Whatcom/Skagit County Home Inspections (King of the House): Damp Crawl Spaces

Home Inspector with King of the House Home Inspection, Inc

 Here in the Pacific Northwest, due to our damp climate, those of us who do state mandated inspections for wood destroying organisms (as part of a home inspection) look for water or dampness in the crawl space. Damp conditions can be caused by a multitude of problems: poor management of runoff water; poor grading of a wet lot; plumbing leaks; poor caulking leading to water intrusion; poor ventilation. In our wet climate we want to see the structural wood with a moisture reading somewhat below 20 percent. Wood can rot at 20 percent so staying below that number is important. Usually it begins to rot at a number higher than 20 percent but, once it starts, 20 percent is all it takes to keep on going. Regardless, the state suggests that wood can be, and should be, kept at a percentage lower that 20% even in our climate. My experience shows that a well designed crawl space, with minimal conducive conditions, can have wood with a moisture content of 12 to 15 percent. The photo below is what you do not want to see. This is a sill plate (which is often dryer than the posts) and it is pegging the moisture meter at 50% plus. In this case, the problem seemed to be related to a deck right above the sill plate that had no flashing and it was collecting heavy water because a roof above it was dumping water at this location. Other contributing factors included no vapor barrier (bare dirt) in the crawl space, scrap wood that was decaying in the crawl space, few gutters and basically no downspouts and a very wet lot to begin with. A contractor, familiar with crawl space repairs, needs to come in and work because, over time, the wood will decay and, in this wet condition, it is highly prone to other wood destroying organisms as well.

Thanks for looking.


Steven L. Smith

Bellingham Home Inspector

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