Homes should feel comfortable and safe for the entire family. Going about daily business should not have to include worrying about water flooding your crawl space and impacting the safety of your property and your electric bill. Sadly, it may be unavoidable. Extreme weather, wear and tear in your home, and even faulty sump pumps could have you dealing with this problem suddenly.
Standing water in the wrong areas of the home can have devastating effects. For homeowners, the crawl space is the one area that proves to be the biggest nuisance, since it’s not a high traffic area, allowing water and other problems to form and stay undetected.
The longer standing water remains undetected within a crawl space, the more damage it creates. As a homeowner, it’s important to understand various reasons behind standing water, such as cracks in the foundation and poor waterproofing measures. To catch the issue early, before it has a chance to harm your property, look out for the problem signs, so it can be addressed right in the nick of time.
Problem Signs of Standing Water in a Crawl Space
Crawl spaces are at times one of the most troublesome areas of a home. Since they see little activity and are rarely used for storage unless encapsulated, you may not notice standing water until it’s already had time to sit and cause damage. Luckily, you can uncover more subtle indicators that your crawl space is dealing with a water issue and get help before it escalates.
- Higher Energy Bills
If your monthly electric bill starts climbing, you may not think to blame your crawl space. However, these two things are closely connected. Since the crawl space is directly beneath your home, it affects the air that gets up into your house, it impacts how well you can regulate the internal temperature, and it even makes your HVAC system work overtime. As moisture levels rise, so will the humidity.
Higher energy bills will not necessarily sneak up on a homeowner either; they will start almost immediately. The instant higher bills come in for no specific reason, such as a change in the seasons, it’s time for a proper inspection of the crawl space to head off any potential moisture issues.
- Mold or Mildew
Moisture from standing water is the major culprit when it comes to mold or mildew growth. The fungus responsible for mold growth requires water to form and spread—the more, the better. Standing water is the perfect haven for mold to grow exponentially in a short amount of time.
The high levels of humidity this creates will allow the mold to spread far beyond your crawl space. You may notice it in your floors, around the support posts of your home, and even peeking out along your foundation. As it spreads, it can eventually work its way into your walls and behind affecting the main areas of your house. When mold is allowed to spread, it will be easy to spot; look for large streaks of black spots or general discoloration.
- Musty Odor
One of the biggest signs of standing water inside the crawl space is an unpleasant odor. The crawl space is designed to house the inner workings of the home, such as the HVAC system, electrical wires, and plumbing to name a few. All these systems tend to get warm and heat up the crawl space.
The combination of the heat from all the systems and standing water forms the unwanted smell. Most of the time, this smell will remain around the crawl space and the foundation itself, so you may notice it in your yard. However, if it gets intense, it may reach into the bottom floor of your house or begin to leave a strange wafting smell wherever piping runs.
- Sagging Floors
Higher moisture content means that rot has a chance to take hold. Crawl spaces are located below the lower levels of the house, which means rot has prime access to the flooring and the support beams. Once rot starts to take hold, it results in untold amounts of damage to the floor, causing creaking and sagging.
Depending on the house and how long the problem has been allowed to continue, in some instances, on top of the sagging floors, you may find your walls beginning to slope. Support beams can start to give out, allowing the foundation to move. Over time, walls may slope in one direction and the floors will sag, unable to support their own weight or that of the home.
- Humidity Levels
Standing water means the surrounding area has a higher moisture content. As the water in the crawl space below starts to evaporate, it goes up and into the rest of the house. The water then gathers in the crawl space once more, perpetuating the cycle.
If the humidity levels in your property begin to rise or they appear to stick around even after the spring showers have left, you may have a standing water issue. You will notice this problem sign over time, with a few days or weeks necessary for the humidity to build up to an uncomfortable level.
- Standing Water
Of course, nothing is a greater indicator of standing water in your crawl space than the water itself. If you happen to notice a buildup of water around your foundation, at the door of your crawl space, or at any of the vents, take a closer look. This can seem like a small amount of water from the inside, but the level is probably much higher once you get into the crawl space.
If you notice any of the above problem signs, be sure to peek in for a closer look. If there are puddles, a thin layer of water, or a large amount of water throughout your crawl space, then you need to uncover the root cause. That will help you determine which solutions are going to be right for you, so the problem doesn’t come back later.
Causes of Standing Water in the Crawl Space
Standing water inside of a crawl space can have different causes, not all of them as obvious to the average homeowner. In order to bring this issue to a halt, and make sure it doesn’t happen again, you should explore why the flooding happened to begin with.
- Moisture from the Ground
Most crawl spaces have a dirt floor, and unless they were encapsulated, they will have no protection from the earth itself. Moisture has the potential to come up from the ground and through the unfinished flooring to impact the air quality of the crawl space. Once the moisture is there, it will remain as standing water and potentially spread to other parts of the house.
Unless the crawl space floor ends up completed with at least concrete, all crawl spaces will be prone to retaining moisture from the earth. Any homeowner who is aware of their crawl space remaining unfinished should conduct inspections routinely to ensure standing water is not allowed to remain.
Foundation cracks are a major problem and may be the culprit when it comes to standing water inside of your crawl space. When cracks form in your foundation, your home is no longer protected from the elements or even your sprinklers. Water in the surrounding soil has the perfect route to get inside the crawl space, and that may lead to cracks throughout your support beams as the water damage sets in.
If you have a concrete floor in your crawl space, fissures and cracks here may also be to blame. This damage is usually caused by shifting soil as a result of temperature changes and weather. The more it rains, the more the soil shifts, causing the foundation itself to shift and the concrete along with it.
- Leaking Pipes
Crawl spaces are designed to hold the inner workings of a home, which is why they are mostly left unfinished and secreted away. In particular, they hold most of the pipes, wiring, and heaters that keep your home functional.
Pipes can crack at any time for different reasons, such as changes in temperature, rust, or old age. Leaking pipes, especially within the crawl space, will cause puddles to form and stay there unless the leak is fixed. Though water will evaporate from the crawl space and into the surrounding air, it will be replenished just as quickly, perpetuating the problem.
- Water Event
A water event describes large amounts of water flooding into areas of the home normally kept wet. Such an event is something along the lines of a burst pipe, rather than a small leak or a flood. Any flooding in the home can cause water to seek out the easiest route to flat ground, where it can puddle and remain. This is usually in your crawl space.
While that’s good news for your main home, which remains dry, if the water isn’t pumped or directed out, the water can damage your crawl space. It may even seep into the ground and stay there, making it difficult for your support beams and other structures to get the stability they need.
- Clogged Drain
Some crawl spaces have a low-point drain installed. This drain allows for water to drain out of the crawl space and into the street nearby as a preventive measure against flooding. Though the drain is a good solution for various water problems, like any other drain, it can become clogged.
This usually happens during the change of the seasons. Heavy storms may cause different types of debris to float into the drain and stop it with a clog. This will cause water to back up into the crawl space, thus creating puddles or standing water that damages the surrounding area.
Water in Crawl Space
If your crawl space has a dirt floor and vents, you may feel that standing water can resolve itself. After all, it’s no different than the puddles in your yard, right? On the contrary, water in your crawl space can have a long-term impact on your main home, your health, and your bills.
- Damage to Your Home
A crawl space contains all the inner workings of a home from pipes to electrical work to even the HVAC system. This means that any problems happening inside of a crawl space will eventually impact the rest of your appliances and may even lead to a fire. The longer standing water remains, the more wear and tear all the structures within will experience. This could even lead to mold and rot, which work away at your health and the health of your support beams.
Standing water means higher moisture or humidity levels within the home, which is the perfect food for rot and mold to spread. Once a home is infested with rot or mold, it spreads quickly and becomes difficult to fix. If it manages to get into your flooring and walls, it could require massive repairs and take a toll on your family’s health in the meantime.
- Energy Bill
All homeowners have to contend with an energy bill, whether they want to or not. However, there are ways to bring that expense down or keep it from escalating out of control. Removing the standing water from your crawl space is a prime example. The longer you allow water to stay in your crawl space, the higher your electric bill will climb, and that can be paired with repair bills as your appliances begin to die off.
Of course, a higher energy bill is one of the first hints that standing water is present in your crawl space. That can make it a helpful ally that clues you in to the problem, so it can be solved early. As long as you take it as a sign to check your crawl space and invest in an immediate fix, your energy bill should only have to rise once; not every few weeks as the water comes back.
Once the standing water is found in the crawl space, your next question is what to do next. Whether the crawl space contains water from heavy rains or just general moisture that has the tendency to build up from dirt floors, there are a few solutions that a professional can recommend.
- Sump Pump
A common solution for homes with crawl spaces is a sump pump. If the water is a result of rain or a water leak, a sump pump will remove the water from that area. As long as you get the right model, and have it installed by a professional, it can address any water problems long before the levels rise and begin to cause damage.
Sump pumps come with a basin that collects the water as soon as it begins to gather from the interior drainage system. It then pumps it out through a discharge pipe and can direct it to drain away from the home. Some come with a backup battery that ensures they work efficiently even if the power goes out, such as during a storm. Their capacity may vary, depending on the model, but a professional can recommend one that’s perfectly capable of handling your unique crawl space (and its unique water problems).
Encapsulation is a good solution for crawl spaces that do not have a finished floor. The encapsulation process will put a vapor barrier between the dirt floor, the walls, and the rest of the crawl space, preventing any moisture from coming up from the ground below and seeping into the home.
Not only does encapsulation help with any standing water; it also prevents a multitude of foundation problems, such as cracking from moisture, rot, or mold. Any such problems will affect the home as a whole rather than just the crawl space itself. A professional may be able to apply this fix in no time, so you don’t have to contend with an escalating problem.
Your crawl space may seem like an isolated zone since you rarely visit it and it’s mostly secluded away from your main living space. However, if standing water builds in your crawl space, it opens the door to many threats that will eventually invade your main home. Aside from structural damage over the following weeks and months, you’ll notice this most drastically as:
Standing water attracts pests and rodents. Once rats, cockroaches, and other critters gather around the water to drink and live, they will make nests and begin to expand their population. As this happens, they can easily make their way into your living space and may even be drawn there by the warm temperatures and tempting smells of your kitchen.
Of course, removing the standing water can’t remove the bugs or rodents themselves. However, by solving that issue, you can remove one of the biggest draws your home has for pests. If you encapsulate the space, this will also make it more difficult for any unwanted visitors to find access points in the exposed underbelly of your home.
- Mold and Mildew
Mold thrives in moist, dark, damp environments. As it makes its way into your home, you may find that it’s nearly impossible to properly kill off. Even once you bleach your floors, kitchens, and bathrooms, it will spread back in earnest. That’s because the spores can readily find access to the rest of your home from the main colony in your crawl space.
As such, it won’t be possible to safeguard your property against this health risk until the standing water is removed from your crawl space. All kinds of mildew, fungus, and other growth will readily spring back as long as they have somewhere to thrive and give off spores.
Fixing a Standing Water Issue in a Crawl Space
It’s not easy to narrow down the root cause of standing water in your crawl space. In fact, there can be several causes all at once, and if you only try to fix one, the problem will come back. You can also misdiagnose the issue and apply a useless fix. That makes it smart to contact a professional for a thorough inspection. They can use the problem signs you’ve noticed to home in on the real problem, and then apply these solutions to repair the damage and ensure standing water never happens in your crawl space again.
- Waterproofing and Encapsulation
Of all the options, crawl space encapsulation is one of the best fixes to standing water. It thoroughly seals your crawl space against the elements and prevents water (or moisture as a whole) from ever getting into the area. Waterproofing can take on different meanings for each home since it largely depends on how the water is able to reach the crawl space to begin with. The approach will likely change if the problem involves cracks in the concrete as opposed to a leaky pipe.
Waterproofing includes installing an interior drainage system and a sump pump to collect and remove any water that leaks inside the crawl space. Once the water has been addressed, the crawl space can then be encapsulated. Encapsulation generally includes a vapor barrier and other gear like insulation panels that are used to make your crawl space a fully enclosed (and climate-controlled) area. Of course, your local expert will first have to assess and fix any damage that’s causing the standing water to begin with. This may include repairing cracks, strengthening your support beams, reinforcing your crawl space walls, and even foundation repair.
- Vent Covers
Crawl spaces, by their very nature, are not considered to be very well ventilated. In fact, should moisture get into the crawl space, it’s allowed to fester until the problem grows larger such as through rot or mold. If crawl space vents seem like a good fix, don’t be fooled. These can often lead to more water getting in and mold spreading. A local expert will likely recommend vent covers to seal up your crawl space along with encapsulating it.
A professional may also recommend that a dehumidifier be installed within the crawl space. Dehumidifiers are built to take the excess moisture from the air and convert it to water within the machine itself for easy disposal. Some can even drain all on their own, taking away the need for the homeowner to conduct maintenance almost daily.
Prevent Standing Water with The Help of Local Experts
While crawl space flooding is never an event you expect, there are ways to safeguard your home and prevent it from happening. With the help of local experts, you can have your crawl space waterproofed, have routine maintenance conducted on your protective systems, and let inspections both catch and resolve the problems that may lead to standing water in your crawl space.
The experts at Tar Heel Basement Systems come with decades of experience and professional gear to help protect your home. Contact us today to schedule a free crawl space inspection and repair quote. After assessing your crawl space, we’ll help you understand the best way to reverse the damage to your crawl space and ensure it never happens again.