What Is Crawl Space Encapsulation?

Crawl spaces aren’t on most homeowners’ radars, but they should be. This narrow unfinished space that separates the home from the earth provides access to important housing components like plumbing, electrical and structural beams.

However, being exposed to outdoor elements makes crawl spaces highly susceptible to humidity issues and water intrusion that often go unnoticed by homeowners.

Laine Baer, a real estate professional in Atlanta, recently had a surprising experience from water intrusion below the home. “We were sleeping in the middle of the night when we heard a loud snap. Then all of a sudden, our bed fell through the floor,” says Baer.

After calling in professionals, they identified that water was flowing into the crawl space when it rained, which caused the subfloor to rot without them realizing it.

Rot is only one issue that can come from water or high humidity in crawl spaces. It can also lead to major problems like mold, unpleasant odors, wood rot and even foundation cracking.

A popular solution to water and humidity challenges is crawl space encapsulation.

[READ: What’s in Your Crawl Space?]

What Is Crawl Space Encapsulation?

Crawl space encapsulation is a moisture mitigation system. It completely encloses the crawl space to stop humidity and moisture from rising into the home.

“The goal is to separate the house from the earth and to regulate the humidity levels within the enclosure,” says Brent Pearson, general manager of the Tallahassee, Florida location of encapsulation company Alpha Foundations.

This starts by laying a thick vapor barrier liner on the floor and up the walls, wrapping all existing columns. A drainage mat is placed between the liner and the ground to protect the encapsulation from water and sharp debris on the ground. A dehumidifier and a sump pump are installed before closing off the crawl space with thick insulation boards on the sides of the home.

“You would never want to seal off your crawl space without having a dehumidifier to control the humidity,” Pearson says. “If not, you’re just exacerbating the problem.”

The sump pump is installed if a pipe bursts and water enters the encapsulation area, which could damage the encapsulation if not drained properly.

If water intrusion is causing your humidity problems, you must mitigate it before encapsulating. This could mean French drains or having a perimeter draining system that pushes the water into a sump pump beforehand.

An encapsulation may not be the right solution if you cannot fully prevent water from entering the crawl space. In this case, you would want to apply a special moisture barrier product onto the wood to stop moisture penetration. You can also add a dehumidifier to regulate the humidity levels moving forward.

[READ: Is Your Home a Health Risk? Why Mold May Be Lurking in Your Home]

What Causes Crawl Space Humidity?

Since crawl spaces are exposed to raw earth, there is always an issue of humidity entering the space. “Soil retains water and is always emitting vapor. Your crawl space usually has vents to help with circulation, but typically the hot air does not leave and sits there, rising up through the floor,” says Pearson.

There are also potential humidity issues due to weather. Very hot and humid states and coastal regions will naturally have higher levels of humidity. Extreme differences in temperatures from the inside of the home to the exterior can also cause humidity to rise. Additionally, flooding or exterior water intrusion from rain, for example, can lead to high humidity levels or even standing water in the crawl space.

How to Know if You Have a Crawl Space Humidity Issue

You have a humidity issue in your crawl space if your home frequently floods, has visible standing water or mold growing. Be vigilant for mold warning signs if you live in a high-humidity region or feel there might be a water intrusion issue. “Most people will smell mold before they see it,” says Michael Church, founder of Crawl Space Ninja in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Watch for other warning signs as well. “If you have cracks in the walls, shifting floors or hardwood floors that are buckling, it’s likely coming from moisture entering your crawl space,” adds Pearson.

[See: How to Humidify a Room]

What Does Crawl Space Encapsulation Cost?

Most homeowners will have a professional complete crawl space encapsulation. “DIY encapsulation is not easy and is very physically demanding,” says Church. While he recommends having a professional do it, Crawl Space Ninja has a DIY program where you can purchase professional supplies and follow tutorial videos on its YouTube channel.

“Many of our customers choose the DIY route because it’s cheaper, around 30% and 45% of the professional installation for the cost of materials,” says Church. But he emphasizes that the job is not for the faint of heart.

If you prefer to leave it to the professionals, a rough estimate for crawl space encapsulation is $5 to $7 per square foot, Pearson says. “However, if it’s a super low crawl space or extra things need to be addressed, like foundational issues, it will cost more,” he adds.

Expect the installation to take two to three days depending on what’s being done and the size of the home. You’ll also want to take care of any mold remediation before encapsulating the crawl space, which adds to the project timeline.

Is Crawl Space Encapsulation Worth It?

If installed correctly, a crawl space encapsulation can greatly improve the air quality in the home, prevent major issues like mold or foundation cracking, and make the home more energy efficient.

However, it’s an expensive job that doesn’t necessarily hold equal value come sale time. Crawl space encapsulation might provide a positive ROI if the buyer understands the benefits, but it is typically a preventative maintenance project that makes for a safer home.

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What Is Crawl Space Encapsulation? originally appeared on usnews.com

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