Creepy crawly crawlspace

by Gilbert Migirditsian, professional engineer, home inspector, and founder of GM Inspection

Besides being filled with creepy crawly critters and cobwebs, how many of us have actually set foot in the crawlspace beneath our home?  Before you turn your basement upside down trying to find the trap door, it’s good to know that not all homes have or even need a crawlspace.  Most crawlspaces are comprised of bare dirt, exposed ductwork, water heaters, plumbing pipes, etc.  You can usually get around on your hands and knees but this is not always the case.  In Quebec, they are usually found on older buildings where I have most often encountered them in some of the older neighborhoods of Montreal.  But what happens to anything left in the crawlspace, does its useful life take a hit?

Above all, it’s dirty and dusty down there where, let’s face it, you won’t be spending quality time with your family!  If the dirt and dust are a bother, then installing a proper vapor barrier of sufficient thickness as called for by building code is your best bet.  Now this is not a must, there are other acceptable solutions that can be applied but the vapour barrier is still your best bet. If installing a vapour barrier is not feasible, then there are other options where the solution adopted needs to be modulated according to the season. First, you need to control humidity and to do this, the temperature must always be kept at or slightly above 15 degrees Celsius such that air quality issues do not arise due to condensation. The next step is ventilation where, during the summer, air circulation must be maintained which can be a simple solution like two open vents with one at each extremity.  That being said, mechanical ventilation is still a better choice. During the winter, ventilation is closed off and temperature becomes your main concern. Now keep in mind that I’m in a cold climate so your solution may be different and every case needs to be evaluated individually.

you need to control humidity and to do this, the temperature must always be kept at or slightly above 15 degrees Celsius such that air quality issues do not arise due to condensation Click To Tweet

How about everything else that dwells in your crawlspace? No, I’m not taking about bugs! Ductwork, plumbing pipes, water heaters, and building structure, all are part of a common crawlspace. For your ductwork, make sure all seams are well sealed and any ductwork used for air conditioning is properly insulated to avoid condensation. Even if you’re only using ductwork for heating, why heat your crawlspace indirectly like this? A little insulation can go a long way! The plumbing network is probably also dwelling here and I always recommend my clients regularly check for leaks. Keep in mind that regardless what is done to keep an eye on plumbing components, the crawlspace environment is a difficult one for plumbing components. Consider professionally insulating your plumbing network as this will make for one less thing to worry about in the long run.

Since the crawlspace is rarely livable, it is often utilized to house the main electrical service entrance as well as the wiring which is carrying that all so important electricity around your home. Electrical inspections are a topic within themselves but at the bare minimum, a regular check of the protective jacket around any wiring is a good idea. Nobody wants to see this but rodents love chewing away at the plastic cover of modern wiring not to mention that once a light goes out, you may be in for a nasty surprise comprised of a full rewire to correct the damage done.

Finally, let’s not forget about building structure where the property itself is supported by a network of beams and posts. Over the years many changes may have been made and, from my experience, this type of work is rarely done correctly. I’ve seen everything from notched beams and  segmented posts to a 2×4 holding up an entire ground floor. This is why a pre-purchase inspection is so important! Hiring the right professional is of utmost importance to ensure that such problems are caught before you take possession of the property! After all, who wants to get into a long legal battle where one thing is for certain, it’s your wallet that will become the biggest loser!

See you next time when I’ll be back with more useful information!  In the meantime, visit us on Facebook.