Chattanooga Waterproofing Crawl Space

Crawl Spaces in Chattanooga  have been always around, but they became increasingly popular when homeowners started to recognize the improved convenience they have. Compared to the conventional floor setups and concrete floors, crawlspaces granted easy access to the plumbing setup and air ducts, and repairing them became effortless. Moreover, crawlspaces were also used as a storage facility. However, like any good thing in the world, crawlspaces also have its fair share of problems: trapped moisture, vermin, termites, and carpenter ants; invasion of wildlife and accumulation of foul gases to name a few.

crawl space conversion

Waterproofing Crawl Space Chattanooga

crawl space basement

I’ve been doing  crawl space encapsulation in Chattanooga for more than two decades now. A good number of correspondences I have addressed were always concerning the foul smell and bad odors that are generated from crawlspaces. It’s imperative to recognize the root causes behind such foul odors and we need to work on strategies that will eliminate the root causes. Crawlspace encapsulation is relatively a new technique which will help you to protect your crawl space, and the health of your family. However, you need to know how to choose the right encapsulation system for your home.

By encapsulating your crawl space, you no longer have to worry about rodents or other wild animals invading your crawl space, moisture accumulation, termites and foul smell that was haunting you for long. A Do-It-Yourself encapsulation kit will undisputedly help you to protect your home from unwanted disasters.

Crawl Space Insulation and Its Benefits

cost to install vapor barrier in crawl space

If you get three general contractors together and the topic of discussion turns crawlspaces and moisture control, you will probably hear six opinions. Even the experts seem to have different and often conflicting opinions about what tack is the best to take.

There has been much research on crawlspace encapsulation during the past decade. The US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Energy, the ZEBRAlliance at Oak Ridge National Laboratories, and a non-profit research organization called Advanced Energy have all done excellent and groundbreaking research in the area of crawlspace encapsulation. Their research findings were instrumental in the last revision of the International Building Code. They all agree in a few, very important areas.

When considering your home, think of it as a single system. Your HVAC system, insulation, windows, attic, living space, and crawl space all work together. All of these building components need to be optimized and balanced to achieve maximum comfort, performance and energy efficiency. Your crawlspace is an important part of this system.

Your house is like a giant chimney. By natural convection, air is drawn in through crawlspace vents and air leaks. Because warm air rises, the outside air is drawn through the living space (along with mold spores, odors, and moisture) and exhausted through the attic. In the summer, your crawlspace is naturally cooler than the ambient outside temperature. So when the warm, humid outside air reaches the cooler crawlspace surface areas, the moisture condenses on framing, plumbing, wiring, insulation and especially HVAC ductwork and "sweats", just like an iced tea glass sweats on your kitchen table in the summer. In the southeast it is not unheard of for crawlspace humidity to approach 100% and actually rain inside the crawlspace.

The moisture in your crawlspace creates an ideal environment for wood destroying organisms, mold, and mildew. It can saturate and destroy the effectiveness of your insulation and promote wood rot. And because of the chimney effect, the humid crawlspace air, full of mold and mildew spores, eventually finds its way into your living space creating an unhealthy environment and causing your air conditioning to work overtime to dehumidify the air. Just a vapor barrier might help a bit, but most of the moisture is coming from outside, not your dirt, crawlspace floor.

So, the alternative to a vented crawlspace is an encapsulated (sealed) crawlspace. Crawlspace encapsulation involves sealing all outside vents, installing a high-performance vapor retarder on all exposed wall and floor surfaces at or below grade, insulating the walls and rim joist, and conditioning the air.

The prevailing research claims that by insulating the walls and rim joist, it is unnecessary to insulate the floor. However, if the existing floor insulation is in good condition, leave it in place. We generally recommend a rigid foam board insulation that is fire-retardant, low VOC, and offers an R-13 value or greater. It cuts easily and can be used for sealing existing crawlspace vents too. The sill plate should be caulked and paper-faced fiberglass insulation is used to insulate the rim joist.

The building codes in most areas require the air in an encapsulated crawlspace to be conditioned. That generally means adding a dehumidifier or using the existing HVAC system to condition the air. The EPA and the Department of Energy recommend using the existing HVAC system at a rate of one cubic foot per minute of conditioned air per fifty square feet of crawlspace area. A qualified HVAC contractor can add one or two 4" or 6" vents to a system for a nominal cost. The vents are usually equipped with a butterfly valve that can be adjusted to get the desired air flow.

We prefer using this method since the installation of the vents is generally less expensive than a crawlspace dehumidifier. And since running a dehumidifier is about the same as running a small refrigerator, the cost of conditioning the air with an HVAC system is generally less than running a dehumidifier. Remember that you're not trying to heat and cool your crawlspace; you're just adding a small amount of conditioned air. A relative humidity target of 60% or lower is a good place to start.

When comparing high performance vapor barriers, look at puncture and tear resistance. Other than being absolutely water tight, a high performance vapor barrier should also be flexible, fire resistant, low VOC, and lightweight. There is a world of difference between the 6 mil vapor barrier material sold in most hardware stores and a high performance specialty product. Most reputable suppliers will provide samples.

In addition to dramatically increasing indoor air quality and protecting the structure of your home, several research studies from Advanced Energy indicate that crawlspace encapsulation can actually lower energy usage. These studies were done in several parts of the country with varying climates.

10 Reasons to Encapsulate Your Crawl Space

crawlspace waterproofing

Outlined below are the most common 4 methods I have seen used in installing a vapor barrier. If you talk to different builders, you usually will end up with many different methods of installing a vapor barrier in a crawlspace. Here are the most common:

1. Pea Gravel on top of plastic vapor barrier - This has to be the all time dumbest thing I have ever seen, and yet it is probably one of the most common. I have had builders tell me that the plastic on the ground KEEPS ground water and moisture from coming up from the ground. Now if there is no moisture or water in the soil, this might be possible; but if that was the case there would be no need for the barrier in the first place. So here is the basic idea - ground floor (bottom) - plastic (middle) - 4" pea gravel fill (top). Once the crawl foundation is built, builders install a 4 - 6 mil plastic on the ground and dump about 4" - 6" of pea gravel on top of the plastic. Eventually, what always happens is that water comes in from the walls and the ground floor and ends up on top of the plastic. So what you end up with is a swimming pool liner that holds water in the gravel for prolonged periods of time. Nearly all the water and moisture in the gravel back fill has to evaporate into the structure. Another example of building practices and science turning a blind eye to crawlspaces for decades.

2. Vapor barrier on top of ground floor - By far the most common practice for installing a vapor barrier. A 6 mil polyethylene vapor barrier is placed over any ground floor. Here is the idea - ground floor (bottom) - plastic (top). The ground floor could be river rock, pea gravel, dirt floor, sand, etc. The seams are typically overlapped 6" - 12" and almost never taped. While this will temporarily stop some moisture evaporation, it does not seal out moisture from the internal perimeter wall where most water penetration occurs. Also moisture can come up from the seams, and the plastic is not durable enough to crawl on. It nearly always ends up with many punctures and holes in it.

3. Vapor barrier on bottom of floor joists - This is rarely seen, and usually only home owners attempt this. This is probably the method that accounts for more wood rot than any other method. If you are even thinking of doing this, quit thinking and call a professional to fix your crawlspace. Most crawlspaces are vented and the cooler surfaces such as duct work, pipes, and the floor will condensate in the summer. The plastic will trap the condensation up against the floor structure and mold and wood rot will occur. Good intentions do not always produce good results.

4. Vapor barrier fastened to sill plate - There is a new industry in crawlspace repair that encapsulates crawl spaces. The process of encapsulation is to install a heavy think plastic liner on the floor and up the foundation walls. The plastic liner is fastened and sealed to the foundation wall and all the overlapped seams are taped. Every potential gap or seam in the liner is meticulously sealed to prevent any moisture from evaporating. Then the vents are sealed in the encapsulation system to prevent hot humid air from entering in the summer. There is another system being sold and installed out there being represented as an encapsulation system, but is far from it.

This "other" system is a 6 mil plastic that is ran up the foundation walls and stapled to the sill plate. None of the overlapped seams are taped. It is basically a glorified vapor barrier on top of the ground floor being ran up the walls and stapled to the wood. They seal the vents without properly sealing the moisture from the ground floor or foundation walls. The problem with fastening plastic to the sill plate is that moisture will "wick" up the foundation wall, and moisture will absorb into the sill plate and floor joists. They are giving free access to all the moisture under the liner to rot the sill plates and floor joists. Not to mention that all the moisture will evaporate up through all of the seams that aren't taped and the plastic liner is only 6 mil and eventually will puncture and tear. Be very careful in the contractor you choose to properly encapsulate your crawlspace.

If you crawl space is in need of repair, Crawl Space Masters can help!