The crawl space has an integral role towards a home’s overall value as well as the living space above. Most homeowners in Green Hills Nashville don’t think twice about their crawl space unless they have to make repairs to plumbing, heating ducts or house wiring. While often thought of as no more than a storage area, it also has a tremendous impact on the overall indoor air quality of the entire home.
The Best Waterproofing Crawl Space In Green Hills TN
By default, the air quality of a crawl space is typically poor. Mold, mildew, radon gas and poor energy efficiency all create several problems. The air that circulates within it eventually makes its way up through the living space. Scientific studies show that up to 50% of living space air originates from the lowest level of the home. With homeowners more concerned about their home’s indoor air quality, the encapsulating of crawl spaces has become a popular solution for such problems.
A damp crawl space creates a safe harbor for harmful molds, in addition to dust mites, termites and other bugs that can infest the home. The presence of excessive moisture will also create a serious problem with the probability for the wooden structure of a home to deteriorate. Crawl space vents pose a further problem. While believed to be a solution to moisture problems, they, unfortunately, make the problem worse. As it turns out, the vents allow cold air and moisture in, which rises into the living area and therefore decreases the heating efficiency of the entire home.
Another all-too-common problem associated with crawl spaces is radon gas. Though it cannot be seen, smelled or tasted, radon is a radioactive gas that can contribute to poor health, including cancer. Radon gas makes its way through the earth, into the crawl space and the home’s living space. According to the U.S.E.P.A., radon gas is the number one leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.
Ignoring these various conditions is not recommended for both long-term health and energy usage. Fully encapsulating a crawl space – by both sealing and insulating – is a fully efficient measure in addressing such problems. It makes sense to maintain and improve the lower level area in order to maximize healthy living conditions and home resale value.
While there are several systems for encapsulating, a zero perm liner system that also insulates and reflects heat provides the most benefits. With a proper floor and wall liner, the area will not only be well insulated but will seal out moisture, bug infestation, and radon gas. Other components to look for in a system include a radon gas-dispersing drain fabric, a radon gas ventilation pipe, and a ceiling heat shield.
A complete system with all of the above components will allow any soil gasses – including radon gas – that naturally occur under the liner system, to wick through the drain fabric and escape out through the ventilation pipe. While improved indoor air quality is the primary benefit of a sealed and insulated crawl space, the homeowner will also appreciate a bright, clean, and dry storage area; the ridding of musty smells; less energy usage; and tax credits. Contractors encapsulating crawl spaces will have more to offer to their clients when they can assure the peace of mind with improved indoor air quality.
Crawl Space Vapor Barriers
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.
Crawl Space Supports
First, it might be quite costly (several thousands of dollars). Second, and much more importantly, the sealing of a crawlspace is likely to degrade the IAQ (Indoor Air Quality) in your living space.
Rather than sealing a crawl space and creating an IAQ problem in the home's living space, there are less expensive methods to manage crawl space humidity. In the United States, the number of those with allergies is rising about 25% per decade, and asthma cases alone have doubled in the last 20 years.
The rise in those having allergies is more common in developed countries, and it is suggested there "must be something in modern, urban life that promotes allergy". Some studies indicate a direct link to the increase in air conditioning and tighter homes. People may save a hundred dollars per year in energy, yet spend thousands on medication and life style change, so, there is no question that the home's IAQ is, by far, the overriding, single most important issue.
Proponents of sealing and not ventilating a crawl space have stated , "venting a crawl space will either add moisture to, or remove moisture from, a crawlspace depending on the moisture content of the ventilation air compared to the desired conditions of the crawl space. Venting with dry air reduces the moisture levels in the crawl space, while venting with moist air contributes moisture". In this respect, such proponents are absolutely right-on correct!
So, even though it might cost a homeowner $6000-$8000, they suggest a closed, sealed crawl space because the possibility of venting with moist air can make the crawl space wetter.
An optimum alternative that might achieve the best outcome could be to ventilate the crawl space but with a ventilation strategy that would know how much water vapor is in the outdoor air and know how much water vapor is in the crawl space air. Armed with that knowledge the ventilator will be able to make an informed decision whether or not ventilation is going to be helpful or hurtful.
It is evident a strategy like this would permit a crawl space to be ventilated, to dilute and replace stagnant air, odors and gases such as radon, yet not bring in wetter air into the crawl space. A strategy like this will be more effective than other ventilation strategies (like a timer or dehumidistat) because it is selective about not bringing in wetter outdoor air, whereas the timer or dehumidistat is not selective.
Returning to the question of sealing the crawl space and using a dehumidifier to control moisture, there is no question that sealing a crawl space and using a sizable dehumidifier will reduce humidity in the crawl space, but, if sealing the crawl space can compromise the home's IAQ, you ought to reconsider.
1. Even if you are able to seal the crawl space well, you will need a sizable dehumidifier. It will need to be set well below a mold threshold limit because other surfaces may be colder. The lower setting is needed to prevent those colder surfaces from exceeding the mold threshold in the now stagnant crawl space.
2. A dehumidifier mentioned in article requires 30 times the power of other technologies.
3. A dehumidifier will need occasional maintenance.
4. When sealing walls and piers, how do you seal completely without creating a hidden path for termites? It means, of course, you can't completely seal it.
5: The crawl space has become a stagnant area, which, of course, is never cleaned, so odors and gases will be there and they will migrate into the living space of the home.
6: Under the vapor barrier it is always 100% relative humidity, so mold and bacteria is going to grow. And the mold and bacteria spores will migrate into the home.
With the home IAQ in mind, it becomes apparent that some sort of ventilation is needed in a crawl space. The ICC code for the usual passive ventilation setup required one sqft of opening for each 150 sqft of crawl space. Further, the ICC code stated that if a vapor barrier was installed over the ground surface only 10% of the venting area was required (ICC 1804.6.3.1). This would mean that only 1 sqft of opening would be needed for a 1500sqft of crawl space. Clearly this code wasn't working, so the ventilation rate was arbitrarily increased, and, now, today some state codes recognize the strategy of comparing inside/outside water vapor.
So, with IAQ being so important, we can define our goal in a crawl space project: remove/replace stagnant crawl space air and extract moisture from the wood mass in the crawl space. This makes a case for mechanical equipment.
Dilution and replacement of crawl space air with fresh, outdoor air is easily understood, but how do you extract moisture from the wood mass in the crawl space? You must reduce the vapor pressure at the surface of the wood, and you may do this by either of two ways. One is by dehumidification, another is to blow air across the wood's surface, better yet, blow drier air across the wood's surface.
So let's get down to the quick of things. From the home's IAQ perspective you should ventilate your crawl space, but using a dehumidifier and venting would be like setting a dehumidifier out on your front lawn, and then paying the electric bills.
A better system would use an intelligent mechanical ventilation system that, (1) keeps the crawl space closed during unfavorable conditions, (2) opens whenever the outdoor air water vapor content will lower humidity in the crawl space, (3) moves a lot of the lower humidity air to extract moisture from the wood mass. The result is, that as you are diluting & replacing stagnant odors & gases, and radon in the crawl space with fresh, outdoor air, you are also extracting moisture from the wood mass.
Further, an intelligent system might perform other functions, such as to not ventilate when it's freezing outside, and, if the crawl space gets too dry, the ventilator could also automatically reverse its strategy to pump moisture into the crawl space to further stabilize wood floors by maintaining the wood in an acceptable range.
There is one inexpensive, automatic ventilator with all the characteristics described above. It's called the Smartvent®.
Crawl Space Masters Specializes In Crawl Space Encapsulation in Green Hills TN.