Stories from a Home Inspector – Vol. 2

Crawlspace access

Forrest Gump once said ‘Life is like a box of chocolates‘. You never know what you’re gonna get.’ For home inspectors, a crawlspace is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

This past week I (Tim) had an inspection of an 850 sq ft house from the 50’s. The inspection notes said there was a crawlspace. Often a dreaded word for a home inspector. As I said, you never know what you’re gonna get with a crawlspace. 

Most crawlspaces are cramped, dark, moist, and filled with cobwebs. Access to a crawlspace is often small and yet the inspection must go on. (That is unless the access is smaller than 18 inches by 24 inches – then we take pictures from the opening.) The inspection of a crawlspace is just as important as looking in the basement. 

Due to the conditions, most crawlspaces are not explored or inspected very frequently. When we go in a crawlspace it sometimes feels like we are entering the unknown. Not necessarily where no one has gone before, but where no one has likely been in quite some time.

On this particular day, there was evidence throughout the house of issues with the subfloor and potentially the floor structure. Undulations, bouncing floors, and uneven subfloors were signs of potential concerns which needed further evaluation from below.

So into the unknown I went, unsure of what I was going to find. It’s never a good sign when the ladder that has been left at the entrance of the crawlspace is rotted. I knew better than to trust it to support my weight. 

Once down inside the crawlspace, I found the usual suspects. Cobwebs, trash, discarded parts and pieces of various mechanical equipment, and plumbing pipes. The initial space actually wasn’t that bad. There was adequate headroom to move around (4 feet) and I quickly saw typical issues. Settled foundation corners, moisture intrusion, and evidence of wood-destroying pests (likely termites).

Venturing further under the original portion of the house, things got a little more difficult. There was a lot less headroom, more cobwebs, which I swatted away with a small section of copper pipe, and a lot more debris. 

After taking a bunch of pictures I began investigating the floor structure in order to discover what was causing the issues that were apparent to the buyer and buyer’s agent from above when they toured the home. Some of the issues were due to typical settling, which is almost inevitable in an older home on a flat lot. However, there were other issues that were more concerning.

The moisture level in the crawlspace was very high. Part of the flooring problem was due to the fact that the subfloors were rotting from the underside of the house. Portions had already been poorly replaced, with joints not always falling on the floor joists. Previous termite damage made some joists not so supportive, and there were sections of the crawlspace where you could actually see daylight out the sides or into the house!

Crawlspace microbial growth

In the middle of the space, there appeared to be multiple root balls or some very shaggy carpet. Upon further inspection, I realized that these were in fact large sections of unique microbial growth that were thriving in the damp and dark conditions. This was a very interesting collection of ‘chocolates’.

Venturing further into the unknown I began to hear the faint sound of water. No one in the house was running water so I knew it had to be coming from somewhere inside the crawlspace. Following the sound, I made my way to the front of the house where the sewer exits the house and the main water line enters. 

The closer I got, the more distinct the sound was. There was definitely a leak in the main water supply to the house. While unable to see the leak, the sound was obvious. And so too was the mud in this area. This is likely the main cause of the flooring issues. Prolonged exposure to very high moisture levels in the crawlspace was leading to water damage and rot in the flooring and potentially the floor structure.

The only sign of this leak from inside the house was the flooring issues. Who knows how long it had been leaking? Even though the unit was vacant, the leak was on the city’s side of the water meter, and thus not showing up on the homeowner’s water bill. The only way the leak was discovered was by having a home inspection. 

This home buyer could have been dealt with “a box of chocolates” had they not had an inspection. This is just another example of money well spent on a home inspection.