Imagine building a home today to the standards of the 1950s.
Using outdated standards and attitudes, you wouldn’t install insulation in your attic. Your windows would be single pane, perhaps with storm windows. Your bathroom most likely wouldn’t be vented, and you wouldn’t find a smoke alarm anywhere in your home. If you didn’t have a basement, your home would be built over a dirt crawl space that was rarely if ever inspected. Your 1950s-era attitude about your crawl space would be, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.”
Fortunately for homeowners, science and research over the past six decades have taught us how to build homes that are comfortable, safe and energy efficient. Insulation in the attic and sidewalls help keep homes more comfortable and energy efficient. Double and triple pane windows keep cold air out and help to make homes quieter. Bathrooms are vented, moving moist air from inside the bathroom to the outside. Smoke alarms are prevalent throughout the home, giving residents a warning should a fire occur.
Unfortunately for most homeowners – even for many who are building new homes – most crawl spaces are built and maintained much more closely to the standards of the 1950s than to those of today.
Those 1950s-era standards promote the growth of mold because they allow significant amounts of moisture into the crawl space. Foundation vents allow outside air to enter the crawl space, bringing in a fresh supply of moisture and making floors above very cold in the winter and the home extremely drafty. Although the homeowner or builder may have installed a thin layer of plastic on the ground in the crawl space, that plastic most likely will still allow moisture from the ground to penetrate the crawl space. Insects are probably thriving in the moist environment under the home, making their way into the living space above. Over time, a moisture problem will cause wood supporting the home to rot, including floor joists. Any floor insulation will also soak up that moisture, causing it to fall from between the floor joists, leaving floors very cold.
Science has actually shown us how to build crawl spaces that make homes cleaner, more comfortable, healthier and much more energy efficient. Research has taught us that most homes should have crawl spaces that are encapsulated – not covered with a thin layer of plastic – but sealed with a thicker plastic liner that effectively blocks moisture from the dirt below and doesn’t develop holes under normal wear and tear. The seams are taped to prevent moisture infiltration. Foundation walls are insulated, keeping conditioned air from escaping the crawl space and hot summer air or cold winter air from getting inside that crawl space. The plastic liner encapsulating the crawl space continues up the foundation walls, effectively sealing out moisture from the dirt below and from the foundation walls.
By building and maintaining crawl spaces in this up-to-date manner, homeowners will find that the air is cleaner in their homes, their floors and homes feel warmer, the wood supporting their homes will last longer, and they will save up to 25% on their heating and cooling bills. They will also find that the mold growth in their crawl spaces isn’t being promoted, because the principal sources of moisture – air coming in from the foundation vents and moisture coming up from the ground -have been eliminated.
The science of crawl spaces is an issue that hasn’t yet received a lot of attention nationwide, but it really should. This is too important of an issue because it impacts millions of homeowners across America. The science of crawl spaces has caught up to the science in the rest of the house, so homeowners need to be informed.
As you can see, when it comes to crawl spaces, what you don’t know can hurt you, your family, your comfort, the longevity of your home and even your pocketbook.