The Forgotten Crawl Space (Part 2 of 2)

(Continued from: Part 1)

I thought you’d like to hear more from the “dark space below me.”  I got a call a few years ago about a property that had a “moisture vapor” problem in the crawl space.  That’s what an inspection report listed it as.  So, I went to look; sure enough plenty of water (probably two to four inches at the time) under the home, and in the winter again.  So, the report called for a “moisture vapor” barrier to stop the moisture and vapor from getting into the home.  But, where does the water go when you seal the ground below it?  Hmm.  So, I suggested we first get the water out (with a sump pump set-up), figure some ways to keep it out, and then put the barrier over the soil.  The soil was clay (we call it adobe here) and it’s great for many things, but it doesn’t allow the water to seep into it very quickly, and it’s rather expansive (it grows with moisture).  If I had just put the barrier down, without thinking about the water that already gets into the space, then I would be compounding the problem because then the water couldn’t even get back into the soil when the rainy season passed each year.  The barrier would stop the “rising damp” (moisture that rises up out of the ground into the crawl space, becoming vapor) but it would not have dealt with the entry of rainwater into the space.  To me, it’s like building a beautiful remodel but ignoring the cracked and settling foundation below the whole thing.  It’s just not right!

(These photos are from my “ickies” gallery.  My own crawl space shortly after moving in – we were just starting to clean up this mess.  How many problems can you find?)

To continue . . . Ultimately, the owner went with my suggestions and got the best of all solutions: getting the rainwater to stay out of the building and keeping the vapor (relative humidity) in the space to an acceptable level.

By the way, vapor is a potential problem under homes in summer also, if you have un-insulated cold water piping or air conditioning lines and ducts down there.  The moisture rises up into the space, evaporates (becomes vapor), then condenses onto the cold surfaces of the piping, ducts, tubing and other things.

Another issue with moisture and such below the home can be respiratory problems for the occupants.  Many of us are resistant to most of these, but it’s still a big consideration.  It helps to have the humidity in the home checked by an “indoor environmental professional,” particularly if you are prone to breathing or other health problems that can be associated with what goes on under the home.

If you happen to go down there for a look, pay attention for signs of life: nesting debris, bio-colonies, discolored wood, water lines around the perimeter, rotted wood, soft/wet soil, nasty smells, etcetera.  You’ll want a good quality respirator, particularly if you suspect anything going on down there.  (Critter nesting debris can be infected with “Hanta virus” – very dangerous to us . . . probably other harmful things also.)

If you see damaged spots (or any unusual looking discolorations) on any of the framing or sheathing, or any leaking from pipes, or any ducts have separations in them,  it’s time to call a professional for an assessment of what’s happening.  Don’t think, “It will go away,” or “It’s under the house; I just won’t worry about it.”  It may very well get you someday.  Or, someone you care for.

If you know what’s going on down there, you’re armed and ready to take the next steps, and the more you know (and the sooner) . . . the better for you.  These things usually cost much less when they’re caught early.  Be sure that if you try to sell the home, you’ll likely have to deal with it at that time.

Basically, just think of the space as a cave that needs to be explored!  You could even get a friend, suit him (or her) up with the proper protection, get the digital camera ready and send him into the “dark space.”  The photos are good to keep for reference also.  Put them onto the computer and zoom in to really look closely at what’s down there.


(Read Part 1)

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