The crawl space has an integral role towards a home’s overall value as well as the living space above. Most homeowners in Whittle Springs Knoxville 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 Wet Crawl Space In Whittle Springs 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 Supports
There are three basic types of foundations in use today in the construction of a home.
A slab foundation is a foundation built directly on the soil with no basement or crawl space. Slab foundations are common in areas where soil conditions are not suitable for a basement, and are the most common foundation found in warmer areas such as Florida, Arizona, California and Texas, or anywhere where the depth between the soil and stable underlying rock is very shallow. Slabs are the quickest and cheapest foundation because they require less labor, skill and materials cost. They consist of a concrete slab that is typically 6 to 8 inches thick. Embedded within the slab is a grid of supporting ribbed metal rods known as "rebar." Even in locations where basements are prevalent, slab foundations are typically laid to serve as the base for structures like garages, pole barns, and sheds. Slabs are the least expensive of the three main foundation types but provide no storage or utility space, as the home actually sits directly on a large platform of solid concrete. Slabs have the disadvantage of being difficult and expensive to repair when they settle and crack, and plumbing lines that protrude from the soil upward through the concrete can also be expensive to repair. In areas where the underlying soil is thick or prone to excessive expansion and contraction, cables are embedded which can be tightened to provide better horizontal support and minimize the width of cracks.
Crawl Space (Pier and Beam) Foundations
A pier and beam foundation consists of either vertical wood or concrete columns (piers) that support beams or floor joists above the ground. The areas between the soil and the bottom of the house floor is known as the crawl space. These foundations are built either at ground level or over a shallow excavation that varies in depth, but is commonly about 36 to 40 inches deep. The best crawl space foundations have a load-bearing concrete perimeter wall and concrete or steel piers, both having footings below the freeze line of the soil, along with a good barrier over the soil to keep moisture under control. Less expensive versions have no load-bearing perimeter walls, piers with shallow footings, and no moisture barrier at all over the soil. Crawl spaces that enclosed by a wall or by skirting must have vents on every side to allow air to circulate and help keep the soil dry under the home. These vents must be configured to prevent the entry of rodents and snakes. Crawl space foundations are most often used in areas where there is heavy clay content in the soil that can severely damage (crack) slab foundations, or in waterfront or flood prone building sites where the necessary floor height to prevent water penetration of the living space must be higher than a slab can normally provide. The primary advantages of crawl space foundations are that plumbing lines are readily accessible for repairs, and foundation settlement problems are easier and less expensive to correct than with slab foundations. A primary disadvantage occurs when these foundations are not properly maintained or are constructed without adequate ventilation, allowing water or pests to cause damage. Crawl space foundations without adequate insulation applied to the bottom of the house floor can be very energy inefficient in a cold climate.
A basement is a type of foundation which includes an accessible space between the soil and the bottom of the first floor of a home. This foundation provides living space below the home, below the ground elevation. It is basically a slab foundation with walls and a floor. Basements are most often built in cold weather climates such as the Northeast, Midwest and Rocky Mountains, and in places where the cost of excavation is not prohibitive. Basements start with a hole approximately 8 feet deep, however, some homeowners will opt for a 9 or 10 foot deep basement wall to increase height and volume of useable space. The floor and walls are built, then the house itself is built over that. Basement foundations have the advantage of providing useful space for utilities, mechanicals systems, and storage not available in the previous two types of foundations. The primary disadvantage of basements is that because they are mostly below ground level, they are vulnerable to leakage, mold formation, and flooding. Basements in wet climates must always have a working drain and pump in the floor to combat flooding.
Crawl Space Dig Out: How to Turn Your Crawl Space Into a Basement
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.
Crawl Space Masters Specializes In Crawl Space Encapsulation in Whittle Springs TN.