Is it safe to go under a mobile home?
Friday, June 15, 2018
It all depends on which mobile home you are considering crawling under. Some crawl spaces are a minefield littered with hazards, while others are safe enough to enter if you take a few sensible precautions.
But it’s important to first ask yourself this question: “Do I really need crawl under this mobile home?” If you are just doing an annual check for any problems below the home or evaluating one you are considering buying, it is possible to see pretty much everything under the home by opening the skirting at several locations, sliding only your torso under the home with a blanket on the ground, and taking your time shining the brightest flashlight you own slowly around the area. The important spots to open are below the bathrooms and kitchen, and next to the package air conditioner.
Most homes have the type of skirting shown below, which has a U-shaped track at the bottom and a flap covering the top of the interlocking skirt panels. Removing two adjacent panels is sufficient for access. You can usually flip up the top flap enough to pull two panels up without having to snap it out of its securing strip. But, if not, it’s easy enough to pull out a section of flap, then snap it back in place when you are done.
The panels are typically secured with screws at the top. They often have a hex-head, so you may need a hex driver. Also, dirt may get into the bottom track as you crawl over it and will have to be removed when you are done, in order to get the skirt panels to slide all the way back down into the track.
Other types of skirting, such as brick or stucco over wire lath, will mean you can only get under the home at an installed access panel. This limits your ability to get a good look around without entering the crawl space.
If you really need to get under the home for repair or a close examination of a problem, here are ten safety tips to consider before you enter the crawl space:
1) The #1 most important safety rule: have someone with you waiting at the opening, with a cell phone, that keeps you in sight, or calls out to you for a response regularly if you are out of sight.
2) If there are any missing panels or other openings in the skirting, there is the potential to encounter critters living under the home.
3) A nasty smell means leaking sewage or a dead animal under the home. For some reason, the animal is usually a possum. Either way, the offending substance needs to be removed and the area aired out before proceeding, since it is a health hazard. You may need a respirator.
4) The clearance from the ground to underside of home should be 18-inches or more to safely move around, look up, and turn around.
5) Crawling over the flexible HVAC ducts will permanently damage them, so moving around under a home with both low clearance and ducts on the ground limits the accessible areas.
6) Knocking your head on a beam or pipe while you are looking down at the ground and crawling is a common cause of injury. If you wear a hat with a visor, take it off or turn it around backwards before you go under. Some pros wear a “bump hat” in crawl spaces, which is a smaller, lightweight version of a hard hat. Be super-conscious of what is above you as you move forward.
7) If the home does not have a layer of plastic sheeting on the ground below it, wear gloves or watch for sharp objects in the dirt before you put your weight down on your hands.
8) The cut ends of tie-down straps are sharp. Watch out for them.
9) A non-contact voltage sensor, also called a tic-tracer, is a tool we always take with us under a home to test anything metal that we might come in contact with, to confirm that it is not electrically “live.”. The device costs around $20 and will flash and beep when near anything connected to the house current that may shock you.
10) If there is any way you can avoid crawling under your home, don’t do it. Let a professional inspector or contractor who does it every day check under your home for you. Most homeowners stay out of the crawl space because they are scared of snakes and spiders. But there are multiple other bigger threats surrounding someone not trained to move around safely in a crawl space.
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