Crawl spaces are traditionally built on homes lacking either a full basement or a slab. Crawl spaces are just that, a space, sometimes as low as a foot or two, where there is enough room to crawl around, but not much else. The crawl space surface is often bare earth. Most crawl spaces do not have the clearance for standing height and cannot be used as a living space.
What possessed homebuilders to design these caverns? A crawl space foundation has several advantages over basements and concrete slab foundations. They are better than slabs because crawl spaces elevate the home. In New Jersey, elevation is important because we have high water tables and our state is notorious for termite infestation problems.
Crawl spaces, unlike slabs, promote air circulation through the home and allow for quick access to plumbing, heating and air conditioning ductwork, and electrical systems making them easier to install and maintain. Crawl spaces are also less expensive than basements so they are a good money-saving option for builders, and because of our high water tables, basement flooding is always a risk whenever a nor’easter comes our way.
The problem with crawl spaces is not the crawl spaces themselves. Crawl spaces are a common residential foundation here in New Jersey, and for good reason. Crawl space problems arise because of the way they are built. Fortunately, knowledge of home air flow, building materials, and best construction practices have grown by leaps and bounds. Today, we know what works and what doesn’t. For those living in older homes and for those homes whose builders are “old school,” your vented, dirt floor crawl space is an accident waiting to happen.
With this ineffective, inefficient building design, you are setting yourself up for moisture problems down the road -- and it’s only a matter of time before these problems rear their ugly head. Unfortunately, vented dirt-floored crawl spaces are everywhere and, inexplicably, they are still permitted by many local building codes. The science of home building supports encapsulation as a better way to install and maintain crawl spaces.