Problems Hide in Crawl-Space Foundations
Check out these telltale signs that maintenance has been lacking and what to do about it.
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Question: We recently moved to the Midwest. While we were looking for a home, the Realtor showed us several with crawl-space foundations. What problems would we encounter?
Answer: I believe that crawl-space foundations came about as a result of a lack of proper building sciences and a need to protect the home from floods, moisture and pests. My theory, which is based on my experience, is that when the pioneers' homes were invaded by flooding or snow or they found that wood floors placed on the ground would rot, they raised the homes by placing stones under the corners. This kept the floors dry but cold.
To keep pests and wind out of the foundation, the homeowners would fill in the space between the cornerstones, and the enclosed crawl space was born. Over the years, the crawl space became an ideal place for hiding heating ducts, plumbing and gas pipes and wiring.
There are now several variations of crawl-space foundations. In areas with rocky soils, the floor of the crawl space may be even with the outside grade. In areas where the ground freezes, the foundation footings are placed below the freeze line, and some builders choose to dig out the crawl space to lower the home for aesthetic purposes and to eliminate having to use steps to gain access to the home.
The biggest problem I see in crawl spaces is a lack of maintenance, which I see signs of almost every day. Those signs include standing, stagnant water, rotting wood, sagging floors and beams, termite damage, leaky plumbing fixtures, loose duct work, pests, molds, frayed electrical wiring, and missing or loose insulation.
To avoid having to make repairs, have the home you're buying inspected by a qualified home inspector and a licensed pest inspector prior to closing, and then have it inspected at least once a year by a licensed pest inspector.
Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors.
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