Keeping your property in good health can feel like an uphill battle at times, especially when you have a non-waterproofed crawl space. For homes across North and South Carolina, crawl space condensation is a very real problem that can be caused by a huge number of issues and factors.
Of course, as well as being a warning sign for underlying damage, crawl space condensation can cause secondary and tertiary damage to most parts of your home. Learning to spot the signs of dampness, condensation, and the damage that they can cause is an important skill for all homeowners to learn.
Once you identify crawl space condensation, and any connected issues, however, you should look for a local crawl space repair expert to help you diagnose and address the issues within your home. This will ensure that you get the very best results.
Why Condensation Forms in a Crawl Space
Condensation is one of the most common issues found in properties across North and South Carolina because of the generally damp and humid climate in these coastal states. The frequent storms that roll in around fall and spring can cause frequent flooding and damage if a property is not properly protected. Condensation can be caused by many different underlying issues, but at its heart, condensation is all about moisture and humidity.
Condensation is the result of warm, humid air clashing with a cold surface. This is why you will most often see condensation on windows, glasses, and metal or tiled surfaces. In many cases, condensation on these surfaces is entirely benign, especially when they are in an area that is often filled with steam (for example, a bathroom or kitchen).
If you see condensation on your walls, floors, or surfaces made of plastic, stone, or wood in your crawl space or wider home, however, this is a problem sign. This occurs because the relative humidity in that area has reached 100% and the air can hold no more moisture. While this can lead to a number of issues, the real concern is what is causing the dampness and humidity in the first place.
What Crawl Space Condensation can be a Problem Sign For?
Crawl space condensation is a general warning sign of dampness and humidity, but there is a number of underlying issues that could be at work. The most likely causes of extreme crawl space condensation are:
Uncovered Crawl Space Vents
Having an exposed crawl space with uncovered vents is one of the most potentially damaging things that any home can have. You see, crawl space vents were initially installed (between the 1950s and 1990s) because they were believed to prevent and minimize dampness and humidity by increasing airflow. Unfortunately, further study of the stack effect found that the increased airflow actually increased humidity levels, impacted temperature and climate stability, and even increased energy bills.
By drawing in the colder or warmer air from outside (depending on the season), crawl space vents can cause condensation to form in a property’s crawl space and attic on a regular basis. The stack effect will also allow exterior allergens and contaminants to enter the property, causing health issues, especially in those who have underlying immune, respiratory, or skin conditions.
While large internal leaks will lead to standing water and flooding in your crawl space, small, consistent leaks are far more likely to cause widespread and long-term increases in humidity throughout your crawl space and home. It is this consistent humidity and dampness that contribute to condensation.
The most common sources of internal leaking include damage and corrosion to the pipes in a property, damage to appliances such as water heaters or washers, and malfunctioning drainage equipment and appliances. The amount of standing water you find, as well as its location, will help you to determine the most likely source.
Another likely cause of condensation is water seeping or leaking into your crawl space from outside. If your crawl space has already been waterproofed, your vents are covered, and you cannot find an internal source of moisture, the most likely cause is some kind of structural damage. Foundation damage like sinking and settlement, for example, are commonly linked with dampness.
Of course, any kind of damage that sees cracks spreading through your foundation, floors, or walls will allow groundwater to seep into your home. This will be most noticeable when the ground around a property is saturated.
Faulty or Inadequate Waterproofing
If you have waterproofing measures in place in your home but they have become damaged or are simply inadequate for the needs of your property, this can be worse than having no waterproofing at all. Partial, damaged, or inadequate waterproofing only serves to trap moisture that makes it into a home, creating a sort of incubator for dampness, humidity, and any bacterial or fungal growths that take root.
Examples of damage or flaws in waterproofing measures include poorly fitted covers, worn sealant, and holes or tears in a property’s vapor barrier—anything that lets water seep into a waterproofed space over time.
Of course, in many homes, there will be more than one factor at work. As such, you should hire a professional to perform a full and thorough investigation of a damp or humid crawl space in order to identify all underlying causes and factors.
Crawl Space Condensation
Recognizing dampness and humidity in a crawl space is easy when you know the signs. Condensation is a very strong sign that you have issues with moisture, but there are many others that you should be aware of.
Signs in Your Crawl Space
When inspecting your crawl space, there is a number of things that you should look for. First and foremost, the presence of standing or pooling water in any part of your crawl space is a warning sign. The amount of water, and where it is found, can also help in identifying the most likely cause. If you can see a steady drip or stream of water, for example, it is very likely that there is a plumbing leak nearby.
Condensation falls into this category, but you should also consider how the air in your crawl space feels. Most of us recognize the feeling of extreme humidity. The sticky, slightly thick feel to the air is instantly recognizable. Of course, you should also consider the smell of the space and look for the presence of fungal and bacterial growths. If you see mold of any kind, it is pretty much certain you have an issue with dampness and humidity.
Signs in the Rest of Your Home
You will also be able to find signs of crawl space dampness and humidity in your wider home. This is especially the case if you have a non-encapsulated or waterproofed crawl space. The stack effect will see to it that the humidity and dampness in your crawl space circulate with the air in your home. This means that you are likely to see mold, mildew, and stains spreading in your home when the humidity becomes incredibly high.
On a less tangible note, you are also likely to notice fluctuations in temperature and energy usage around your home. If there are leaks in your plumbing system contributing to your crawl space humidity, you may also notice changes in your water pressure and fluctuations in temperature. This can cause your energy bills to rise over time as your HVAC and water heating systems struggle to provide a consistent result.
Waterproofing is common in homes across the U.S. because of the many benefits that it offers. Crawl spaces are not the only areas of a property that can be waterproofed, of course. It is also common to waterproof basements.
The Benefits of Waterproofing
Waterproofing and encapsulating your crawl space can have many benefits, some of which are dependent on your home and its current state. However, there are some very general benefits that apply in most situations. The most obvious is an immediate and permanent reduction in dampness and humidity both in your crawl space and your wider home.
Alongside this, waterproofing will prevent or stop the stack effect within your home, making the internal climate more stable (and less prone to sudden influxes of allergens like pollen). This prevents cosmetic damage, lowers energy bills, and makes the environment more comfortable overall. It also leads to a healthier environment, especially if you have underlying health conditions like asthma, emphysema, or bronchitis.
Before You Waterproof
There are some limitations and downsides to waterproofing. The most obvious and serious is this: If you try to waterproof without finding and addressing the source of moisture, you can actually cause more damage to your property in the long run. In fact, it can cause damage frighteningly quickly by creating a kind of hot-box atmosphere. In this environment mold, bacteria, fungi, and pests will truly thrive and spread with alarming ease.
Likewise, if the waterproofing measures you install are inadequate or damaged, they will cease to be efficient and create a kind of incubator for dampness and harmful substances. Finally, waterproofing, by its nature, must be a bespoke process that takes into account all of the needs and limitations of each property. As such, it is incredibly difficult to get right without the right tools, skills, and experience. An ill-fitting solution will not give you the results you need or want.
Waterproofing your crawl space or basement is a sound investment, of course, but we do not recommend that you try it alone. As with so many tricky procedures, it is best to let a professional deal with this issue.
The Best Products are Professional
Getting the best products for crawl space encapsulation and waterproofing is not as easy as you would think. Professional quality products are often sold through wholesalers, through professional supplies stores, or even direct from the manufacturer. Of course, you can find equivalents in your local hardware store, but they are often higher in price and lower in quality. This means that you can pay more for DIY than you would for professional services.
Likewise, if your home is in need of structural repairs before waterproofing can be undertaken, you may find that you have to rent equipment as well as products. This means that a DIY approach can actually be more expensive while providing a lower quality result that will deteriorate far more quickly over time. There is also the likelihood of causing damage to the products or even your home as a result of inexperience or a lack of the right equipment.
DIY Can do More Harm Than Good
People who undertake DIY work can often find that the process is more complicated, difficult, and costly than they expect, even when everything goes to plan. When things go wrong, however, the results can be catastrophic. First and foremost, many amateurs find it hard to properly diagnose the underlying issues and co-occurring damage that comes with dampness and humidity in a crawl space. If you fail to address one or more issues the solution is not likely to be effective.
Secondly, formulating an effective solution is not always as easy as it sounds. There are many options for each potential issue; getting the right mix is imperative to a high-quality solution. Finally, actually undertaking repairs and waterproofing is not as easy as many people assume. Many of the products are delicate and can be easily damaged. As such, it is better to let a professional deal with the process from start to finish. This will lead to less stress, mess, and frustration.
The Damage Dampness and Condensation Can Do
One of the biggest problems with dampness and humidity in any home is the fact that it so often leads to secondary and tertiary issues throughout a property. These issues often cause more damage to the structure of a home and its contents than the original issue and can be difficult to address. The most common co-occurring issues are:
Mold and Mildew Formation
Mold and mildew go hand in hand with dampness and humidity and can wreak havoc on a property. In fact, certain species of mold can even be dangerous to your health and well-being. There are many different species of mold, and the species most prevalent in North Carolina can differ from those in the southernmost reaches of South Carolina.
Mold can be grey, greenish, pink, brown, or black in color and will generally form in rounded, organically shaped formations. You may find it on wood, in textiles, on painted surfaces, in insulation, and even in your HVAC system and vents. You will recognize mold by its smell, appearance, and by the way in which it affects you and your family.
Most species of mold can cause hay fever-like symptoms, even if they are benign in nature. If you have black mold in your home, however, you may also suffer migraines, rashes, dizziness, and breathing difficulties. Those who have underlying problems with their lungs, skin, or immune system are at the highest risk of serious complications (especially if they are very young or elderly).
Musty, pungent, or sharp odors in your crawl space (and your wider home) are a serious sign of issues in any property, especially if you can’t seem to get rid of them. The precise nature of a smell can help you to identify the likely cause, of course. Musty, slightly dry, and powdery smells, for example, are most likely to be caused by mold formation, while a sharp, stagnant smell is usually a sign of dampness.
If the smell is very sweet and pungent, however, it may be a sign of rot or even pest infestation. Finally, there is the very distinctive smell that comes when an animal gets into a crawl space and passes away. When you notice a bad smell in your home that doesn’t go away no matter what you do, it is time to bring in an expert to assess the situation.
Wood rot can take many forms, of course. Dry rot, otherwise called brown rot, causes wood to shrink and crack, becoming incredibly brittle and weak. However, when a home has issues with condensation and humidity, wet rot is a far more likely occurrence. Wet rot is distinctive in wood because of the slightly white sheen or furry coating that it can produce. Wood dealing with wet rot will also become soft and crumbly.
Of course, wood is not the only surface that is susceptible to rot. Any organic material can start to rot over time if it becomes infested with pests and mold, or it is subjected to constant dampness, humidity, and saturation. As such, it pays to address crawl space condensation as soon as you see it to minimize damage.
A sagging crawl space or floor can be caused by many different things, and are usually the result of more than one kind of damage taking a toll on the property in question. However, the most likely causes are the displacement of support columns and beams by a shifting or damaged foundation, and damage to support joists as a result of dampness and mold formation.
You can catch sagging floors long before a visible unevenness takes root if you pay attention to the way the floor feels under your feet. A floor should feel firm and stable, so if you start to notice a little extra give, some springiness, or a decided bounce when you walk on certain areas of flooring, this is a sign it does not have all the support that it needs.
Cosmetic damage is at the minor end of the scale when it comes to the side effects of persistent dampness and humidity, but it still has a real impact on your home and your environment. Cosmetic damage includes, but is not limited to, staining and peeling (or bubbling) wallpaper, spalling or flaking concrete surfaces, warped wood, and bubbled or uneven plaster.
Cosmetic damage is also one of the first signs of damage in any home. As such, it is important to act quickly when you notice these kinds of issues taking root around your home. After all, once the climate in your home has changed sufficiently to cause damage in the rest of your house, it is likely that your crawl space already has advanced issues to consider.
These issues are all likely outcomes of advanced and persistent crawl space condensation and dampness. Unfortunately, they can often cause more damage to the rest of your property than the underlying issues in your home. As such, it is best to act quickly. The sooner you address these issues, the easier and cheaper it will be to fix them.
Professional Crawl Space Repair and Waterproofing From Dry Pro
Dry Pro Foundation & Crawl Space Specialists has been the premier, full-service crawl space and foundation repair service for both residential and commercial properties in North Carolina since 1999. Our team has helped tens of thousands of homeowners identify and address their crawl space and foundation woes.
Whatever issues you have in your home, you can contact our team to schedule a free inspection appointment. These appointments come with a free, written estimate for all of the costs associated with our suggested work and repairs. This is provided without obligation so you can make an educated decision that is best for you and your home.
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