I Hate Crawl Spaces

Home Inspector with LPM Home Inspections, Inc.

I hate crawl spaces! They are my least favorite place to go. Dark, dirty, often wet, sometimes so dry you can't breathe for the dust clouds.  And they're usually filled with ducts, pipes, fallen insulation and electrical wires that I have to crawl over, under or around.  At the same time they are one of, if not the most, critical components of a home inspection.  Everything about the house relies on the foundation for support.  If it fails, the whole house fails.  I have to pay special attention to conditions because working in the dark can lead to missed clues and conditions.

 A crawl space shows me the condition of the foundation.  One of the most important things I'm looking for is moisture intrusion that can lead to rotting or warping of the wood structures like the sub floor, joists and the bottom plate (the wood laid on top of the foundation and to which the walls are attached).  I also check the condition of piers and pilasters, the concrete or wood columns that support the center of the floors and the outer walls of the foundation.  I will routinely take a carpenter's level with me to check for tilting piers or outer walls that may indicate a shifting foundation.   Water intrusion can cause their soil to soften so they shift or tilt, producing a sloped or unstable floor, cracked walls and other bad stuff.  If you see cracks at the corners of a doorway or window it could mean the foundation is shifting.      

 My routine is to crawl around the outside edges of the foundation looking for water trails and efflorescence (white mineral deposits) associated with moisture intrusion.   At the same time, I examine wood surfaces for water trails, moisture stains and decay.  Next I move into the center of the crawl space to examine pipe penetrations under the kitchen and baths.  I've found more rotted and unsafe floors from leaks in those areas than I care to count.  One was so bad that I beat a hasty retreat out of the crawl space for fear that the floor of was going to collapse.  In another, the house itself appeared to be in good shape until I found the base of a brick fireplace in a state of near complete collapse from water damage. 

I also check the condition of the floor insulation, usually fiberglass batts stuffed between the floor joists.  These are important to the efficiency of heating and cooling system.  Good ventilation and a plastic vapor barrier covering the soil are also essential to moisture control.

Except for a powerful light, my most useful tool is a simple screw driver for poking wet or water stained wood to see if it is firm and solid. I try to determine where the moisture is coming from and whether it is old, new or active.  I routinely photograph the crawl space to give the client an idea of the conditions and to highlight specific issues I think are important.   For safety reasons I wear a cap to protect my head from ever present nails, coveralls, gloves, eye protection, knee protectors and a respirator to protect me from dust, fungus spores and strands of fiberglass from the insulation. 

I went to college.  I have an MBA and lots of other education.  I've learned something; there places I shouldn't go.    I do not go into crawl spaces with standing water, especially if they have electric wires laying in them or If there are ducts, pipes or cables that I might damage or that might damage me.  I've never come across a snake or other critter in a crawl space but if I did, I wouldn't go in until a snake chaser cleared it out.      


Comments (5)

Lorraine or Loretta Kratz
Crescent Moon Realty, Inc. & Land N Sea Auctions. - San Marcos, CA
Certified Negotiation Consultants

I feel for you, I understand your issues with crawl spaces. Usually, when a home has a crawl space it is over 40-50 years old and the home has other issues- the one thing that is positive about crawl spaces is that it can be easier to repair than a cracked slaw.

Nov 11, 2010 03:57 AM
Patricia Feager, MBA, CRS, GRI,MRP
Selling Homes Changing Lives


You do have a tough job. Although here in TX we don't have basements or crawlspaces, I had lived in two houses in Northern IL with a crawl that was designed for someone who was flat and can crawl on their backside. The other house was a 4 1/2 foot crawl, which was better, but not....

I have the greatest respect for you and other inspectors who have to do this dirty work. As a former homeowner in IL, I've had to do my own crawling around and it was NOT easy, pleasant or fun.

Thanks for the blog. You deserve RESPECT and for people to understand that it is not an easy job.



Nov 11, 2010 03:57 AM
Dean Curtis
Coldwell Banker Kittitas Valley Realty - Ellensburg, WA

John, I don't like them either. That is why I am so happy that you are around, or someone who is in your line of work. The buyer needs to know about all aspects of the home, even the dark and damp ones, and you bring light and knowledge to these necessary questions.  Thanks for being there.

Nov 11, 2010 04:03 AM
Jason Channell
Diadem Property Inspections - Serving Southeast Michigan - Troy, MI
The House Sleuth

John, I have to agree with you. Crawl spaces are the worst part of the job. You do an excellent job pointing out why we inspectors check them out!

Nov 11, 2010 04:08 AM
John Toay
LPM Home Inspections, Inc. - Myrtle Beach, SC

Thanks for the comments, folks.  Here in the Myrtle Beach area we have both crawl spaces and slabs.  One of the most interesting crawls I've inspected was in a house that was 105 years old.  The outer walls of the foundation were field stone.  The log joists and piers still had bark on them and the ax marks where they'd been notched to fit together. Everything was in pristine, very solid condition.  Our present day contractors could learn something from it. 

Nov 11, 2010 04:21 AM