What To Look For When Inspecting A Crawlspace

May 20th, 2015

If you go down the list of most dreaded places for a home inspector to inspect and access: the crawlspace will usually be right at the top. If the spiders, cobwebs, and rodent droppings don’t bother you-it will be the extremely tight spaces and stagnant standing water that will make you remember why you do not like crawling around in them. As uninviting as the crawlspace may be it is absolutely essential that this area be fully inspected during a home inspection. Many of the homes mechanical and structural systems are in this area and are usually fully exposed, thus giving you a great indication as to the condition of the “bones” in the home. If a home has a crawlspace it is most likely an access area to the main water shut off that will be located near the wall closest to the front road. If the home has a furnace it will usually be a downflow furnace and the ductwork will be running in the crawlspace. It may contain electrical wiring runs (raceways) as well.

Where To Start

crawl-space.jpgIt can be a little overwhelming when first accessing the crawlspace, especially if it covers the entire footprint of the home. I find that breaking the crawlspace inspection into sections at a time, and completing them as I go along the perimeter wall allows me to gain the most thorough inspection with the least amount of movement. I always equip myself with coveralls, kneepads, facemask, fully charged flashlight, screwdriver (for probing rotten wood), moisture metre, tape measure, live voltage detector, and most importantly a camera for pictures.

What To Look For

As soon as I open the access hatch my immediate concern is always to smell for any sort of mustiness or dampness. I then make my way to the first perimeter wall and work my way completely along the perimeter walls. One of the most important areas to inspect is the footings, as well as the foundation wall, and cripple walls (inside load baring walls). I am looking for any sort of cracking or movement. As I am inspecting the perimeter wall I am also looking for rot damage or missing insulation near the sill plates or damage to the sill plates himself. If the soil levels are touching the siding outside there’s a good indication there could be rot damage to the sill plate or building envelope inside the crawlspace, where we can see it. I will also make recommendations to clean the vents and possibly add vermin screens or repairs to the vents. While observing the foundation wall I will inspect the quality and condition of the cripple and knee walls holding the weight from interior supporting walls. Quite often if there has been a squeaky floor you will see additional supports jammed into place. I will make note of these and inspect their installation and also make a reminder to inspect the walls and floor they are supporting.

How do the Mechanics Look

img_rpt-paulfriesen.jpgAs I am traversing along the perimeter wall I will shine my flashlight along all the furnace duct work to verify they are connected and they are properly fastened to the interior floor vents. It is also important to notice any cut floor joists to accompany heat vents or electrical wires. Floor joists have very specific areas where they are allowed to be cut out to allow for these mechanics. Over cutting can compromise the structure of the flooring and walls. As I observe the plumbing (drain and water supply pipes) I look at all the connections and elbows to make sure that there are not pinhole leaks, corrosion or deterioration that may potentially lead to a leaking in the short-term. Quite often there will be abandoned electrical wires from prior hot tubs or other appliances that have been removed. These wires are quite often left laying on the ground. These need to be removed or properly repaired by a licensed electrician.

Is It Okay For Water To Be Down There?

water-down-there.jpgThe crawlspace is generally not designed to hold water. However, there are some instances in older homes where a sump pump will be placed in the crawlspace to prevent flooding and water damage. It is important to inspect the condition of the pump and pump supports as well as the electrical and plumbing discharge connections. One also needs to test the pump for proper operation as well as to verify where the discharge water is going.

In Conclusion

The overall condition of the crawlspace is usually a dirty, dusty, and tiny area that is often neglected. However there are many areas that require diligent observation. It is crucial that a home inspector thoroughly access the crawlspace and provide detailed notes and possible deficiencies.