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Top 7 Causes of Crawl Space Problems

nasty crawl space with rotting joist

A musty, wet crawl space is so common in Central and Southern Indiana that homeowners often forget how damaging these problems can be to your home’s health and safety. There are several reasons your crawl space may be unhealthy, but the overarching reason is that it wasn’t treated like the rest of the home when it was built. Below we’ll discuss what causes crawl space problems, but understand that the only way to solve these issues is to address the underlying problem and seal off the crawl space. This process will incorporate the crawl space into the envelope of the home. Here’s what you need to know about the causes of crawl space problems.  

Causes of Crawl Space Problems  

stack effect

1. The Stack Effect 

Fifty percent of the air you breathe in your Bloomington home comes from the crawl space because of the stack effect. What is the stack effect? It sounds more complicated than it is. The stack effect describes how air circulates through your home.  

Warm air rises. When air enters the crawl space through vents or other openings, it slowly warms up. As it does so, the warm air rises throughout your home. It travels through living spaces until it escapes through the roof. The air coming from your crawl space carries with it airborne mold and dust and even pest droppings. Not only is unhealthy air circulated throughout your home, but this air movement makes for a drafty living environment. This often causes homeowners to turn down the AC in the summer and turn up the heat in the winter. This increased energy usage can cost you big bucks in the long run.   

water in crawl space

2. Flooding & Moisture In the Crawl Space   

Standing water in your crawl space is always a problem. Even if the water evaporates quickly, water vapor remains and can cause mold and mildew growth. Mold needs three things to grow, water, food, and oxygen. Your Indianapolis crawl space provides all three. Especially in the hot, humid summers where heavy rainfall is not uncommon.   

Mold and mildew alone cause problems like musty odors, but they can also steal value from your home by damaging its structural stability. Mold uses wood as its ‘food,’ and since wood structures hold up much of your crawl space, it’s essential to address water and moisture problems in your crawl space before they cause damage to your wood structures.   


3. Humidity  

Arguably the most common crawl space problem is humidity. From the first day your crawl space was built, humidity has caused issues for homeowners in Lafayette and across Indiana. Humidity can enter the crawl space from any unsealed opening, often open vents, a dirt floor, or through the foundation walls.   

When the temperature and humidity levels reach a threshold, condensation occurs. The process of water vapor turning back into a liquid can lead to serious issues for the wood structures supporting your home. Addressing crawl space humidity levels is key to a healthy home.   

bad crawl space vent

4. Open Crawl Space Vents  

At one point, building codes recommended installing crawl space vents at the time of construction. The idea, although flawed, seemed to make sense. Open vents would allow the crawl space to dry out. However, as time went on, we now know more about how air and humidity act in a crawl space and understand that open vents actually have the opposite effect.  

Open vents allow humid air into the crawl space, but instead of drying it and flowing out, the air flows up and into your living space. This humid air carries with it all kinds of harmful particles like mold, dust, and even pest droppings.  

damaged crawl space

5. No Vapor Barrier

A dirt crawl space, or any crawl space that doesn’t have a vapor barrier atop the floor, can be a significant cause of crawl space problems. This is because the exposed ground is not only dirty but also a main source of moisture. During rain, groundwater can quickly rise to levels making water pooling common. Even when water levels aren’t particularly high, moisture or humidity can readily travel through the exposed earth and into the crawl space.  

As we previously explained, moisture or humidity is very damaging and needs to be addressed as soon as possible.   

pooled water

6. Poor Drainage & Improper Grading  

When your home was built, typically, a drain system was installed outside at the perimeter of your home. Over time, however, this system is prone to clogging since it sits in the mud and is easily damaged by tree roots. When this drain system breaks down, water is allowed to sit at the base of your foundation.   

Water sitting near your foundation can be extremely damaging; this is where proper landscape draining comes into play. Ensuring your home’s exterior landscaping is graded away from your home is vital. This means water runs away rather than towards your foundation. The simple process means the difference between water saturating the soil around your home and adding pressure to your foundation walls or being directed away.   

leaking pipes

7. Plumbing Leaks  

Plumbing leaks are often not considered when contemplating water in your crawl space. A crawl space was constructed to house much of your home’s plumbing, so a leak there can spell a disaster. It’s important to have plumbing regularly inspected, and in the winter, when freezing temperatures hit, follow procedures to avoid frozen and burst pipes.   

Although none of our crawl space encapsulation repairs can help with plumbing leaks, an encapsulated crawl space is a warmer crawl space making frozen pipes a problem of the past.   

Crawl Space Damage Causes FAQs

While it is possible for a handy homeowner to undertake this project, professional installation is recommended to ensure it’s done correctly, as improper encapsulation can lead to further moisture issues.

Yes, encapsulation can significantly improve indoor air quality by preventing damp, musty air from rising into your living spaces from below.

Musty smells in your crawl space are common but not healthy. They indicate problems like mold and moisture that need immediate attention. Trust Indiana Foundation Service to eliminate musty crawl space smells. Contact us for information and a free crawl space inspection.

Repair and Protect Your Crawl Space with Expert Help

While all of these crawl space causes and their related problem signs are concerning, they can be fixed. The best thing you can do for your crawl space is to have it professionally inspected by our team at Indiana Foundation Service. After scheduling a free inspection and estimate, one of our experts will visit your home to complete a thorough evaluation of your crawl space and home. This is essential in properly diagnosing the causes of your crawl space issues and tailoring solutions to meet your home’s specific repair needs.

Some of the ways we can repair your crawl space include structural support with crawl space jacks, waterproofing with a specially designed interior drainage system and sump pump, encapsulation with a thick vapor barrier and vent covers, and conditioning the air with an energy-efficient dehumidifier. All of these solutions can work together to give you a safe, healthy, and stable crawl space and home.

Get started repairing and protecting your home today! Contact us to schedule a free inspection and estimate with our experienced team!

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    Michael Wilcher

    Michael Wilcher

    Michael Wilcher is the Content Lead at Groundworks, helping us to answer all of our customers biggest questions about foundation repair, basement waterproofing, crawl space encapsulation, and concrete lifting. In his free time, Michael enjoys collecting vinyl records, watching Formula 1 Racing, and reading philosophy. He holds an MPhil from the University of Cambridge.

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