One of the most neglected and misunderstood areas of a building is the crawl space. As the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind”. Taking the time to understand the impact moisture and mold in the crawl space can have on the integrity of the home can give you the tools you need to protect your home and health from the negative effects of mold and poor indoor air quality.
Some homeowners have just enough ambition and skills to perform many of their own home improvement projects. The gamble on any project is whether or not it actually saves you money. Too often, over-confident DIY-ers are more destructive than constructive. Sometimes the mistakes can be quickly fixed by the professionals, but sometimes the errors are big enough that they can cause a huge amount of damage.
Here are some of the biggest mistakes that a homeowner needs to avoid making in their crawl space.
1. Trying to improve humidity issues with vents
Lets be clear: keeping your vents clear and in working order is important, and certainly something that homeowners can do. However, a DIY-er should never decide to solve their crawl space humidity problems by installing additional vents. Why not?
Contrary to popular opinion, adding vents will not aerate a crawl space. According to science, if you have a moisture problem in the crawl space, additional vents will only make it worse. Warm, humid air blowing in from outdoors condenses when it travels into your shady crawlspace. Then, the Stack Effect will draw that warm moist air up into your home.
Second, unless you’re a structural engineer, it’s never a good idea to drill holes in your foundation. Never. Homeowners have unknowingly reduced the structural integrity of their homes or damaged important support walls and beams by trying to add ventilation on their own. Never drill holes in the foundation of your house. Would it be overkill to say, “never,” one more time?
It is best to ensure that the crawl space and the crawl space vents are properly covered to lessen the moisture. Beyond that, you’ll need a professional team to advise you on proper crawl space protocol for your home and your unique situation. There simply is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
2. Installing insulation in an improperly sealed crawl space
Ok, so you’ve noticed that your crawlspace is too damp. You need a vapor barrier and crawl space insulation. Easy DIY project, right? Wrong. This is a recipe for disaster. The risks of to your home from improper installation can be staggering. Most homeowners don’t realize the enormous problems that occur when insulation is placed against moist walls or beams.
When you install your insulation and vapor barrier, the surface needs to be properly sealed against moisture. If there is a moisture entering your crawlspace, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the insulation and vapor barrier will keep it out (I mean that’s what it’s for, right? Wrong). Fiberglass insulation absorbs water like a sponge. Any moisture trapped behind insulation is just that, trapped. The moisture causes mold growth and wood rot that damage the integrity of their home as well as its air quality.
Professional insulation services will identify moisture issues, fix them properly, and then insulate your home, making sure mold can’t take over.
3. Stapling vapor barriers to floor joists
Well-meaning homeowners, intending to protect the wood from moisture, will actually staple or nail the plastic vapor barrier sheeting to the wood support and flooring systems. In reality, the plastic will trap the condensation against the floor structures causing mold and rot. Unless your goal is replacing your floor joists, take our word on this and just don’t do it.
4. Venting the dryer into the crawl space
Dryer vents, bathroom vents, or kitchen vent should be exhausted to the outside of the building. Homeowners that are installing their own washer and dryer systems often fall prey to this crawl space mistake. Letting a dryer vent into the crawl space pumps enormous amounts of warm moist air into the crawl space. This warm air then moves upward into the home. Unsuspecting homeowners can go for years unaware of this problem until an issue of moisture and mold arises.
A second, and often neglected step is to insulate your dryer duct when it goes through any cold area. While homeowners expect that they are following the guidelines of good eco-friendly energy saving tactics, insulating heating ductsrequires specific strategies and the right type of insulation. Warm ducts in your cool crawl space will have moisture condensate on them. The wrong insulation will soak up this excess moisture and boom! You have a mold problem. Contacting a crawlspace insulation specialist will help keep your home moisture-free.
5. Gutters and downspouts drain too close to the house
Ok, so this isn’t strictly a crawl space mistake, but DIY gutter and downspout installers often forget about the impact that all this water can have on their crawl space. Gutters that aren’t installed correctly, or, even worse, downspouts that do not carry the water far enough from the home will allow moisture to leak into the crawl space. Keep gutters cleaned (a safe DIY project for any adventurous homeowner) to avoid clogged gutters from overflowing into the areas alongside the home. Also, the downspouts should be extended 6-8 feet from the home to prevent water from sneaking back into the crawl space. If your in an area prone to flooding, it could be wise to consider some kind of pumping system that will keep water from stagnating in your crawlspace, creating a perfect recipe for mold and mildew.
Before venturing out on your own to conquer your DIY projects, stop and consider whether or not this project is one that really should be handed off to your local professional service team. In such instances, you’ll find that you’ll save lots of money in the long run, while also supporting your local businesses. Addressing the crawl space issues now will prevent future damage, and protect what is probably the largest purchase you have made, your home.