Crawlspace Encapsulation- How to Have a Healtheir Home
Ignoring crawl space conditions and the effects they may have on indoor air quality seems to be a thing of the past. People are more educated about how moisture enters their homes and the negative impact excess moisture can have on living conditions.
Since up to 50% of household air can flow up from your crawl space, it’s important to keep this typically unsightly space as clean and dry as possible. Since water vapor enters the crawl space from the ground (even through cement), many people are encapsulating their crawl space to keep the moisture out. Adding a crawl space vapor barrier and dehumidifier is widely accepted as the best way to improve indoor air quality and make energy improvements inside your home.
In this article, we’ll take a look at these solutions, provide tips for DIY crawl space encapsulation, and explain how to maintain a healthy humidity in your crawl space.
What Is Crawl Space Encapsulation?
Encapsulating, or at least sealing, crawl spaces is becoming a popular solution for avoiding indoor moisture issues. To the average person, encapsulation can be compared to the lining added to swimming pools to avoid leaks. A heavy-duty polyethylene barrier is added to completely cover your crawl space - usually the floors, foundation walls, and sometimes even ceiling.
This water vapor barrier is most effective when it completely covers your crawl space, and sealing tape is used to connect the barrier pieces throughout your area.
Once your space is completely sealed, the final piece of the encapsulation puzzle is conditioning the air to maintain a healthy humidity level. The most common way to do this is by adding a dehumidifier to regulate your crawl space’s moisture level.
This barrier and dehumidifier combination protects the crawl space from excess moisture and all the problems that come along with it.
Who Should Consider Crawl Space Encapsulation
Water vapor and excess moisture can cause a slew of problems in your home. Since water vapor can move through porous cement, moisture from the ground can move through it and into your home. Here are common signs that lead people to sealing their crawl space:
- Mildew/musty smell in basement
- Soft or separating floors
- High cooling costs
- Wet insulation
- Sweating windows
- Sweating Ductwork
- Insect problems
Benefits of Creating a Vapor Barrier
Before we get into the dirty details, consider these benefits:
- Improved air quality in your crawl space and home
- Creates inhospitable area for pests and wood-destroying insects
- More comfortable living conditions
- Avoid fungi/mold issues and structural damage
- Greater energy efficiency in your home
For a real-world example of how encapsulation helped a family in Tennessee, check out this Santa Fe case study.
Sealing Your Space vs. Full Encapsulation
You may hear the term sealing crawl spaces and encapsulating crawl spaces used interchangeably. While they’re similar, sealing generally means only covering the floor and around 8 inches up the walls.
Encapsulation entails covering all of the floors, walls and even the ceiling. Some professional encapsulations will include adding insulation to the walls and access doors.
Can I Encapsulate A Crawl Space Myself?
There are various companies who can fully-encapsulate your crawl space for you, which is the option most people go with. They’ll survey your area, make sure your crawl space is suitable for encapsulation, and properly address any other foundation or excess moisture issues in the area.
However, some people want to do it themselves in order to cut back on costs. If you plan to do it yourself, you can order the needed products (seal tape, vapor barrier, etc.) from a variety of places online, but we suggest buying them locally since shipping the large, heavy barriers can be very expensive.
While it is possible and more cost effective to do yourself in some cases, professional encapsulation is the best way to ensure everything is completed correctly. Regardless of whether you’re hiring a professional or encapsulating yourself, we encourage you to read our tips below to further educate yourself on the process.
Considerations Before Encapsulating
If your crawl space isn’t encapsulated and sealed correctly, other problems can arise. Bulk water problems are a main concern. All long-term bulk water issues need to be addressed before encapsulating a crawl space (look for sitting water or water stains on foundation walls).
Termite control companies can also place some restrictions on how much of your crawl space can be covered, so be sure to contact your pest control company before jumping into an encapsulation project - especially if you have an active termite bond.
Lastly, if there is any combustion equipment in the crawl space, you need to consider any backdrafting that could occur.
Encapsulating your crawl space essentially means sealing it up completely, and these potential problems are why most people opt for professional barrier installation.
How Encapsulation Works
Each crawl space comes with its own challenges and moisture issues. However, the typical process includes:
- Assess the crawl space and add appropriate lighting as needed.
- Clean it out. This won’t be the most fun part, but it’s necessary. Everything that can be removed, needs to be removed (besides dirt, appliance parts, etc). While the vapor barrier is thick, you don’t want to risk punctures in it from rocks and other items.
- Once your space is clean, it’s a good idea to measure your foundation walls (height and length), floor size, and any other areas you’ll cover with the water vapor barrier.
- After you measure your space, cut the barrier material into pieces to cover each corresponding wall. You'll want to cut the pieces slightly larger than you need and overlap them when installing. This will ensure no gaps are present.
TIP: After measuring, cut the vapor barrier in your yard or your home (not in the crawl space).
Installing the Vapor Barrier
Properly installing the vapor barrier is arguably the most important part of the process. It starts by adding double-sided seal tape right under the floor joists. You or the contractor will then attach the plastic vapor barrier along the foundation walls, carefully pressing down against the wall. The goal is to keep the vapor barrier as consistent as possible.
Whoever installs the vapor barrier will have to cut around water tanks (and any other obstacles) and then trim around pipes. You can fill in gaps with extra sealing tape. The main thing to consider is to cover every part of the floor and walls.
TIP: If you’re attempting DIY encapsulation, it’s at least a two-person job. Moving around pipes and other obstacles can become extremely difficult. You’ll need extra hands as you trim the barrier, add tape, and fill in gaps.
Start with the foundation walls, ensure you cover all of the cement. Once the walls are done, you can hit the floor surface. You’ll want overlap over any seams (several inches) to truly encapsulate the entire space.
TIP: Don’t forget to seal any vents or windows that may be present. You’ll also want to make sure any access doors to the crawl space are completely airtight.
Maintaining A Safe Humidity Level
Now you’re crawl space is adequately sealed or encapsulated. The hard part is done! Now what? It’s pretty easy: Add a drying mechanism to make sure your crawl space maintains an appropriate humidity level. Most professionals say the best way to do this is by adding a crawl space dehumidifier.
Many dehumidifiers are specifically designed to maintain healthy humidity levels in rugged areas like crawl spaces.
To keep an eye on your humidity without having to go down to your crawl space, consider getting a remote humidity monitor that relays the information to another location inside your home.
We hope you learned more about sealing your crawl space and the benefits it can create for your indoor air quality. Encapsulation isn’t an easy process, but you’ll avoid serious foundation and health issues once you solve crawl space moisture problems for good.
If you would like to get a free estimate on your home for crawlspace encapsulation, give the experts at SERVPRO a call (706) 866-5646