Simply put, a crawl space is a narrow area between the ground and the first floor of a home or building. Named for the cramped quarters that limit mobility, crawl spaces allow for inspection and repair of electric, plumbing, and air conditioning systems. The other option — slab foundation — consists of a layer of poured concrete atop which the house sits. Homebuilders often implement crawl spaces when conditions make slab foundations unfeasible or cost-prohibitive. Adverse circumstances for slab foundations include shifting soils and sloped terrain, which can make a foundation more expensive and susceptible to future damage.
Crawl spaces can offer distinct advantages in cost and practicality over other foundation types, as long as homeowners apply the proper care and maintenance. If not adequately looked after, they can pose serious risks to air quality, energy efficiency, and the home’s physical structure. Environmental Protective Solutions (EPS) has years of experience, training, and certification in crawl space solutions. This blog will detail these risks, why they occur, and the steps homeowners can take to protect their home and occupants’ safety and well-being. Talk to an expert today at Environmental Protective Solutions for a FREE consultation on caring for your crawl space. First, we’ll dive into the physics of air circulation to understand the risks associated with crawl spaces properly.
The Stack Effect
Also known as the “chimney effect,” this phenomenon occurs due to convection, or the rise of hot air and the fall of cooler air. The principle is simple: moving air creates a vacuum that nearby air rushes to fill. Hot, rising air leaves a vacuum below that cooler air rushes to fill, and vice versa. Heating and air conditioning compound this effect in homes. So, in winter, when homes are warmer than outside air, rising hot air will leak out windows and roofs, pulling in colder air from underneath the house through the crawlspace. In summer, when indoor air is cooler than the outside air, cooling air will sink into the crawlspace and pull in hot air from above.
Understanding the movement of air and the resulting vacuum–stack/chimney effect–becomes critically important for the health of your home and your crawl space. The summer stack effect of falling cool penetrates the crawl space, and because the air is significantly cooler than the outdoor air, it can cause condensation of moisture (think of a cold glass of water on a hot day). Moisture can invite pests, mold, and other damage to the space. The winter stack effect of rising hot air means that a high percentage of the air inside it first passes through the crawlspace. If mold or harmful gasses exist below, they will have the opportunity to circulate inside the home and pose the risk of severe health issues.
Finally, apart from the risks to the crawl space and indoor air quality, the circulation of air in the stack effect causes major energy inefficiency. This means your heating and cooling systems will need to work much harder and use more energy, hurting both your wallet and the planet.
Next, we’ll dive into the risks that moisture and air circulation can cause.
Risks of a Compromised Crawl Space
Mold: One of the most common and severe household issues, mold is quick to spread and stubborn to kill. Unlike plants, animals, and bacteria, mold is a fungus that reproduces by releasing spores into the air. While mold exists all around us, toxic mold can release harmful compounds into the air at dangerous levels. Mold thrives on moisture and feeds on organic material, meaning that crawl spaces can provide ample space for growth. With help from the stack effect, mold spores can permeate the living space and make their way into the respiratory systems of the inhabitants.
Pests: For the same reasons that mold can thrive in crawl spaces, other critters frequently find their way in. For some pests, your home is their diet. In this category, termites prove the most well-known and destructive, infesting mainly wood and leaving destruction in their path. Other, lesser-known pests like carpenter ants can also cause severe problems as they bore into the necessary beams and joists that support your home. Finally, on a larger scale, rats can frequently nest in crawl spaces and pose a hygienic threat to that space and other spaces nearby.
Radon gas: Radon is a colorless, odorless gas produced by decaying radioactive elements in the soil. According to the American Cancer Society, radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking. As radon rises through the soil, it can accumulate and concentrate in crawl spaces on its way into your home. Unless the crawl space has the proper seal, the exposed earth underneath the house can lead to exposure to radioactive gas.
Energy inefficiency: The further your heating and cooling systems can go on each unit of energy, the more fossil fuel can remain in the earth, and the more your money can stay in your bank account. Outdoor air filtering through your crawl space drains energy from your home and makes it less comfortable for those inside.
Physical damage: A crawl space compromised with moisture and pests can put your home’s most important structures at risk. Mold’s relatives in the fungi family can break down wood and cause it to rot, decaying the house’s framing from the inside. This damage, especially if left unaddressed, can result in major repair projects costing thousands of dollars.
Crawl Space Encapsulation
The principle of encapsulation is simple: seal off the entire area from moisture. Then, apply preventative measures to keep the space dry well into the future. We wrap specialized liners over all surfaces to protect building materials. Vapor barriers are used, especially in humid conditions like those near our Nashville office, to control recurring moisture problems. After the crawl space is entirely sealed, we can then implement drainage solutions like sump pumps to divert nearby water in addition to dehumidifiers to manage moisture from within. These steps represent a holistic, proactive approach to crawl space encapsulation that addresses the full scope of the problem.
At Environmental Protective Solutions, our experts have numerous certifications in mold remediation, water remediation, and structural drying. For crawl space encapsulation, you’ll want the expertise of EPS for a project that requires the specialized knowledge and experience only we can provide. Listen to what our customers are saying and contact a specialist today for your FREE consultation.