Should I buy a house with a crawl space?

Saturday, July 7, 2018

New houses are still constructed with an elevated wood floor over a crawl space in other parts of the country, but here in North Florida homes built after the 1950s have a concrete floor slab on the ground or a concrete slab on fill dirt in a stem wall. So, when you are talking about a crawl space house, you mean one that is at least a half-century old.

    Everyone who owns a house with a crawl space agrees that they are not a pleasant place to explore: dark and musty, often with wires, pipes and ducts obstructing access, like in the photo above.

   A crawl space can be anywhere from 12-inches to several feet tall. The best way to understand one is to think of it as a mini-basement, because a crawl space has many of the same pros and cons as a basement: 

PROS

  • Easy access for plumbing repair to both supply and drain piping that would otherwise be under a concrete slab in a newer home. Running new electrical wiring is easier too.
  • An elevated floor makes a home look more substantial.
  • Some crawl spaces are suitable for storage, but the moisture in the soil keeps the air in a crawl very humid in Florida unless well ventilated.
  • Insulation can be installed under floor and maintained as necessary.

CONS

  • If you Google® “crawl space,” the first listings you will see on the page are ads for crawl space repair specialists, because of the many moisture related problems that crawl spaces in Florida are prone to have. Water vapor rises continuously out of the soil and must be must be exhausted through either passive or active ventilation, otherwise wood rot and mold growth develop. An alternative is to have a professional seal the ground with plastic sheeting.  
  • An elevated wood floor is not as handicapped-accessible as a concrete slab on grade.
  • Critters like raccoons and snakes see a crawl space as a potential comfy, secure home. The access panel and vents must be carefully maintained, and examining a crawl space can be a wildlife safari adventure.
  • Subterranean termites can run mud tubes up the inside surface of the walls and columns undetected in a crawl space. Most older homes have metal termite guard strips installed to deter them, but they are not 100% effective. 

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  To learn more strategies for getting the best possible home inspection, here’s a few of our other blog posts:

How can I make sure I don't get screwed on my home inspection? 

Should I trust the Seller's Property Disclosure Statement?

Can I do my own home inspection?

How can homebuyers protect themselves against buying a house over a sinkhole? 

What makes a house fail the home inspection?

The seller gave me a report from a previous home inspection. Should I use it or get my own inspector? 

    To read about issues related to homes of particular type or one built in a specific decade, visit one of these blog posts:

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1950s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1960s house?

• What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1970s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1980s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1990s house?

What problems should I look for when buying a country house or rural property? 

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been moved?

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been vacant or abandoned?

• What are the most common problems with older mobile homes? 

What do I need to know about a condo inspection? 

    Visit our “SHOULD I BUY A…” and EXTERIOR WALLS AND STRUCTURE pages for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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