Crawlspaces: Need Love and Attention too

Plugged Crawlspace vent

plugged vent on a crawlspace in Salem, Oregon

Crawlspaces are a very popular way to build a home in the Salem, Oregon area. With a crawlspace the home is up off the ground, so most importantly to the builder, there is less concrete and that equals less money. Being up off the ground also allows the homes to stay away from the water that is frequently bubbling up from the ground when the rains come down. Over all this area is ideal for crawlspaces however there are some things that most homeowners don’t realize:

  • We live in a maritime climate. That means it does not freeze very hard (or at all) most winters. Those silly Styrofoam crawlspace vent plugs should be strictly reserved for the 3 days of below freezing weather we get every 2 years. At all other times the crawlspace vents should be left open! The times your crawlspace will need to be vented are in the winter when the water tables rise. If the vents are all plugged the standing water will create a very conducive environment for wood eating/destroying organisms. Molds, beetles, termites and carpenter ants all benefit from the moist stagnant environment those little plugs foster. Moisture content of 18% wood becomes a good food source for things that eat wood. If the moisture content of the wood can be kept below 18% (through effective ventilation) the wood will not be food.
  • You Must Monitor your Crawlspace. This does not mean that you actually must go in to your crawlspace (but you probably should). But you should at least open the hatch, peek and smell. The smell is the important. If you smell musty sticky rotting wood…. that means more investigation is needed! The sniff test is great to do year around but especially in winter. I have seen crawlspaces that passed the sniff test and had inches of standing water. If the vents are open, even if there is a little water under there, the moisture doesn’t effectively raise the moisture content of the wood structure.
  • Mechanical and Plumbing need attention too. Crawlspaces are also wonderfully suited to maintenance. Although crawlspaces are not the best places to hang out, if you need access to plumbing wiring, ductwork, it is all there. In order to monitor these components you will need to enter your crawlspace, or hire a professional inspector. Leaky shower/tub drains, disconnected ducts, and leaking supply lines are all very common repair items that I see often. If the leaks are left unchecked they will give the wood eating creatures all the moisture they need to call your house home.

At minimum, every 3 months you should pop that crawlspace door open and squeeze into to the tight, dark, dirty, creepy hole that is your crawlspace. You will save yourself money and get to know your home on a level you never thought possible!