Structure

Basement/Crawl Spaces

Crawlspaces

If your home has an inverted T-foundation, you have a crawlspace. These spaces are located between the ground and the framing of the first floor. T-foundations with crawlspaces became a very popular mass production method for houses after WWII. Here’s the shocker. If your crawlspace is like most, it’s likely one of the filthiest, nastiest places on the planet. 

Accessibility

Crawlspaces and attics are defined as confined spaces. This means that they have access mandated by code, but are not suitable for human occupancy. Access means that inspections, repairs and modifications can, be made to that area.  Unfortunately, many crawlspace areas are not built with the required clearances to allow inspections or any human access to be possible. Some have blocking structural members, unsupported ducts, standing water, hanging wires, dangerous building debris, rodents, asbestos and other dangerous things further making access (or a hasty retreat) impossible. Substandard crawlspaces should be cleaned up and made truly accessible so that proper inspections and service can be made.

Air Quality

Crawlspaces are ventilated with screened openings around the perimeter to allow air to circulate.  The number and size of vents is dictated by code as is the minimum free clearance space, but this is an area where I have seen many violations.  I have never seen a building inspector go into a crawlspace to confirm the required clearances.

Poor ventilation, standing water, darkness, and rodent infestations in these areas create a witch’s brew of mold, dry rot and extremely poor and even dangerous air quality. This can be a serious health concern because most floors in older homes are neither insulated nor well-sealed allowing air from the crawlspace to easily flow into the living space where unsuspecting humans are taking it in. If air quality is bad in the crawlspace, you can be sure that air quality is bad inside the house too.

The crawl space is accessible by a hatch somewhere on the exterior or interior of the home. It it not intended as a storage area, especially for items that could be damaged by moisture. Wood stored in a crawl space will attract termites. 

Image of crawlspace area showing dangling wires, debris, framing and exposed dirt
A nicer than typical crawlspace

To-Do

  • Your crawlspace should ideally be clean, dry, well ventilated and sealed off from the interior of the home.
  • Have your crawlspace inspected and make corrections as needed to get it into shape.
  • Soils in the crawl space may be slightly damp but should not have standing water.
  • Proper downspouts, drainage systems and landscaping that is correctly installed will helps prevent excessive amounts of water from entering your crawl space.

Maintenance

  • 1x per year: Inspect the perimeter of the foundation for cracks and photograph and note the location and size of any cracks for future comparisons.
  • 1x per year: Inspect the foundation vents around the perimeter of your home for breaks in the screen and repair.
  • 2x per year: Inspect the perimeter downspouts, drain connections and splash blocks to make sure no water is allowed to pool around the foundation.

Basements

Basements are the same as crawlspaces except they have taller clearances and headroom. They also usually have a concrete floor and are sometimes completely finished for living.

Basements are quite common in some areas of the country, especially where there are severe winters. The reason for this is that foundations have to be made deeper in severe winter areas anyway in order to avoid the frost zone. By the time foundations reach frost zone depth, it is usually just as economical to continue to basement depth.

Some building sites are not suitable for basements, for instance those built on solid rock or where there are high water tables.

Waterproofing

The key to a successful basement is waterproofing. Basements must be properly designed from the beginning with good waterproofing and drainage systems because it is extremely difficult and expensive to correct these deficiencies after construction.

If basement floors are at a depth at or below the level of the home’s sewer line or septic tank, then any bathrooms or drains there will require a special pumping system to move the waste water out. This condition may also possibly require a back-up power supply to ensure the pump will work during a power outage.

Modern building codes require that finished basements have light wells and secondary escape methods for safety.

Maintenance

  • 4x per year: Inspect for moisture around the basement interior and check the operation of any ejector pump(s) and any safety escape apparatus on a quarterly basis.
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