I have now spent more money on one room in my house than on any other. And it’s not even a room. It’s the crawl space. Cue the scary music.
How I came to own a home with something called a crawl space is beyond me. What am I, from the Adams Family? Just the thought of the space and what could crawl in it makes me nuts. And I’m sure nobody is surprised I’ve never actually crawled into the crawl space to take a look at what’s creeping around down there.
But that scary space beneath my home has, over the years, seen more inspections than Iraq’s nuclear facilities.
Apparently, in the early 90s, building beach homes atop crawl spaces rather than concrete slabs seemed like a good idea. As with other fads gone bad, like Sir Walter Raleigh’s idea to stick tobacco leaves in your mouth and set them on fire, to the more recent Phen-Phen diet craze, dangerous issues arose from the idea of crawl spaces. In our case we were told a river ran through it and toxic fungi festered down there.
The first crawl space incident happened several years ago. Mildew spots appeared on clothes in our guestroom closet. This was odd, as we no longer lived on a boat. My mate, always up for adventure, volunteered to belly crawl under the house to see what was breeding in the Petri dish under our spare room.
I watched House Detective disappear into the black hole, kneeled at the ground level entrance to the space and read aloud from the newspaper: “ three bedroom, two bath CONDO ……”
“Is there a fungus among us?” I hollered into the cavity.
“The moisture barrier seems okay,” my spouse yelled. What? To me, a moisture barrier is a Totes umbrella.
“I don’t see any black mold,” came a faraway voice. Is that good? Does it relate to the stuff in Tupperware in my fridge? Eventually my mate emerged, damp and mud-caked, admitting we needed professional help.
“It’s not too bad. I’ve seen lots worse around here,” said the contractor. Apparently, thanks to bad grading and too few vents, we had Lake Minihaha under the house. No black mold, so cancel the bulldozer.
We could have bought a KIA for what it cost for a complex system of electronic vents and fans to blow out the moisture. Sometime later, convinced I’d developed acute Tinnitus or ringing in the ears, I went to the doctor, who assured me my ears were fine. I laughed when, days later, as I stood in my walk-in closet, ears ringing away, I realized I was hearing the incessant hum of my crawl space vents inhaling. I wanted my co-pay back.
But In no time, the crawl space was dry as a bone, even as the house occasionally sounded like LAX with jumbo jets taking off. Everything under the house was all well and good for a few years, until recently when Schnauzerhaven, a completely feline-free zone for obvious reasons, began to smell like a kitty litter box.
Clearly, a feral family had relocated to our crawl space. Once again, I sent my long-suffering mate, armed with a flashlight and Friskies, under the house. Nancy Drew discovered no cats. Just the overpowering aroma of Eau d’ Kitty. Upstairs, the dogs went berserk, sniffing at the heating vents like teens huffing aerosols.
Coincidently, it was time for our quarterly exterminator visit (I live at the beach, ergo I have ants). As luck would have it, the bug hunter was getting into the lucrative field of crawl space remediation. Spiderman saw dollar signs.
He said there were no cats, but we had more than ants in our pants. We had under-house white water rapids and hazardous black mold. He recommended digging a maze of French drains and installing a giant sump pump. When his mold remediation credentials turned out to be a certificate for snuffing creepy-crawlers, I told Spiderman to take back the night and go home.
Then I called a company advertised as crawl space experts. Well, the second opinion was just as terrifying. They wanted to rent a giant dumpster, rip out all our under-house insulation, install miles of moisture barrier and dig up the circumference of our foundation.
I would have instantly posted a For Sale sign on the house, but realized that our only potential buyers would have to be willing to wear gas masks and bio hazard gear. So I got the name of a highly recommended firm specializing crawl space solutions.
These people not only emerged from under the house with good news, but with – here’s a concept – good pictures. I could actually see what was happening in the forbidden zone and the answer was nothing much. No Lake Superior, no procreating mold, no Hello Kitty.
“You probably had some dampness under here with melting snow or after very heavy rains. And yeah, when insulation gets a little wet it smells just like cat pee.” Aha! I knew the schnozz that could tell Merlot from Beaujolais couldn’t mistake cat piss.
Okay, so we had a little mildew, a trickle of moisture now and then and our 14 year old moisture barrier was a shredded mess – probably from my spouse crawling on it every time I whiffed Sylvester and friends. Or, from Spiderman working in golf cleats.
We didn’t need drains, chump pumps, or insulation ripped out. It was suggested that like 1950s ads with doctors endorsing Marlboros, our expensive crawl space vent system, sucking in air had seemed like a good idea at the time, but was no longer a remediation of choice.
“Actually, it’s pumping cold air inside in the winter and hot air in the summer and boosting your heating bills.” Ugh.
So our experts sealed up the vents, installed a silent dehumidifier and entombed the entire crawl space with a moisture barrier to keep water out, appropriate temperatures in and mold from forming. And when the insulation dried, the phantom cats left, too.
Photos of the finished job look amazing. The floor and 4-foot walls are covered in clean, white vinyl material, the vents are gone, and a small, moisture-activated de-humidifier sits quietly off in a corner. It looks so lovely down there I’m considering setting up my lap-top and a coffee pot and going into the cave to write.
But stay tuned for the next installment of Home Sweet Crawl Space, when some enterprising company figures out that crawl space encapsulation, like Asbestos seemed like a good idea at the time. Cue the scary music….