damage is often caused by the first three signals. Moisture filled crawlspaces cause wood to begin to rot. Termites eat away at the wooden framework under your floors. You may notice a structural issue in your crawlspace if parts of the floor sag when you walk on them. Rodents may eat away at your electrical wiring, causing a fire hazard. Foundation cracks may be a signal of improper water drainage around the home. The list can go on.
Many Problems, Simple Solution
The best and scientifically proven way to maintain a healthy crawlspace is to encapsulate it. With the use of vapour barriers, dehumidifiers, and sump pumps, your crawlspace will remain dry, inhospitable to pests and rodents, and keep the air in your home fresh and healthy. If you are thinking of trying to encapsulate your crawlspace yourself, check out our article “DIY Crawlspace Repair or Call a Professional” to see if it is the right choice for you.
Crawlspace issues can be daunting to address, which is why we’re here to help. If you have any questions about what the best solution would be for you, get in touch with us or call us at 519.946.0363 and we’d be glad to serve you.