Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Creepy Crawly Space

Today's post covers NewOld house getting the crawlspace treatment. Sorry I don't have any / many pictures to accompany this post. I find crawlspaces super creepy and this one was possibly the worst I could have seen. Some things cannot be unseen and I feared that if I saw the before picture, I would not be able to live in the house after it was done. Silly? Maybe. I tried to take some shots through the rodent-block-out grills.

Before I begin.... the guys working under there were in full bunny suits and anytime anyone was inside the house s/he was wearing at least a dust mask if not a full respirator. Dust from rodent waste can cause all kinds of lung issues. Please wear a dust mask when clearing out possible rodent areas.

What Is Crawlspace?
crawlspace entry
For folks who have a full basement, have a house built on a slab or live in an apartment, this may be a foreign concept. Many houses are built with a small not-a-basement. This crawlspace acts sort of like a basement in that ducting lives there, and through the use of vents or vent-covers you can control the air flow under the house. Unlike a basement or a slab, a crawlspace usually does not have a concrete floor, reducing the cost of construction. There is, of course, a foundation around the outside and often there are pillars at key points supporting main joists. Instead of the concrete floor, it is dirt or gravel or a combination of both. Even in a brand new construction house, there will be some level of trash under there from sub-contractors throwing things under there. Regardless of the trash aspect, there should be a vapor barrier laying on the ground between the gravel/dirt/construction trash and the crawlspace. This is not any old plastic. It is super thick and dark (usually black) to prevent any light to get through it from above and any moisture to get through from below. It needs to completely cover the ground from foundation to foundation, or moisture will still be able to enter.

When we got the house we currently live in, we had to have the crawlspace addressed before we could move in. Some water had appeared under there, creating a smell. The water, vapor barrier and the old insulation was removed. A new barrier was installed. We contracted that out while I rolled paint on most of the living spaces. Over the next 6 years, water never returned. We concluded the root cause was a clogged downspout that got unclogged after the water pooled in the crawlspace. It may have been caused by a sump-pump failing, but we haven't had water issues since. So, that's probably not it.

Top 20 Worst
blurry "after" picture
Fast-forward to NewOld house, the semi-abandoned 1948 farm house Boo bought a couple blocks away. From the work we had done on our current home, we figured the crawlspace in NewOld house needed to get done. Just peeking into a crawlspace vent showed debris, and it smelled really bad. Like, OMG-I-almost-need-to-puke bad. Boo called a few places and found a company who could come out on relatively short notice. These guys are staffed to respond to emergency jobs (think floods fires, etc) so having a more consistent job to which they can send a crew between disasters works out well for all of us. We save a little cabbage (though this is still super expensive) and they keep their crews working. Their estimator visited, crawled around and shared that while we did not make his top 10 ever, we were in his top 20 and he has been estimating jobs for 30 years. We're big winners!

This house, it appeared, was not built with maintenance of the crawlspace in mind. There were 2 different main floor joists that were about 6 inches off the ground. This does not pose an issue for the health of the beams nor the house, but it does prevent a person from sliding underneath to do work in the crawlspace without some doing. As you can see from the after pictures, there is not much room under there beyond those 2 beams. Since it was not designed for maintenance, you can probably guess how much happened since 1948: almost 0. Someone got under there in the last 20 years and put insulation between the floor joists. Otherwise, it did not look like anyone has done anything other than put garbage under there since the house was built.

Rotating Crews
The company and their teams were true to their word about getting it done and sending different crews to complete it. Consisting of 2-person crews, we had different folks working 4 different work days spread out over a week. Their process was straight-forward: access an area, remove all of the insulation, garbage, air ducts and vapor barrier. Then, spray anti-microbial / anti-fungal everywhere, restore the vapor barrier, and, last, the air ducts. Once an area was done, they would access another. Unlike the estimator, every one of the crew workers admitted that this was possibly the worst they have ever seen. More winning.

Gross Ducts
new duct, new barrier
Before the crews really got going, Boo and I pulled the nails holding the floor vents to the floor and pushed them down into the crawlspace. We talked to the crawlspace guys and we all agreed that if the ducting was getting replaced (due to rodent infestation), the vents needed some care or replacement as well. We were able to save some of them: while well masked, they got a dry scrub, a scrub-wash with Mr. Clean and then shot with black Rustoleum inside and out. Any residual odor after the cleaning would be captured in the paint, we figured. Even still, some of the vents could not be saved. So, we hit Home Despot and picked up 2 each of the 3 varieties of floor vent so the new ducting could attach to new vents. Many of the vents were left disconnected, however, so we will be getting under there ourselves to complete the fitting of the heat/air system.

The job itself seemed quite miserable, even if the temps were mild and they were in cleanroom suits complete with full face shield ventilator masks. To help offset, Boo brought the crew beverages and we repeatedly expressed our thanks. The rubbish they found was extensive, including rodent remains, rodent-soaked insulation, standard household garbage... the works. Each day after a crew left, the house smelled that little bit better. 

New Vents No Smell
The original vents were in disrepair (I know, shocking, right?) and needed some repairs before the job was finished. 2 of the vents needed new framing, and they all needed better grills. This last series of steps took place on their final day. After they pulled the remaining garbage and left the scene, the house no longer smelled like animals and rodents had been living there for years. I would not say it smelled fresh, though. Those large vapor barriers are made with virgin plastic, so they have to off-gas for a day or so. And, the anti-microbial/bacterial is sort of bleach-like smelling. Still, it is significantly improved over dead rodents and animal waste and we were now one step closer to the point where we didn't need to open the house up and run exhaust fans every day. 

That's it for today. Thanks for following along, and if you have an odd smell in your house that you have not been able to identify, maybe it's time you had your crawlspace inspected.

No comments: