Enter the CRAWLSPACE . . . if you dare.
Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here!
Crawlspaces are damp, dark, and cold. Most people do not like slithering around inside of them, underneath all the weight of the building, where unknown THINGS drip, and crawl, and scurry. Spiders, and rats, and snakes, Oh My!
But if you want to feel the pulse of the house, get a sense of how it’s running, you need to peek under the floor. Follow me beneath a typical home in northern California, and we will see what we can see. Don’t be scared. I’ll hold your hand. Shhhh! What’s that?
It looks like something you would find in a haunted house. Nah, it’s just the plastic they wrap around heating and air conditioning ducts. It has a tendency to deteriorate if exposed to sunlight, even the narrow shafts of sunlight coming in through the foundation vents. Or maybe some CREATURE shredded it . . . and maybe that CREATURE is still here? Boogah! Boogah! Boogah! Probably not. The fix? Just re-wrap it with more insulation or plastic or replace the entire tattered section. No problem.
Moving deeper into the CRAWLSPACE.
Now this is a terrifying problem. CELLULOSE DEBRIS! Right there on the dirt. Wait. What is that, cellulose debris? It’s anything made from a tree, and that includes wood, paper, cardboard, twigs, toothpicks, furniture, anything. Got to get rid of that stuff. Why? TERMITES. The little insectoid house-eaters love cellulose. Stacking lumber, packing boxes and other forest products on the ground is just like ringing the dinner bell.
What is this? Docktor Frankenstein’s laboratory? I’m not sure. It’s some kind of owner-built clustermess of a piping contraption waiting patiently to spring a leak and flood the crawlspace. Really, Mr. Homeowner, hire a PLUMBER.
SNAKES! No wait. Not snakes. Just television or communication cable lying around on the ground. This is, unfortunately, typical of cable installation, sloppy and hasty. It’s not a dangerous situation because there’s no significant current flowing the cables, but they get snagged and pulled lose (“Ethel, what just happened to the TV?”), and frankly, they look . . . unkempt.
Speaking of sloppy. What the heck is this? C’mon peeps, you can’t be leaving foundation posts just . . . floating in air like a GHOST. Check the level and plumb, then install a new, correctly-sized post.
Now here’s a scary word . . . EFFLORESCENCE! It’s in the same chemical family as . . . ECTOPLASM. Well, that may be stretching it a bit.
Efflorescence is caused when water seeps through concrete and deposits soluble salts, most often calcium hydroxide. It can be removed, sometimes by scrubbing or applying acid, or both, but here in the crawlspace, why bother. There’s nothing harmful about efflorescence by itself. But it’s never by itself. Efflorescence is caused by moisture intrusion, and you definitely do not want that! Correcting moisture problems in the crawlspace is the topic of another article, so all I’ll say here is that the best cure is prevention, stopping the water before it ever gets into the crawlspace.
Here you can see where water is getting into the crawlspace from the uphill side of the house and actually carving a little rivulet as it burbles merrily downstream. I wonder where it is going?
The water is flowing into THE PIT OF DAMPNESS AND DOOM. This is the downhill corner of the crawlspace. Not good. What can be done? First, as mentioned above, try to prevent water from ever getting into the crawlspace, but that is not always possible, even with proper exterior drainage and grading. If water DOES enter and flows into the PIT OF DAMP AND DOOM, be sure you encourage it to keep right on flowing. In this situation you could first try installing a PASSIVE DRAIN. Rent a concrete hole-cutter and drill a three or four inch hole through the foundation so that most of the water just pours out the downhill side. Install a grate over the hole to keep critters from using it as a front door. Better yet, extend a drain pipe from the hole so that the water moves well away from your foundation.
If you want a more elaborate cure, then you can install a SUMP PUMP in this corner. Obviously this PIT is a natural catch-basin, so putting in a sump pump is easy . . . and not very expensive. The pumps cost about $200 and with a basin, switch, drain line, and a bit of circuitry put in by a LICENSED ELECTRICIAN, you can have your sump just pumping away for $300-400. How much water can a sump pump pump? Oh, about 4,000 gallons an hour.
Is there anything GOOD we can say about this crawlspace? Sure. For one thing, it’s WELL-INSULATED, tidy and professional.
Then you can admire the adequate VENTILLATION.
I have to tell you that ventillation, though required by County building code, has become controversial in some areas. In very humid climates, not northern California by the way, foundation vents actually invite that drippy air into the crawlspace and INCREASE the moisture levels, creating an environment that cultivates mold and fungus growth. In very cold climates, those foundation vents allow frigid air to blow into the crawlspace, freezing water pipes, causing condensation problems, and increasing heating bills. What to do? I have seen clever homeowners fit STYROFOAM COVERS over the vents for the winter months. Sounds smart to me, think I’ll do the same in November, before the first freeze.
So what’s the verdict on this crawlspace? How would I grade it? (Old professors never die, they just crawl away.) As it stands right now, I would give it a C plus maybe a B minus because I’m that kind of easy grader. But with a modest amount of work, and just a few hundred dollars, less than a thousand, I could quickly bring this crawlspace up to an B plus . . . or maybe an A minus. I’d certainly buy a home with an A minus crawlspace . . . especially if I could get it for a bargain price. Wouldn’t you?
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