Crawlspaces are, by definition, not exactly spacious. Some of them are entirely vacant aside from the occasional wild critter. They’re dirty and often dank, too. So are home inspectors really expected to shimmy inside? In most cases, the answer is yes.
The crawlspace might seem like a relatively unimportant part of a home, especially compared to systems that the residents see and use every day. But defects can lurk inside, and some of them could have widespread effects on the rest of the house from top to bottom.
The Crawlspace is More Important Than it Looks
The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) defines the crawlspace (or crawl space) as “the area within the confines of the foundation and between the ground and the underside of the floor.” It’s not especially attractive. But this part of a house gives inspectors an up-close-and-personal look the overall integrity and energy efficiency of the house.
The crawlspace can reveal structural issues including poor renovation or upgrade attempts from years past as well as defects that may evolve naturally over time. Because most homeowners will rarely, if ever, venture under the house, an inspector is their eyes and ears that can report back with a clean bill of health or defects that need attention.
Dampness in the Crawlspace Can Affect the Whole House
By nature, most crawlspaces are damp at least some of the time. If the grade and ventilation are adequate for the structure and location, some of the moisture will run off and some will evaporate. Unfortunately, many homes have dampness issues that reach beyond the small underbelly of the whole building.
Mold, of course, is one of the most common problems in a damp crawlspace. If there is an abundance of water, it can wick up through the house and affect the attic rafters. In extreme cases, it can even mimic a roof leak. Water also attracts insects, mice and other varmints which can easily make their way inside the house.
Energy Efficiency Begins at the Ground Level
Much of the advice about an energy efficient home revolves around attics and attic insulation. But the crawlspace can have a dramatic effect on the home’s comfort, too. Crawlspace insulation (or the lack thereof) affects air leaks and whether they interfere with or improve the home’s comfort. If the basement has big moisture issues, insulation might even harbor mold, exacerbating the problem.
Foundation cracks allow cold air in, which makes for frigid floors and might even diminish the home’s integrity. And a neighborhood cat could very well see those fluffy fiberglass blankets between the floor joists as perfect bedding to tear down and curl up inside. A warm home needs attic insulation, but a well-sealed, insulated crawlspace means warmer winter months for the homeowner.
Crawlspace areas are capable of hiding a multitude of home ills. Because few homeowners want to crawl or scoot underneath the house, defects might go undetected for years. That can lead to major wood rot, infestations, allergy problems and sky-high energy bills.
Home inspectors inspect crawlspaces because they’re inconvenient, unwelcoming and much more critical to the whole structure than a layman homeowner might realize. So unless the space is inaccessible, you can count on logging a lot of inspecting miles throughout your career.
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