Sealed crawlspace scam!!! Not the answer!!!

By
Home Inspector with AGEL'S HOME INSPECTIONS NCHIL#2861

     For all those unsuspecting homeowners out there there is a growing problem being caused by nationally trusted franchise companies as well as small time contractors. The problem is sealing the crawlspace on a raised foundation in a pre-existing structures. This is almost always done without code compliance, and without correcting the source of the moisture problems at the exterior which led to the infiltration to the crawlspace prior to ever attempting. The outcome has not been good in the 3-4 years of seeing the end results in homes across 3/4 of NC counties. Speaking with other inspectors in this and other states the problems is not limited to NC and seems to be spreading rapidly, especially by the more nationally known and publicly trusted companies who were already at the home for legitimate work. Many times moisture related problems in the raised crawlspaces are easily identified and corrected if basic knowledge in building structure/design/function is understood. Such basic problems which can cause water infiltration into the crawlspace from the exterior are, but not limited to: lack of gutters connected to drain piping to extend the discharge at least ten feet from the base of the structure, downspouts that discharge near the base of the structure, poor site/soil grading which lacks at least a 1 inch drop per every foot leading from the base of the structure within the first 10 foot of the home, cracking/improper grading to concrete pads/patios, lack of waterproofing of the exterior of the foundation walls, lack of proper sealant at exterior penetrations/joints, and improperly positioned/directed sprinkler heads. Those are the first points of concentration to worry about before concerning yourself as to corrective measures within the inside of the crawlspace. When those areas are correct we can begin to address the inside of the crawlspace. Aside from the exterior being a source of moisture there is beneath the house also. Bare soil exposed beneath the home can many times cause elevated moisture levels to the air and wood framing. To reduce this occurrence a plastic vapor barrier of no less than 4-6 mil needs to be laid and secured to the soil with all joints overlapping by at least 12 inches. Of course any plumbing leakage into the area is detrimental and needs to be corrected immediately. Of further concern is any discharge/drain piping which terminates inside the crawlspace. Such lines can extend from HVAC evaporative units which should have been terminated at the exterior, as well as water heater pressure relief lines which should have terminated in the same room as the unit. Dryer or bathroom vent ducting terminating in the crawlspace can also allow warm moist air beneath the home and the dryer vent piping also deposits flammable lint. Improperly installed/restricted, and/or under insulated HVAC ducting can allow the formation of condensation on the exterior of the ducting which will further increase humidity/moisture levels. Many times having the foundation vents closed in the winter and open in the summer will cause unnecessary moisture levels. During the winter months, at least in areas of the states where I have been working in, it is noted that decreasing the moisture in the crawlspace can be helped by simply opening the foundation vents and letting mother nature help. However, in the summer months having the vents closed can be very detrimental. This can allow humidity levels to increase and moisture content of the wood framing to also increase. Many homes have fiberglass floor insulation beneath the floors and in the summer will be running conditioned air at temperatures which will decrease the temperatures of the sub-floor and floor framing beneath the conditioned rooms. Without the floor insulation the vents being closed may allow the point of condensation between warm/cool air mixing to occur at the foundation walls where damage would be minimal if the walls were insulated and sealed to the vapor barrier. With the floor insulation in place and the foundation vents closed the point of condensation between warm/cool air can all too often become the wood framing/sub flooring, and floor insulation. This can be to the point where the floor insulation is saturated to the touch and even to the point of becoming too weighted and falling from the installed locations.

     Now were all the mentioned items above corrected prior to considering sealing the crawlspace? If not, the sources of the moisture which led to the thought of sealing the crawlspace were not addressed and we are doing about as much as attempting to place a bucket with a drain line in an attic below a roof leak rather than to correct the source of the leak on the roof. 

     The answer to the moisture in the crawlspace, many of these uneducated contractors guilty of improperly sealing these crawlspaces seem to believe, is the installation of a dehumidifier in the crawlspace, installing a vapor barrier on the soil, and sealing up the foundation vents. They almost never have corrected the issues which led to the moisture intrusion. If one is to control the air within a confined space very basic rules must not be forgotten. First is that to control the space we have to fully seal the space of all penetrations to prevent any external air entry into that space. Second is to control the moisture within the airspace which can be done with a dehumidifier. Third is to control temperature. If we do not have control of both temperature and humidity within that airspace dew point can occur. This can occur at normal 40% humidity setting on the dehumidifier. Say if the exterior air temperature is 93F and the humidity level is set at 40% in the crawlspace. With the interior conditioned spaces at 72-74 the insulated sub-floors/floor framing can easily reach 65F. At this point condensation can form on the exposed surfaces. This is why conditioned crawlspaces need a good control of conditioned air introduced into the crawlspace which will have no return ducting to the system. This is accomplished though the wisdom, education, experience, and calculations

     Now with increased moisture in the confined crawlspace the chances increase of settled mold spores on HVAC systems, plumbing, electrical, wood framing etc. having enough moisture to germinate, colonize and reproduce. This can increase the likelihood of contaminating the interior air. If all HVAC joints were properly sealed and the system properly insulated, and if the penetrations where the HVAC ducting, electrical, plumbing, etc, extend into the crawlspace, from above were sealed this would reduce the chance of interior air contamination and further seal the crawlspace. (as would be required if done properly). Further concern is that there is now fungus/mold active on the exposed surfaces. These are living microscopic organisms which use enzymes to break down organic matter. Once thought that wood destroying fungus was the only fungus to be concerned with, research has led us to believe that many types of molds which were once thought of as common household molds and not wood decay promoting fungi can still bring the wood framing to a point of structural integrity loss by still feeding from the wood, just not always in the same manner as the typical dry rot fungi. Any contamination within the crawlspace needs to be thoroughly treated with an FDA approved fungicide for all porous, semi-porous, and non-porous materials as they all exist inside the crawlspace. This includes discarding the floor insulation prior to fungicidal applications. Without eliminating these organisms once discovered and sealing the crawlspace the true horrific nightmare begins. See a dehumidifier may reduce humidity in the air of that crawlspace thus reducing the moisture content of the wood framing. But starving a living fungus/mold which may have been surface matted on the wood framing of the vital air/surface moisture it needed to survive on the wood surface this can cause the fungi/mold root to draw the needed moisture from the wood framing bringing the wood to a point of dry rot without ever being at the industry recognized 28% moisture content that may promote wood destroying fungi. With the foundation vents open the fungal/mold off gas may be expelled to the exterior of the home, whereas when the crawlspace is sealed the off gas can find unsealed penetrations and/or pass through permeable floors to the interior of the home. 

     Much in the hazard line as the fungal/mold contamination problem is that sealing crawlspace in a pre-existing structure can also increase the chances of Radon gas levels increasing in the home and regular monitoring/testing is needed to reduce the chance of hazards associated with exposure.

     All too often the installation of the dehumidifier requires additional electrical permits/work for the installation of a GFCI receptacle and breaker needed to provide power for the equipment. 

     Now with all of what was just stated above would you want someone to attempt this process of sealing the crawlspace in your home that doesn't understand these concerns, has no applicable licensing or permits as required for this work in the state of NC (and fairly sure elsewhere as well), and will charge you between 4-6K for this detrimental service, why are people falling for this and learing the hard way? Licensed pest exterminators who have just inspected the crawlspace for insects/moisture comes out and tells you that there is increased moisture content noted to the wood framing. Do they inspect the exterior and crawlspace for determination as to the sources of the increased moisture levels? Sadly, no. They pull out a nice brochure of a moisture control system which they will tell you is the only way to reduce moisture levels within the confined crawlspace. This again will be a 4-6k cost to the homeowner who doesn't realize that this doesn't correct the sources of the moisture, and will ultimately cause damage to the building materials due to the improper and partial implementing of a sealed crawlspace. The largest pest extermination companies in the world are now doing this mercilessly across the states. Terminix had just been caught doing this at a house last month in Fayetteville NC on Graham Rd. Their initial inspection report dated one year ago noted no fungus present, no standing water in the crawlspace, no cracking to the foundation walls, and moisture content of wood framing between 20-22% in areas of the crawlspace. Their answer was charging the client thousands for this crawlspace sealing of sorts. During a home inspection ordered by the home owner last month I find lack of gutters, poor site grading, condensate drain lines extending and terminating at foundation walls, unsealed holes drilled into the foundation walls for pest treatments left open after treatments and the foundation vents sealed shut. I find at the crawlspace entry door an unsealed, uninsulated access door of which I open to find standing water pooling i the crawlspace against the foundation wall at the low end of the house with no drain to allow an exit of this standing water, cracking to the foundation walls and I find openings left in the foundation wall where HVAC lines enter the crawlspace. Plastic vapor barrier has not been properly installed and has areas lacking a minimum of 12inch overlap at seams, and some seams not overlapped at all. There has been new GFCI receptacle, breaker, and romex installed in the crawlspace and a dehumidifier running within a few feet of the standing water. Visible fungus/mold is apparent in large areas of the framing beneath the house, and also inside the HVAC ducting and air handler unit installed in the crawlspace. When the homeowner contacted Terminix about these issues they sent the supervisor in charge of operations in NC and Sc as well as two of his workers. They crawled under the house seeing the disconnected ducting, the unsealed penetrations, uninsulated access door, standing water, mold contamination and the response was,"our system is functioning as intended and moisture readings of the wood framing are now at 10%. Now for 3 years I have been dealing with these guys on the phone and being hung upon and laughed at when I mention the detrimental harm they are causing. Furthermore they laugh when they are reminded that in the state of NC you are required to have applicable licensing and permits for performing certain trade work in homes. This instance may be a good example of why we have these requirements. LOL But again, here at Graham Rd, these guys are standing by their failed system. When the homeowner requested that Terminix provide proof of permits/licensing required to perform the work provided, days later the emailed response was an issuance of a refund and standing by their effort to control moisture in the crawlspace. The state licensing body who gives these guys a license for wood destroying insects don't care that their licensees are defrauding the public trust, knowingly and willingly breaking state code enforcement requirements, causing harmful growth of fungus/molds within the crawlspace, and decreasing the interior air quality of the home thus endangering the occupants of the home. Trust me, the state licensing division that grants Terminix contractors a license was at the house a couple of days ago and claims that they have no control over this. They don't care that there is now cracking to the foundation walls on the other side of the wall where standing/pooling water exists, and they don't care that electrical-vapor barrier-and crawlspace sealing has occurred with no proper permits or licensing. Their mission statement states otherwise, but they kept the "do nothing" stance saying that this would be a matter for the civil courts, licensing and code enforcement divisions and doesn't pertain to them. Now you can lose your license for committing a felony but not for defrauding the public out of thousands per client and knowingly causing detrimental harm to the building materials? With this posting will be the first public notice of this problem as newspapers, and tv news reporters never reply to calls/emails/letters. I will continue the crusade to stop this from occurring as the damage to the buildings and occupants over the last three years has been sickeningly vast. Without being able to reach the national media this is only caught and corrected on a singular basis. If the problem were to be televised nationally more victims would realize whey are victims and come forward, less people would fall prey to these malicious contractors, and a change would occur to the licensing requirements and regulations regarding the state divisions overseeing such licensing. BTW, this week they have been advertising that they now handle insulation! Also permits not followed in those instances as well!

     So before you are talked into sealing up the crawlspace beneath your home please do the appropriate research in the steps/procedures necessary to do so, and make sure that your contractor is adequately educated, trained, licensed, and permitted to change the ventilation of your home. Check with state building code enforcement for necessary requirements. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments (12)

Dale Baker
Baker Energy Audits and Commercial Properties Inspections - Claremont, NH
New Hampshire Relocation Real Estate Information
Howdy and evening Don
 
This here sure is an outstanding first blog post by you for folks to visit!
 
Welcome to the ActiveRain Real Estate blogging community! You'll sure find a lot of mighty fine folks here in the community to get to know. I'm one of the many ActiveRain community members which are an ActiveRain Ambassador.
 
If you should ever have any questions about how to do anything or about the rules of the ActiveRain community, please feel free to contact me either by sending me a e-mail or by giving me a call, I'll sure be mighty glad to give you a helping hand. If for some reason I don't know the answer to a question which you might have, I'll sure will find out the answer and get back to you with the right answer.
 
Take the time to look at the different groups within the community, pick some different groups to join, post your blog posts in them, be sure to take the time to read the posting guidelines of each group you might want to join, folks sure will want to follow them. Members can join as many or as few of the different groups within the community as they would like to. Members are able to post their blog posts in 5 different groups at a time.
 
Keep up your mighty fine job of posting! I'll be looking forward to seeing even more blog posts written and posted by you, plus seeing you join some of the mighty fine groups in the AR community.
 
Have a good one
Dale in New Hampshire
Jun 15, 2013 08:03 AM
Don Agel
AGEL'S HOME INSPECTIONS - Fayetteville, NC
Don Agel NCHIL#2861

TY Dale, glad to be here!

Jun 15, 2013 10:19 AM
Todd Clark
eXp Realty LLC - Tigard, OR
Principle Broker Oregon

Welcome to Activerain and I hope you are learning a lot and if you ever need any assistance, don't hesitate to check out my blog, email me, call me, I will be glad to help you in any way possible. Also, check out the main page of Activerain and look for the Activerain University tab, there are lots of educational webinars to help you build your business.

Jun 15, 2013 03:39 PM
Ken's Home Team LLC. | 360.609.0226 | Portland, OR & Vancouver, WA Real Estate Team
Ken's Home Team LLC. - Vancouver, WA
- SOLD IS OUR FAVORITE 4 LETTER WORD -

Welcome to Activerain from from all of us at Ken's Home Team. I think you will find this site to be a wealth of knowledge and referrals. This really is the best real estate blogging and real estate network on the internet. If you have any questions about Activerain, reach out to the wonderful Ambassadors here in the rain. (They are a wealth of knowledge and were picked by the Activerain staff for their willingness to help others)

Jun 15, 2013 03:51 PM
Anonymous
John B. West Jr.

THANK YOU DON---You just saved me over &5000. with your crawl space advice--TERMINIX was going to pull one of their Dehumidifier Deals on me and after I read your article on "Sealed Crawlspace Scams!!" I made them STOP and I am waiting on them now to come and clean up what they have messed up--and leave that Dehumidifier here that they haven't hooked up because they don't have a permit-- until I get back from preplanned vacation [We leave tomorrow) I'll then get the crawlspace inspected to assure me that everything is in order when we get back--Thanks again, John (Jack) West Yorktown, VA

Jun 21, 2016 01:14 AM
#5
Anonymous
Joce Smith

Terminix came to my elderly mother's house in GA for a routine visit to spray for pests. They went under the house into the crawl space and told her she needed to get a moisture barrier installed on the ground because the wood framing was starting to have a growth on it. There were no signs of insects in the wood framing. Within two weeks of having Terminix installer the plastic barrier under the house, the oak wood flooring starting to turn white in random spots. Even the vinyl floor in the kitchen starting to turn white.She called Terminix and asked them to send someone to take a look at it. They haven't sent anyone yet. She is afraid the flooring is permanently damaged.

Mar 22, 2017 06:21 AM
#6
Anonymous
James

Terminix did an encap for us and we love it! The house is so dry under there now and no more bad smell.

Oct 31, 2017 12:02 AM
#7
Anonymous
Bonnie White

What is a reputable company to use for moisture in crawlspace?

Mar 31, 2018 10:05 AM
#8
Anonymous
Jody

This is the most helpful information I have found on this subject.

Oct 30, 2018 11:49 AM
#9
Anonymous
frack

Dude, paragraphs breaks.

Feb 12, 2019 08:44 AM
#10
Anonymous
Paco

Don,

Appreciate your post. The text is a direct hit! Exposes all concerns my wife and I had upon listening to certain members of the "Crawl Space Encapsulation" market wave (shall refer to them as "Crawlbusters").

We wanted a solution for water under the house (a seasonal problem in Northern California), but could not find enough validation for all the benefits sold by the Crawlbusters. In the past we had handled the moisture dilemma with a very practical approach (sump pumps, ventilation, and germicidal UV light attacking wood in certain foundation areas). Still, age gets to all of us so I did not want this to be a DIY constant.

I shall simple say that the representations offered by the Crawlbusters were unrealistic (complete salvation for the house and people in it for a lifetime), further, the price tag seemed more like an annuity (equivalent of buying a car every five years) since the warranties were ultra weak. Great business to get into, unfortunately there is too much integrity in my person.

I would want to see solid data on this for 15 years or more (installation, costs, results, re-installation, etc.) So, after living in the house for 35 years with no problems, I decided to go back to DIY approach. Maybe it will keep me young.

Paco

Mar 19, 2019 06:58 PM
#11
Anonymous
Anne Weinstein

I am so glad you posted this information. Two weeks ago Terminix came to treat an ant infestation, then followed up with a crawl space inspection. Four years earlier they had installed an escapalation in that crawl space at a cost of $4,000.The inspector informed us the older system had failed and needed to be removed and replaced by a new and improved system at a cost of $15,000! We would get an offset for the first installation. We are very dubious and have lost confidence in this company.We will be getting other opinions from other companies. It is still difficult to know if you being scammed.

Apr 10, 2019 10:32 AM
#12