The unfinished crawlspace is rarely an appealing place to visit. These dark, cramped spaces are often inhabited by various species of rodent, an arsenal of poisonous insects, and not to mention the numerous airborne hazards as a result of mold, dust and feces/urine buildup. To complicate matters, it is often poorly designed making it hard to access and easily forgotten. It’s no wonder most homeowners delay treatment and inspection.
For better or worse, the crawlspace is part of many home designs and does require attention to help reduce common issues that can plague the crawlspace. In this article, we’ll review some basic facts about the crawlspace and provide proven techniques to help treat and prevent these problems.
The crawlspace is a shallow area beneath the home constructed for the purpose of creating a foundation between the ground and the bottom of the home. Depending on your region, the crawlspace can offer many advantages over the traditional basement. Some crawlspaces may have been built to save on cost or to help prevent infestations in termite prone areas. Some say an additional advantage is the ease of accessibility when accessing pipes, plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems. That being said, the crawlspace can also dish out a host of disadvantages for the home. This leads us to one of the most common and yet avoidable problems in the crawlspace - mold and structural rot, due to poor moisture management.
Understanding how mold works is the key to understanding how to properly treat and prevent it in your crawlspace. So let’s go over the basics…
Mold is a type of fungi that scientifically, is neither plant nor animal. Unlike plants, mold is lacking chlorophyll and cannot derive energy from the sun. Therefore, mold is an opportunistic organism, routinely dispatching its spores through the air, always seeking a habitable environment for reproduction and growth. Once it has located the few requirements it needs to thrive - water, food source, and warm temperatures, mold can begin to grow remarkably fast, sometimes within 24-48 hours.
The open or unfinished crawlspace is probably one of the most convenient areas for mold to flourish. Since mold does not require sunlight to grow, it tends to prefer these dark, moist areas of the home. Spores can enter through the open vents, and enjoy a banquet of organic materials to feed on, including the many materials that make up your home. So how does the moisture get in? Here are the biggest contributing factors that allow moisture to intrude on the crawlspace…
Originally, building code required the crawlspace to be ventilated to use outside air as the main source of moisture control. The theory was to allow an outlet for excess moisture to evaporate. Unfortunately, in some areas of the country (especially the southeast), ventilation can actually make a mold problem much worse. This is because the air inside the crawlspace tends to be much cooler than the outside air. In warmer months, this becomes problematic due to the fact that warmer air is constantly flowing into the ventilated crawlspace. Basic science tells us that when warm moist air comes in contact with cooler air, the warm air cools, releasing moisture in the form of condensation. This continuous source of moisture, humid temperatures, and a steady food source (the building materials in your home), creates the perfect environment for mold/mildew to flourish.
Rising damp is basically moisture moving from the ground, traveling upward. This can be a major problem for a crawlspace that has not been encapsulated and protected with a vapor barrier. This natural flow of moisture can begin to effect the subfloor, beams and foundation allowing water to rise through the foundation and eventually into your home. Additionally, the habitually wet environment encourages many types of wood-decaying fungus. If left untreated, this fungus will gradually rot and destroy the material on which it is feeding, eventually leading to sagging floors, structural damage or eventual collapse.
Even the encapsulated or “closed” crawlspace can be affected by penetrating damp. This is simply moisture that has made its way into your crawlspace from another source including plumbing leaks, walls, even from mechanical or HVAC failures within or above the crawlspace.
Unfortunately, a large majority of homeowners are unaware of the potential hazards to health and home when living with an unfinished crawlspace. Over 60% of your crawlspace air flows throughout your home so a seemingly isolated mold issue in the crawlspace can compromise your indoor air quality and begin to affect your health. For early detection of crawlspace mold, it is imperative to know what signs to look for.
Mold can grow virtually anywhere as long as moisture is present. Therefore, the key to controlling the mold, is to control the moisture. There are many differing opinions on the proper methods to completely eliminate the occurrence of moisture intrusion in the crawlspace. For this article, I’ve included the long time, trusted advice of Mr. Paul Hardy (The Pest Control Expert), a pioneer in crawlspace restoration with over 50 years of experience. The following steps should be taken to waterproof your crawlspace and help prevent complications from excessive moisture.
The crawlspace may be dirty, cramped and infested with all manner of critters but the potential risks to health and home are no laughing matter. If you do suspect a mold issue in your crawlspace, don’t hesitate to act. Contact a certified inspector and do your research. You can follow this link for a list of certified mold inspectors in your area. By treating a mold/moisture problem before it occurs, you can save yourself a world of frustration in the future.
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This page was provided by Rhino Hide Products. Rhino Hide manufacturers an exclusive brand of non-toxic mold removal and mold prevention products. To learn more about their products and why we recommend them, follow this link to the Rhino Hide Website.