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Understanding Crawlspace Ventilation Problems

  • By Lauren Arline
  • 17 May, 2016
By Lauren Arline 17 May, 2016
By Lauren Arline 12 May, 2016
Task:   To install an additional kitchen cabinet.
Problem:   Main electrical panel is in the way.
Solution : Move the panel 2 feet to the left.
Problem:   Incoming power cable won’t reach.
Solution : Add extra length of cable.
Problem : We don’t have any heavy gauge cable.
Solution:   Twist and splice 3 light gauge wires together and tape the joints.
Home inspector   to Lady of the house, “Madam, this is a very dangerous situation. You should get a licensed electrician in here today.”  
Lady   replies, “Oh no, it has been like that for twenty years!”

Cheap Electricity
I was just finishing inspecting an old farmhouse when the buyer told me that the barn down the lane was part of the property so I thought I’d better check it out.   The electric was a mess   with loose wiring, spliced exposed joints and rusted receptacles. There was no sub-panel, fuse box or main disconnect. I followed the incoming wires outside to a nearby utility pole which carried the power down the lane to the farmhouse. The   wires were   spliced directly into the overhead power cables . When I asked the farmer (seller) about the wires, he claimed it was news to him!

Listen to Your Dad
In a heavy downpour, I met the buyer, a young lady whose realtor was unable to be present. After showing her the rusted remains of the heating system in the flooded basement, I took her around the corner of the house to where this grey metal box was hanging off an exterior wall.   The box was emitting sparks, steam and making   popping noises.   “That is the main electrical panel” I told her.   “My dad said I shouldn’t buy this house,”   she said.   “Listen to your dad”   I replied.  

By Lauren Arline 12 May, 2016
Have you ever  taken your old car to a State Inspection Station to get it approved prior to selling it? It can be a real eye-opener! You well may find minimal brake pads, poor alignment, headlights askew, etc, etc.   But repairing these things, and getting through State Inspection  before  you sell, often means a quicker sale and getting a better price for your car.

Most homes, these days, are sold subject to or contingent upon, a Home Inspection by the prospective Buyers. In many cases, deficiencies and/or safety issues are found during these inspections and BUYERS ask, and expect, the SELLERS to make the repairs, prior to settlement. Frequently, the SELLERS do not have the time or energy to complete the requested tasks.     
So what happens? ?

Usually, an exaggerated amount of money gets taken from the SELLER'S  net proceeds at the closing table, and often ends up in a Title Company escrow account. The remainder, if any, is eventually returned to the SELLERS upon completion of repairs. Funds escrowed are typically wild guesses as to what repairs might cost !

Think about it -what incentive do the BUYERS have to find competent contractors, and get several competing bids? Not much, really. They are not paying for it ! Consequently, SELLERS will often effectively pay a lot more for repair items than they might have, had they arranged for a pre-listing inspection and corrected these things beforehand. Let’s say a SELLER needs a new roof, based on his pre-listing inspection. He or she gets several competitive bids. Realistic, written estimates are gathered. Now, the SELLER has the option of replacing the roof, or simply crediting a BUYER for the cost, based on REAL cost figures, not wild guesses.

Here is a short list , summarizing some of the benefits of a pre-list inspection :

  • Inspector may discover hazardous conditions /items that threaten the safety of current owner and family.
  • SELLER can choose his/her own inspector,   instead of being at the mercy of whoever the BUYERS’ choice may be. (Uncle Harry?)
  • SELLERS can use a favorable report as a selling tool.
  • Items that would likely have come up   during a BUYERS inspection can be corrected and eliminated beforehand.
  • SELLERS can negotiate   contract price without fear of major, unanticipated expenses, resulting from BUYERS inspection.
  • Having a report in hand may eliminate unfounded assumptions   that BUYERS might otherwise conclude, based on their own observations. The list could go on, but the point is made.

Why gamble, when you have the ability to be in better control?

By Tyler Aldridge 11 May, 2016
After twenty two years of inspecting houses with crawlspaces, I have become alarmed at how many of these spaces are not performing as they were intended. After much thought and analysis, I have become a believer in the  conditioned crawlspace.

Let’s first ask ourselves  why anyone would build a crawlspace.  The most common reason is that some build-able lands come with a very high water table, which will not permit a full basement. Another reason is that it’s less expensive to build a crawlspace versus a full basement. And finally, some builders prefer a crawlspace over a slab type system because a crawlspace allows access to install and manage your plumbing, electrical and heating and cooling systems. Unfortunately, sometimes the  builder doesn't allow enough space for a person to “crawl” through the space , much less attempt to perform any work, if required. And let’s face it, who would want to roam the crawlspace under their house? I know I don’t.

Most modern building codes require a builder to insulate between the floor joists, lay a vapor barrier on the floor and install ventilation thru the walls. Unfortunately, when I inspect this type of crawlspace in the summer and winter months, it is usually very humid due to moist air entering the space and mixing with the atmosphere under the house.  This will eventually cause mildew and mold to form  on the wood framing and in the insulation fibers. Sooner or later this condition will rot the structural floor frame and allow molds to enter the living spaces above. So  how can we mend a broken system?  Retrofit your crawlspace by creating a conditioned space. 

First , make sure the crawlspace is dry, or free of water intrusion. If there is water entering the space, you must correct the problem by doing the following:
  1. Ensure that the gutters are collecting the roof water and running free.
  2. Extend the downspouts to a minimum of 6 feet from your foundation walls.
  3. Ensure that the landscape grading has a positive grade away from your foundation walls. A rule of thumb is 1” fall for every foot, for at least 6 feet.

If that corrects the water entering the crawlspace, then  thank your lucky stars.  If it doesn’t, then do the following:
  1.  Install a 4 inch perimeter drain “tile” covered with drainage cloth and surrounded by gravel on the interior of the foundation walls. The tile drains directly into a sump pit with a pump.

Now that we have cured and or managed the water seepage into the crawlspace, it’s time to incorporate the conditioned crawlspace by following these steps :

  1. Remove all debris and the insulation between the floor joists. Next, clean all the mold and mildew from the wood framing, and utilities. See the article on our web site for cleaning mold.
  2. Install 12 mil or greater plastic vapor barrier from sill plate down foundation walls.
  3. Install vapor barrier across the dirt floor. Be sure to overlap all seams a minimum of 12 inches. Next, tape the seams.
  4. Close the vents located in the foundation walls and cover them with rigid foam. Install a minimum R-13 insulation on the exterior perimeter walls. You may use rigid or foil type insulation. I used an insulation/ radiant barrier product called Prodex. I purchased it from  
  5. Install a 4 x 12 HVAC register for every 800 square feet of space. This will pressurize the crawlspace so that it will breathe with the house. Consult with an HVAC contractor for the correct sizing of the air flow.
  6. Install an 8 x 8 return register or larger depending on load calculations performed by your HVAC mechanic. 

After all of this work, you will honestly see a tremendous change  in the crawlspace. This project will not compare with say a bathroom and kitchen remodel but it will greatly improve your living environment. At your next cocktail and dinner party, as your guests are admiring all the improvements to your house, make sure you give them a tour of your crawlspace! And you can even have overnight guests bunk in the space.
By Tyler Aldridge 11 May, 2016
This deck  had a big problem! Fortunately, most of the deck problems we see are not nearly as severe. The methods and materials of deck construction are pretty much out of the consciousness of most people until you hear about a catastrophe, like the porch failure in Chicago that killed 12 people in 2003. Its actually common to find at least a couple of local stories of deck failures, with  some injuries, each year . These typically occur when a party is in progress that concentrates numbers of people on a deck with problems. Teens and graduations are just right for causing trouble.

Most   building codes   and practices are designed to provide   safety   to the people in or on a structure. Design criteria have to address worst case scenarios. This is the key reason for deck dangers. When amateurs build decks, they don’t usually anticipate what may eventually take place on the beautiful project they are laboring to complete.
Standard deck construction calls for a 40 pound per square foot live load. Imagine a nice rectangular deck on a townhouse that is 16 feet against the house, comes out 12 feet into the back yard, and is elevated 9 feet above the ground.   That’s 192 sq. ft. at 40 per sf which comes up to a   mere 7680 lbs. of potential weight.   That’s a couple of cars!!  

 Let’s be more conservative and guess that when the next lunar eclipse shows up you’re throwing a moon party.   At 10:25 PM, you and your 20 guests file out to the deck to watch the show. We’ll guess you have 21 people at an average of 160 lbs (young, old, male,female, in shape mostly). Hey, that’s only a bit over a ton and a half at 3360 lbs. With a 2’x2’ space for each, they are only taking up 84 of the 192 sq.ft. If they are evenly distributed, the deck will feel the least stress.   Imagine concentrating them into a smaller area or if they move as a group, or all lean against the railing to catch a glimpse of the streaker.
I think you get the point that under the right conditions, decks are elevated platforms that support huge loads. They had better be able to stand firm!     That’s why good inspectors pay very close attention to decks!

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