Crawl Space Inspection Horrors
As a home inspector, I see all foundation types & combinations: Basements; Slab on Grade; Crawlspaces; Stem-Walls; Piles; Piers; & alternative types. Out of all of these, a crawl space inspection can be a home inspectors’ greatest nemesis as they are faced with crawling around under the house where anything from rodents to mud to human waste can sometimes be found.
That is if the access is large enough to get into the crawl space, or if there is enough space between the ground & floor system for them to fit. A large majority of the homes in our coverage area were built before building codes were standardized or even enforced. So, the ICR requirements for 16” x 24” for wall accesses or 18” x 24” for floor above the crawlspace access aren’t something we can depend on. This could lead to some problems being overlooked or missed. That’s why we use our crawl space robot to handle the dirty jobs (i.e. crawl space inspection) – who is in no hurry to get out from under the house. Equipped with a HD video camera, we can scan every nook & cranny looking for problem areas.
Crawl spaces are notorious for the nasty discoveries made during the by inspector, & it isn’t hard to figure out why; for one thing, their cool, dark environment attracts undesirable pests & can promote dangerous conditions. And since crawl spaces are mostly unmonitored, hazards can breed there unchecked for long periods of time. The following are some of the more common dangers discovered during a crawl space inspection. . .
CRAWL SPACE DANGERS
- INFESTATIONS – Pests such as rodents and bugs are undeniably creepy. They’re also surprisingly common to find in crawl spaces. They can reproduce quickly, filling your crawl space with creepy crawlies. Bear in mind that where there are pests, there may also be pesticides, perhaps improperly applied. SNAKES, WILD ANIMAL HOMES, SPIDERS, BEES, & MICE may also be lingering in crawlspace, & they could even start to borrow into your ductwork to look for heated spaces or food. No one wants to find a raccoon in the kitchen rummaging through your leftovers. Follow this link for the EPA’s “Do’s & Don’ts of Pest Control”.
- MOLD & FUNGUS – It may not be an animal, but it’s definitely alive. Just link pests, mold & fungus can grow rapidly in crawl spaces. They are both a health concern as well as a cause for wood decay, which can require a costly repair. Airborne mold spores can potentially enter the living space from the crawlspace. Molds produce allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions), irritants &, in some cases, potentially toxic substances called mycotoxins. Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, & skin rash (dermatitis). Homes infected with molds & fungus are also much more difficult to sell, often requiring costly remediation prior to closing the deal.
- HANTAVIRUS – This is a combination of the above two items as rodents that carry either the “New World” or the “Old World” pathogen (CDC LINK) are attracted to areas that are undisturbed by humans. Crawl spaces are generally dark places that lack ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can rapidly inactivate the virus. Exposure to hantavirus may lead to Hantavirus Cardiopulmonary Syndrome (HCS), characterized by headaches, fever, difficulty breathing, & sadly, often death.
- ASBESTOS INSULATION – Do not disturb asbestos! The microscopic fibers that cause illness become airborne when the insulation is handled or disturbed, & if it appears to be in good shape, it might not be a problem at all.
- STANDING WATER OR SEWAGE – Dirt crawl spaces are susceptible to water seepage, which can create a host of problems, such as microbial growth, odors, damage to stored belongings, & risk of electrical shock. And you would be surprised about the times I’ve entered a crawlspace to find a leaking pipe (of all types).
- BONES – You might have an animal graveyard under your house. These remains could be from decomposing wildlife, or there are times when a pet has crawled under a house to pass away. While the bones may not pose a direct health risk, having skeletons under the house is too much like a real-life version of Halloween.
- INVASIVE PLANTS – Aggressive vines like wisteria or kudzu can take root next to the foundation of your home, working their way into your crawl space. While these invasive species plants may seem benign at first, their fast-growing habit can quickly overtake a house. A single kudzu vine can grow up to 60 feet per season. That means it could reach the top of a four-story building in just one year. Eradication is not easy – to kill it with herbicides, it can take 4 – 10 years of repeated treatments. It’s not easy to dig up because well-established root systems can weigh as much as 400lbs. And if you try to mow it down, watch out because cut vines can re-root to form new plants. There’s a good reason why invasive plants like kudzu have been called “the vine that ate the South”.
- STRUCTURAL PROBLEMS – Bugs may be creepy, but the scariest thing in your crawl space could be foundation problems. Damage could be twofold: (1) financial loss, & (2) health risks. Professionals estimate that 40-50% of the air you breathe comes from the crawlspace / basement area & an unmaintained crawl space can have serious health consequences.
- IMPROPER WIRING – is another item that I have to be on the lookout for as you will not believe how upset my wife will be if I get electrocuted under the house.
While these are a few concerns which can be found during a crawl space inspection, all of them have solutions, which are discussed with our clients as they watch us put our robot through hoops.