How Homeowners Can Easily Maintain Their Crawl Space
Few of us have a desire to go exploring in the dark recesses of our crawl space. Why would we? Cobwebs, dirt, dust, and ductwork is all that there is to greet us — well, hopefully. Additionally, most crawl spaces leave little space to move around, much less walk.
Unfortunately, this lack of easy accessibility causes many homeowners to ignore their crawl space area entirely — a mistake that can sometimes cost them thousands of dollars later on.
There are 9 common things that every homeowner should know to keep an eye out for when it comes to maintaining their crawl space area. We’ve got a list of them for you — along with what you should do when you encounter each one.
Most homeowners in the Greater Seattle area have bare dirt or exposed rock ground as the floor of their crawl space area. Sometimes homes may have had a vapor barrier or insulation installed years before, of which pieces still remain. While there isn’t much harm in dirt itself, there are issues that come along with exposed dirt floor in the crawl space.
What to do about dirt:
Install a vapor barrier. These help prevent moisture and condensation coming up out of the dirt and into the air of your crawl space. Thanks to the Stack Effect, the air of your crawl space is suctioned up into the rest of your home. In fact, up to 40% of your air circulating through your house has come from your crawl space!
Vapor barriers are comprised of thick plastic sheets laid across the floor and secured with stakes or tape. They contribute to lessened moisture build-up as well as helping your home air stay clean. If you can see dirt in your crawl space, it’s best that you have a professional come in to install a vapor barrier as soon as possible.
Many home appliances run through the crawl space area. The accompanying ductwork is usually exposed. Washers and dryer ducts are all commonly found running along the ceiling of the crawl space on their way to your home exterior or to external holding tanks. The ductwork for your homes HVAC system will also typically be found down here.
What to do about ductwork:
There’s nothing wrong with having ductwork running through your crawl space, but it does need to be properly insulated. If HVAC ductwork is not insulated, you run the risk of wasting energy and increasing the cost of heating and cooling your home. Additionally, the changes in temperature can encourage excess moisture and mold development. All this heat and moisture attracts pests, who in turn can damage your ductwork and insulation while diminishing the air quality of your home.
Yeah - big ramifications to such a simple issue.
If you’ve got uninsulated ductwork in your crawl space, the best thing to do is to call a professional crawl space team to come in and install insulation. Insulate the ductwork incorrectly, and you’ll have all the exact same issues as if you hadn’t insulated at all — possibly worse! Ductwork and pipe insulation isn’t a DIY job, so find a reliable, affordable local business to come in and help you out.
3. Plumbing Pipes
Just like ductwork, most homes have at least a few lines of plumbing that run through their crawl space on their way to the septic tank or sewer system. These pipes are usually heavy duty and seemingly impervious to threat — unless it’s from a clogged drain.
But plumbing lines can actually create a pretty poor crawl space environment very quickly. Changes in temperature thanks to water flowing through them and the seasonal temperature changes can cause condensation on the pipes, especially during the coldest and warmest months of the year. This condensation can easily lead to mold infestations if not dealt with properly.
What to do about plumbing:
Call in the experts! A good crawl space cleaning team will insulate and wrap your ductwork and plumbing pipes all in one go. This insulation has to be done carefully, however, as trapping moisture against the pipes can still lead to mold growth and possible damage to your pipes. Be sure you work with a crew who knows what to wrap, how, and when.
4. Electrical Wiring
Wiring sometimes dangles like spider webs from a poorly kept crawl space. These cables and wires usually run along beams as they supply energy to various areas of your home. All you need to do is make sure these wires are protected from the gnawing teeth of mice and rats.
What to do about wiring:
Tack electrical wiring snugly against the beams with nail-in cable clips. Ideally, these electrical cables would lay underneath your crawl space insulation. This keeps them out of easy reach from any crawl space invaders who have made it into your home.
5. Drain and Pumps
Some crawl spaces have been installed with a drain or pump system. In most cases, the pump is a sump pump, designed to carry excess water away from the home in the event of a flood. Drains would have been installed for the same purpose, usually draining the water to a culvert, septic tank, or sewer system.
What to do about a drain:
Do not ever cover a drain or pump! These devices should be left open so that when water does gather, it can be easily drained away. You should occasionally check on pumps and drains to ensure they are still in working order – after all, a plugged drain will not do you any good when a flood occurs. Sooner, in this case, is always better than later.
Most crawl spaces are equipped with multiple vents along the bottom or top of the walls. These vents allow air movement through your crawl space.
What to do about vents:
Do not block your crawl space vents! Many homeowners mistakenly think that by blocking these vents, they’ll help keep their crawl space warmer/cooler. These vents are actually very important in allowing proper ventilation. Check that the mesh of the vents is secure and without holes. The mesh should be fine enough to prevent insects from squeezing through, yet still allow for air movement.
7. Exposed Beams
The beams in your crawl space are what keep your home standing. These foundational beams run vertically and horizontally throughout your home. Ensuring that these are in good shape is a hugely important part of keeping your home safe.
What to do about exposed beams:
Leave them be! Do not ever cut out beams or boards that are ‘in your way’. However unimportant they may seem to you, these are actually vital in the stability of your home. What you can do is once a year or after a flood check these beams for any signs of decay, termite damage, or cracking.
8. Dirty or Damaged Insulation
Insulation is one of the most vital aspects of your crawl space. You can lose up to 45% of your home’s energy through non-insulated crawl spaces. If your crawl space features dirty, ragged or limited insulation, you’re probably wasting a lot of money each month on your heating bills. Additionally, crawl spaces with dirty insulation are more likely to encourage mold growth and attract insects, rodents, and other bothersome pests.
What to do about insulation:
Replace it. Ensuring your crawl space is well-insulated is definitely worth the investment. Not only will you be keeping your energy bills lower and your home more comfortable, you’ll also be deterring pests and lessening the chances of mold and mildew growth. Some homeowners see up to 30% reduction in energy bills following the installation of insulation in the crawl space. It’s easy to see how a crawl space cleanout can rapidly pay for itself.
Most crawl spaces will have some vermin — especially those that have not been maintained. The dark, warm area naturally attracts pests of all sorts, including mice, rats, squirrels, snakes, spiders, ants, beetles, termites, and many more types of pests.
What to do about crawl space pests:
Getting these pesky invaders out of your home can be challenging. For some DIY-ers, home remedies and traps will do the trick. (If that’s you, here are some handy resources on how to remove rodents and snakes from your crawl space). For large-scale, persistent invasions or for those homeowners who prefer to have the issue dealt with professionally, there are great local pest control services available as well.
After the pests are eradicated, it’s time to clean up the mess. Rodents and some types of insects can leave quite a mess behind. Chewed insulation, ripped vapor barriers, feces, and carcasses all need to be removed. In most cases, it’s better to leave the reparation job up to the professionals.
- I'm the marketing manager for Clean Crawls, a Pacific Northwest crawl space cleaning & insulation company. At home I love to spend time with my wife, 4 children, and golf. At work, I help connect my clients to their customers through content that helps people solve problems.
Guest Contributor, CleanCrawls.com