Investing in your crawl space won’t be eye-catching like new countertops or a remodeled bathroom, but it will offer something those projects can’t: efficiency, lower energy bills and potentially a healthier home.
“The phrase ‘out of sight, out of mind’ sums up many homeowner’s relationships with their crawl spaces because they’re very easy to overlook,” said Energy Services Supervisor DuWayne Dunham. “But they should be part of your home inspection routine — you never know what issues may be hiding down there.”
Crawlspaces are popular in Southwest Washington for several reasons. They cost less to build than basements or house-sized concrete slabs. They make plumbing and heating infrastructure easy to access. Perhaps most importantly, they allow critical airflow beneath the home.
Decades ago, builders didn’t add much insulation to homes, and crawlspaces typically weren’t insulated at all. And people kept the house warm by blocking foundation vents. In those days it was a practical solution, but today it’s a bad idea.
Blocking those vents will hold heat in, but it also traps moisture and carcinogenic radon gas under the home. Excess moisture can lead to a host of structural damage and home health problems down the road. Some people still do it to protect their plumbing from freezing, but that issue is easily and affordably remedied by wrapping pipes in insulation.
Blocking the vents is also unnecessary in newer homes because insulated floors have been standard for years. Not sure what condition your lowest level may be in? Grab a flashlight and head to the crawl space.
First look at the ground. There should be a layer of vapor barrier completely covering it. If needed, straighten it out or make a note of additions or adjustments that may be necessary to cover the ground entirely.
Next look at the insulation between the floor joists. Your home should have at least r-19 insulation, but the thicker the better. Inspect it to make sure it hasn’t deteriorated or that animals haven’t crawled under your home and damaged it.
If your insulation is thin or lacking, don’t hesitate to improve it. Insulating your floor will substantially improve a home’s indoor climate all year long.
“Insulation is one of the most cost-effective energy-saving investments a person can make,” Dunham said. “Clark Public Utilities is so supportive of it as an energy efficiency upgrade, we offer incentives to help make insulation projects more affordable for our customers living in electrically heated homes.”
If possible, look at the condition of the wood beneath your floor and around the perimeter of your home. Inspect it for any potential rot or damage. If radon is an issue, there should be a system in place to ventilate it out from beneath the house. If it’s there, visually inspect that system to make sure it is in good condition.
Finally, on your way out look at the crawl space access to make sure it is adequately insulated, weatherstripped, and has a tight seal when shut. Air leaks may seem small, but they can be responsible for a significant amount of heat loss if left unaddressed. The best type of seal will fit snugly around the edges while keeping the surface flush.
For information about crawl spaces and prioritizing energy efficiency projects around the home, call a Clark Public Utilities energy counselor anytime during business hours at 360-992-3355.
Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to email@example.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.