The Crawl Space Inspection
A crawl space is an unfinished area with low clearance between the ground and the first (or ground) floor of a home. There is typically only enough room to crawl, so hence the name for the space.
Because crawl spaces are often cramped, confined spaces that are difficult to enter, the space is often neglected. Being a neglected area of the home, significant on-going issues are often found in a crawl space.
For that reason, crawl spaces should be inspected as part of a home purchase or sale. Be sure to inform your inspector that there is a crawl space to be inspected, as this will add some additional time to the inspection. Depending on the size of the entrance to the crawl space, the inspector may enter the crawl space or may need to inspect the space from the opening. Ideally, the inspector enters the space or uses a small, remote controlled vehicle to enter the space, and then identifies and documents any issues.
Entry into a crawl space can be dangerous due to it being a confined space, and due to the potential hazards within. Those hazards can include exposed wiring, stagnant water, leakage from waste pipes, insects and animals, mold and fungus, asbestos and sharp objects (protruding nails, broken glass, scrap wood and pipe, etc.).
While avoiding hazards, many components and systems are inspected in the crawl space. Here are some examples of the systems and components of a home that are inspected within a crawl space:
- Foundation / Structure: Foundations are inspected for gaps/holes, cracks and movement, leaning and bowing. The walls are also inspected for signs of prior water proofing. Columns should be plumb, have a proper footing (if visible), and proper attachment to the structure. The crawl space ceiling structure is inspected for condition (twisting, sagging, rot), insect infestation (termites), attachment/support, holes and notch sizes, etc.
- Piping: Water piping is inspected for corrosion, leaks, size, material type (lead, polybutylene, and metal compatibility at unions ), support, and insulation (if in an unconditioned space). Drain and waste piping is inspected for corrosion, leaks, slope, and support.
- Ducts: HVAC ducts are inspected for proper attachment, sealing, and the presence of insulation.
- Insulation: If an unconditioned crawl space, insulation should be present on the crawl space ceiling, with a vapor barrier facing the warm side (ie. the living space in NJ). The wooden rim joist above the foundation should also be insulated to minimize heat transfer from the space. Insulation should be of sufficient R-value to minimize heat transfer. If the floor of the crawl space is earth, it should be covered with a vapor retarder, and sealed along the perimeter to help prevent moisture from entering the space.
- Electrical wiring: Wiring is inspected for proper connections and terminations (both should be in junction boxes) and for support. If outlets are present (such as for a sump pump), they will be tested.
- Ventilation: Crawl spaces are either ventilated to the exterior or are conditioned spaces (heated / cooled). Exterior vents should be on opposite sides of the crawl space and near the corners of the space to encourage air circulation.
- Equipment: If an HVAC unit is located in the crawlspace, the inspector may also inspect it if there is sufficient space and clearance to do so. Sump pumps will also be checked for condition and to ensure they operate.
- Signs of Water Penetration: The inspector also looks for signs of water leaks and water penetration through the foundation (standing water, efflorescence, floor stains, etc.)
In New Jersey, the home inspection standards of practice do not require a home inspector to enter a crawl space that is less than 24” high or enter an area that, in the opinion of the inspector, is unsafe or dangerous to the inspector or other persons.
If entering your own crawlspace, take proper precautions and wear personal protective equipment, such as safety goggles, a face mask (or respirator), gloves, long sleeves and long pants, and head protection. Some inspectors wear full suits to enter crawl spaces, while others may tuck their pants into their socks to prevent unwanted guests in their pants legs. If your crawlspace is open to the outdoors and may be home to critters, be sure to open a hatch opposite from the one you will enter to allow an escape route for animals – being between an enraged or frightened animal and its only means of escape is not a good position to find yourself in.
Below are some pictures from recent crawl space inspections.
CRAWL SPACE ENTRANCES:
The picture above shows a crawl space 'door' located on the landing of a set of basement stairs.
The picture above shows a door to a crawlspace that was located in the garage. To enter the crawlspace, the inspector needed to hop down into the space in front of the door, about 4' below the floor of the garage.
CRAWL SPACE VIEWS FROM THE ENTRANCE:
Picture 3, above, was taken upon entering a crawl space. This crawl space was in good condition for an inspection due to the presence of a concrete floor, more than 24" of head room, and the presence of existing lighting (that functioned!). A crawl space in this condition also makes it easier for contractors to make any necessary repairs that could be required in the future.
Picture 4, above, was also taken at a crawl space entry way. Again, it was nice to see a concrete floor and functional lighting. The headroom was limited at close to 24". You can see some debris/trash, unsupported low voltage wiring and cabling, fallen insulation, and some mouse traps.
Picture 5, above, was also taken at a crawl space entrance. Cardboard sheets had been placed on the floor by the entrance, and a section of unused piping lay within. The insulation against the ceiling was in poor shape. A section of the sloped PVC waste line can be seen, along with some heating pipe (missing insulation), copper water lines, and yellow gas line. The visible electrical wiring is supported.
EXAMPLES OF CRAWL SPACE FINDINGS:
Picture 6, above, shows water staining on the concrete crawl space floor, along with moisture stained concrete block in the foundation wall. To help reduce water penetration into the space, exterior gutters should be maintained and downspouts should deposit water at least 6' from the foundation. In this instance, an exterior downspout deposited water too close to the home.
Picture 7, above, shows a copper pipe and clear plastic tubing terminating in the crawl space. The copper pipe was from the water heater TPR valve discharge pipe, and the source of the tubing was unknown (also requiring follow-up). Corrosion can be seen on the end of the copper pipe, along with staining on the insulation near the copper pipe, and additional staining on the water piping below the copper pipe, indicating that there may be an issue with the water heater or water heater TPR valve.
Picture 8, above, shows what may be the start of termite mud tunnels along the side of a concrete block support.
Picture 9, above, shows a large hole in a foundation wall that was likely made when the waste pipe was changed from cast iron to PVC. It's hard to see in this picture, but the concrete block above the hole is cracked and failing due to the lack support (ie the hole) below it.
If you are thinking of purchasing a home with a crawl space, make sure it is professionally inspected. If you own a home with a crawl space, inspect it on a periodic basis to ensure that it remains in good shape - it's always best to find and repair a small issue before it grows into a costly repair.