Even though you don’t spend much time in your crawl space, its health can have a big effect on the rest of your house. Mold can grow in a damp crawl space, which can be bad for the air quality in the house. It can also cause wood to rot, which can damage the framing around a home’s foundation.
Pests like bugs, rats, and even snakes can move into a crawl space. Professional Crawl space encapsulation is a solution for homes that have all of these problems. With crawl space encapsulation, the crawl space of a house is sealed with thick plastic sheets and kept at the right humidity level with a dehumidifier. This gets rid of any excess moisture and keeps pests out.
In this article, we’ll talk about the pros and cons of enclosing your crawl space, as well as how much it might cost and what steps are involved.
What does it mean to enclose a crawl space?
Crawl space encapsulation is the process of closing off the crawl space under a house with plastic sheeting to make a clean, dry space where mold can’t grow and pests can’t get in. A simple encapsulation might just involve putting up plastic sheets, but a more complicated one might also need a dehumidifier to keep the humidity level stable and a drainage system to keep water from building up under the house.
Should I cover my crawl space with plastic?
Whether or not someone should enclose their crawl space depends mostly on whether or not the benefits are worth the cost, which can be high.
Since the average cost of encapsulating a crawl space is $5,500, it only makes sense to do so if it will pay off by protecting the home. If your crawl space stays dry all year and doesn’t have any pests, it may not be worth the money to encapsulate it.
But if your crawl space is prone to mold growth or is always full of bugs, encapsulating it might be worth it when you think about all the problems a crawl space can cause.
Mold can grow in these tight spaces with little airflow. If left alone, mold can damage the structure of a home and make the air in the living area below less healthy.
Pests can do a lot of damage to a home’s foundation or use the crawl space to get into the living areas. Once they get into a home, it can be expensive to get rid of them and fix any damage they’ve caused.
A damp crawl space will also speed up the breakdown of wood fibers, which can lead to rot in the framing around the first floor, which can be very expensive to fix.
If you’re thinking about enclosing your crawl space, you’re probably dealing with one or more of the problems above. Given how much damage these things can do, it may make sense to protect your investment by paying the cost of encapsulating a crawl space.
The pros of enclosing a crawl space
Crawl space with a cover
Finishing up the crawl space. From Greg Marks (1)
Enclosing your crawl space has a lot of benefits, such as getting rid of excess moisture and keeping out dangerous gases that come from the ground. In this section, we’ll talk about the benefits of enclosing your crawl space.
1. Cuts down on humidity and mold.
Even though moisture and small puddles of water in a crawl space won’t hurt the structure of your home directly, they can lead to problems that will. The water vapor that these puddles give off can cause mold and rot on the walls, which weakens the frame of the house. Even wet insulation can become a home for mold.
By enclosing a home’s crawl space in a place with high humidity, the moisture that causes these problems will be gone.
2. Keeps bugs from getting into the crawl space.
Pests like rats, termites, spiders, dust mites, and other creatures you don’t want living under your house are also drawn to water and moisture. When you get rid of the moisture in the crawl space, rodents, insects, and reptiles won’t want to live there.
Plastic sheeting also creates a barrier that keeps bugs out of the space and makes it harder for them to get into the living area of the house.
3. Stops gases, dust, and allergens from getting in.
Up to half of the air in the living area of a house comes from the crawl space. This means that the quality of the air in a crawl space has a direct effect on the quality of the air in your home. Mold spores, dust, and gases that come up from the ground can get into the home and make it smell musty and make breathing problems worse.
Enclosing the crawl space can make a big difference in how clean the air is in the crawl space, which means the main living area of the home will have much cleaner air.
4. Makes insulation better
Most crawl spaces under homes have vents around the foundation that let air move through the space. This keeps a crawl space dry and free of mold. It also lets hot or cold air move around under the house.
Since a lot of this air gets into the living space above, it can make a home’s heating and cooling system work harder to keep the house at the right temperature, which makes the house less energy efficient.
By enclosing a crawl space, these vents are no longer needed. This makes the space better insulated from the extreme temperatures outside, which saves energy in the living space.
When choosing a vapor barrier, thicker material with a higher R-value is better than thinner plastic that costs less. Even though it may cost more up front, it will save you money on heating and cooling costs.
5. Improve Structural Integrity
Even though there may not be enough moisture in your crawl space to cause a mold problem, damp air can still cause the wood framing around the foundation to have a high moisture content. This can cause the wood to lose its structural integrity more quickly than dry wood.
This can cause the house to settle unevenly or even cause bigger structural problems in the future. Soil under your house can keep more water if the air in the crawl space is damp. Different parts of the foundation can sink in this soft, wet soil.
By enclosing a crawl space, you can get rid of this damp air, which keeps your home’s frame and the soil underneath it dry and strengthens its structure.
6. A crawl space that is nicer to visit
Utilities and plumbing usually run under the first floor of a house. This means that you may need to go to the crawl space for some home maintenance. A crawl space should be checked once a year to make sure the floor joists and foundation are in good shape.
You shouldn’t feel like you’re crawling into a musty, dirty place where snakes, bugs, and rats might be hiding. A crawlspace that is clean, dry, and wrapped in plastic is much more pleasant to go into than one that is damp, musty, and stale.
1. It’s very expensive.
Even though there aren’t many bad things about enclosing a crawl space, cost is the biggest reason why this upgrade isn’t done more often. The average cost to encapsulate a crawl space is $5,500, but the price can go as high as $12,000 depending on the size, condition, and market of the crawl space.
To encapsulate a larger crawl space will take more time and materials, so it will cost more. The cost will also go up if there are cracks, mold, water damage, structural problems, or pests that need to be fixed before the space can be sealed. Crawl space encapsulation will also cost more in and around big cities where the cost of living is higher.
Can slow down future repairs
Most crawl spaces have electrical and plumbing wires and pumps running through them. All of these things are usually covered with plastic sheeting when a home is encapsulated.
If there’s a problem with the plumbing or electricity, or if you’re making changes to the living space above that require access to these utilities, you’ll have to cut away the sheeting to get to it, and then you’ll have to put it back when you’re done.
Keeping this in mind, it makes sense to take care of any maintenance needs before encapsulating the crawl space. This will reduce the number of times you’ll need to cut through the sheeting.
3. Does Not Stop Flooding
Enclosing a crawl space will keep out small amounts of moisture and humid air that can cause condensation, but it won’t stop flooding.
If your crawl space sometimes floods, you’ll need to install a french drain or sump pump to move water away from the crawl space and foundation of your home before encapsulating it to prevent water damage.
4. Gas appliances can be tricky
If you decide to encapsulate a crawl space and you have gas appliances like a dryer, water heater, or furnace, it’s important to make sure they don’t vent into the crawl space.
Gas appliances use combustion to make heat, so they give off carbon dioxide that needs to go outside so that it doesn’t build up and get into the living space.
A gas appliance needs to have a pipe that goes outside. A professional should also check any gas appliances in the crawl space to make sure there are no leaks before the space is sealed.
Does enclosing the crawl space add value to the home?
Encapsulating your crawl space gets rid of moisture problems and protects your home’s foundation, so it does increase the value of your home. Even though the return on investment for encapsulation might not be equal to what you put into it, it does make a home more appealing to people who might want to buy it. It also shows that you care about the condition of your home if you’re willing to protect areas that people rarely see. This can affect how a potential buyer sees the home.
Encapsulation is a great solution for homes that have problems with moisture or pests in the crawl space. It is a big investment, though. Encapsulation makes a space that can’t let air in or out. This stops mold from growing and keeps insects, rodents, and reptiles out.
It also makes it easier to go to the house every so often for inspections of termites, the foundation, and the utilities.
Even though encapsulation is usually a big job that should be done by a professional, the high cost of encapsulation installation may make this choice impossible. Encapsulation is a project that anyone can do on their own if they carefully follow the steps above.
Whether you hire a pro or do it yourself, make sure to properly prepare the space by fixing any drainage or pest problems and checking any gas appliances that may be in the crawl space.