The crawl space has an integral role towards a home’s overall value as well as the living space above. Most homeowners in Falling Water Chattanooga 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.
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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.
Proper Crawl Space Ventilation Can Improve Living Space Air Quality Inside Your Home
Installing a crawlspace vapor barrier is not rocket science. It is not physically difficult. Whether installing a quality vapor barrier in a vented crawlspace or doing a complete crawlspace encapsulation, it only takes a little time, a little patience and a willingness to crawl around on your hands and knees for a couple of days.
Where to Buy a Crawlspace Vapor Barrier
There are many places to purchase a crawlspace vapor barrier. An on-line search will provide contact information many retailers. And the products they offer vary from inexpensive clear plastic to woven and coated fabrics much like swimming pool liners. The inexpensive liners can also be purchased from many hardware stores and home centers.
What Vapor Barriers Are Available
The inexpensive vapor barriers will do the job but it's been our experience that they tear easily, don't stay in place, and become brittle and crack after four to five years. But they are inexpensive.
The alternative is to spend a couple times more initially and purchase a product with a twenty five year warranty. The reinforced or woven products require no more time to install than the inexpensive shorter-lived products.
The real question is whether an installer wants to spend a couple of days crawling around in a damp crawlspace every four or five years, or wants to spend a little more initially and have an installation that is maintenance-free and will last for decades. Personally, it makes more sense to me to do it right the first time and be done with it.
Installing the Vapor Barrier
Whether doing a full crawlspace encapsulation or simply installing a vapor barrier in a vented crawl space, the installation of all products have a lot in common.
First, the floor needs to be completely covered, with all seams overlapped 6" to 12" and sealed with tape. While duct tape is a wonderful product with countless uses, it does not do a good job sealing the seams of a vapor barrier. A quality, water-proof vinyl tape designed specifically for sealing the seams is recommended.
Wrapping the Crawlspace Piers
Second, the floor material needs to be sealed around all the foundation supports. Whether steel posts or concrete block piers, it is necessary to prevent the migration of water vapor from around the foundation supports. This is usually done by wrapping the piers - sealing the piers with the vapor barrier 6" to 12" up from the floor. This provides a sealed pier to which the floor material can be sealed to using seam tape.
Wrapping the piers can be a little problematic. No safe, nonflammable, nontoxic construction adhesive is effective with the available materials except for a newly developed, patented proprietary wall and pier liner. The vapor barrier is typically applied to the piers using a combination of tape, mastic, caulk, and mechanical fasteners. The mechanical fasteners require that holes be drilled into the piers using a masonry bit and hammer drill. This adds exponentially to the installation labor.
The patented wall and pier liner can be applied to most any surface using a low VOC and nontoxic construction adhesive. Being low VOC and nontoxic, it is nonflammable and safe to use in the confined area of a crawlspace. It can be safely installed in a fraction of the time. It is the only material of its kind and can be ordered from it manufacturer.
Sealing the Crawlspace Walls
Finally, regardless of whether you're installing a vapor barrier in a vented crawlspace or doing a full encapsulation, it is necessary to seal the floor material to the crawlspace walls. Most experts agree that this is a vital step for a well installed barrier or encapsulation.
If installing a vapor barrier, the floor material should be sealed to the wall 6" to 12" above the outside grade. Like wrapping the piers, most companies recommend the tape-caulk-mechanical fastener combination. The mechanical fasteners should be placed every two to three feet long the perimeter of the crawlspace. If taking this approach, be sure to use a respirator as concrete dust can cause severe respiratory problems.
If doing a full encapsulation, the entire wall, a minimum of three inches down from the sill plate to allow for a pest control inspection, should be sealed. Enough floor material can be purchased to extend up the walls or, the method we've found easiest, the wall is covered and sealed with a wall liner and the floor material is sealed to the wall liner using seam tape. Regardless of which method you use, the vapor barrier must be securely attached and sealed to the wall.
The manufacturer of the pier wrap also makes a patented wall liner that attaches to and seals the wall in one simple step. It reduces installation time by several hours. Like the pier wrap, it is available from the manufacturer.
5 Helpful Tips For When it is Time to Encapsulate Your Crawl Space
A crawl space dig out is the process of turning your crawl space into a basement. This vastly increases storage space and can, in some cases, increase living space as well.
But, a crawl space dig out can be an enormous and daunting task. And, if done improperly, it can be dangerous. If you don't want to have a professional do it for you, please follow the steps below.
To get started, find place in the outside wall of your crawl space that you can safely enter the new basement with a temporary or permanent set of steps. Make sure the wall opening is big enough to handle at least a 36-inch door, preferably making the area for the steps at least 48-inches wide.
If your soil is sandy or gravel and or may be full of water at least part of the year do not consider this procedure, it is very dangerous and you may damage or lose your house.
Make sure that prior to digging the hole for the outside exit, please build a header of sufficient size to hold the floor of the home where you will be removing the old foundation.
You need to excavate to a depth that will accommodate a four-inch concrete slab and still have at least 7-foot, 6-inches of clearance under your floor joist. It is entirely possible that you will have 48 inches of soil to remove.
When digging out a crawl space, you can not excavate any closer than 24 inches away from the existing foundation.
You can remove the soil sufficiently to work along the wall without removing the entire area you wish to change.
When you get the soil out to a depth that you prefer, pour a footer that is eight inches thick and 16 inches wide. The footer should be below the bottom of the new slab so it is a good idea to dig the area for the footer below the level you remove for the floor area. This is a very important step in a crawl space dig out.
Then, when your block is level with bottom of the old foundation wall you need to pour a four-inch thick slab of concrete on top of the wall and over to the outside existing wall.
Prior to pouring your "Cap" you must fill between the block and soil that is under the old foundation with fill sand or "Pea-gravel." Assuming that you probably have some kind of support under the center section of the floor system, you will have to provide support for the beam that is presently supporting the floor while excavate for a new footer for a steel post that will hold the floor of your new space.
Make sure your footer for this part of the project is about eight inches thick & 24 inches square.
You will need to level the floor area for your new slab and install four inches of perforated plastic pipe draining to a sub pit with an automatic sub pump that dispenses the water to the outside at least five to ten feet away from the foundation of the home. I'd suggest using "Pea-gravel" for fill under the slab but you can you fill sand also.
Now, build your stairs to the outside in a similar fashion but you need to cover it with a steel "pre-fab" unit such as a "BILCO."
If you do this correctly and maintain it, it will last for many, many years. It is strongly suggested you get a professional to do this job or at least help with it because mistakes can be dangerous and very costly.
Crawl Space Masters Specializes In Crawl Space Encapsulation in Falling Water TN.