Crawl space encapsulation is the practice of sealing a crawl space with a thick layer of plastic material along the floors, walls and sometimes ceilings to prevent water intrusion, high relative humidity (RH) levels and mold and mildew growth--often accompanied by the installation of a specially designed crawl space dehumidifier for added protection. The term has existed for nearly a century, as the procedure itself has changed and adapted to newer understandings of waterproofing techniques and the way that groundwater behaves, in all climates and soil types.
Unfortunately, many homes to this day are constructed with a bare dirt floor, cement or cinder block walls, and left vented to the outside. This leaves the crawl space vulnerable to a whole host of issues that could over time result in serious health issues and costly repairs to not just the crawl space, but potentially the whole home.
When starting a crawl space encapsulation job, many homeowners don't know what to expect. The whole concept is foreign, as people don't tend to spend time in their crawl spaces. The space itself is small, so the products for it are designed creatively, made to be smaller than their larger basement waterproofing counterparts.
Common products used in crawl space encapsulations
- Vapor Barriers--Thick, flexible sheets of plastic that are cut to custom measurements to completely cover the walls, floors, and sometimes the ceiling of a crawl space. Formulated to keep water, bugs and rodents out of the crawl space.
- Vent Covers--Hard, ultra durable plastic covers the size of traditional crawl space/foundation vents. These covers snap on over the vents, blocking the flow of air from the outside into the crawl space, preventing the flow of outdoor humidity and irritants.
- Crawl Space Dehumidifier--Specialized dehumidifiers designed to work in intense conditions. These dehumidifiers often have self draining capabilities and are hooked up to a pump to remove the water from the premises after being absorbed.
- Crawl Space Sump Pumps--For extreme cases of water issues in the crawl space, beyond that of elevated humidity levels, there are water collecting sump pump systems. Typically smaller than those designed for basements, these systems are installed just below the foundation to catch and pump away ground water before it can cause damage to the home.
The Risks of an Unencapsulated Crawl Space
There are many real dangers to leaving your home exposed to the elements in such a way, like:
- Easy conditions for Mold and Mildew to grow and spread--With exposed earth in the crawl space, groundwater can easily seep up through the dirt and become standing water on the surface. This water can rot out supports, draw in pests and facilitate mold growth at an alarming rate. Mold can begin to grow and spread its spores in as little as 24 hours. With the very real health dangers that mold can present, this is a serious issue that should be dealt with immediately.
- High probability of Pest Infestation--Insects such as termites, carpenter ants, silverfish and cockroaches are attracted to damp, humid spaces with organic material to feed on, like the wood supports in your crawl space.
- Elevated risk for Radon Gas intrusion--Radon Gas is odorless, tasteless and colorless. It is a leading cause for lung cancer alongside tobacco and nicotine products, and all the more dangerous for being able to slowly fill your home without you ever knowing. Can cause respiratory issues over prolonged exposure.
- Floor damage from moisture--Whether you have a wood floor, or tile or laminate flooring, it will eventually need to be replaced if it is over an unsealed crawl space. The reason for this is the extensive exposure to the humidity of the outside air. Over time, the boards that make up the subfloor will twist, warp and begin to rot, causing the floor above, be it wood or some other material, to also warp, twist, crack and come undone.
- Potential structural issues--Groundwater can rot away at structural supports, such as floor joists and important support beams, leaving your home at risk of collapse.
So, what does a crawl space encapsulation really do for you and your home?
Well for starters, a good crawl space encapsulation will lower the risk for serious health issues by improving indoor air quality. What many homeowners don't realise is that the crawl space is not as isolated from the rest of the house as it may seem.
Air from within the crawl space is circulated throughout the home--so if there's something funky going on down there, it's sure to come up into the home before long. Natural irritants like mold and radon gas can quickly and effectively diminish someone's health, even without preexisting conditions or respiratory sensitivities. For those with these issues, the danger is even greater. Prolonged exposure to these things can be fatal, or cause life threatening health conditions. This is just one of the reasons that it's so important to completely seal the crawl space with an impermeable barrier--so that none of the unhealthy air can infect the rest of your living spaces.
Signs that your Crawl Space needs to be Encapsulated
So how can you tell that you need a crawl space encapsulation? Some warning signs to watch for could be:
- Extra high heating and cooling bills--If the crawl space is exposed to the outside via vents, it doesn’t matter how much insulation has been installed. The air will be the same temperature inside as outside and will manipulate the temperature of the home accordingly.
- High humidity, moisture or mold on the first floor--If the home is extra humid, sticky and uncomfortable, or you’ve begun to notice condensation, or even suspicious discoloration to walls, furniture and flooring, the culprit is likely the unsealed crawl space. Humid air and moisture will travel up through the flooring and cycle through the house, keeping it damp and oppressive.
- Sudden or worsening allergies in the home--Allergies to dust and pollen are very common, but if allergies have suddenly come about in the home with no clear cause, it could very well be natural irritants within the home itself. Mold, mildew and radon gas can all cause respiratory issues, such as sneezing, coughing, asthma attacks and more that can worsen with prolonged exposure.
- Drafts and cold spots above the crawl space/on the first floor--As we’ve stated before, the air in the crawl space will cycle up through the home, so if the air is the same temperature as the outdoors, it could be much colder than the temperature you’ve set on your heating system, causing cold spots and drafts above the crawl space, and on the main floor.
- Unpleasant odors within the home--Dank, musty and bad smells are a good indicator that there’s some problems going on down below. Mold and Mildew, as well as standing water are famous for the oppressively bad smells they tend to carry with them.
If you’ve noticed these or similar issues within the home, it’s time to call in the professionals. Here at HomePro Match, we offer easy in person estimates. This way, we can ensure that you know exactly what is needed to make your home healthy and safe for the whole family.
When our experts come out, they’ll take a look at your crawl space, and the first floor for signs of serious damage, and will be able to solve the issues from their core--the unsealed crawl space.
To get started, and make your home a healthier, happier and more enjoyable place to be, reach out to your local HomePro Match expert today!