Crawl space encapsulation is an elaborate process that usually takes a few days and a few thousand dollars to do. The steps of clearing out construction debris, installing insulation to the walls and floor, then putting in a sump pump and dehumidifier are both labor intensive and costly.
So is crawl space encapsulation worth it? Or are you better off just cleaning the crawl space and lining it with plastic sheets?
Let’s look at the several ways the process can save you money, and whether or not they justify the upfront investment.
One of the biggest reasons people swear by crawl space encapsulation is the energy savings. You might have heard that it helps your house retain heat better in the winter and stay cool in the summer, and this is actually true.
A crawl space is a huge area of your house that, when left with no climate control, can leak a lot of the heat you spend money generating in the winter. Since cold air can circulate more or less freely in the crawl space, you end up paying for the heat that leaves the house to radiate there.
The same goes for air conditioning in the summer, but in this instance, it’s by way of humidity. If you live in a rainy area, chances are there’s a lot of standing water that pools in your crawl space. This tends to raise relative humidity (RH) and sometimes it reaches well into the 90s.
This drives up the cost of air conditioning since your AC system has to work extra to dehumidify the air that rises up from your crawl space to the living area. So at the end of the day, you’re paying a large sum for something pretty preventable.
Crawl space encapsulation takes care of both these problems by isolating and dehumidifying the area so it doesn’t leak heat in the winter or raise RH in the summer.
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) can be affected by multiple things, the biggest of which is the presence of mold or mold spores in the circulating air. Unfortunately, a neglected crawl space can be the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew, which have a distinct musty smell you can easily detect.
Mold and mold spores can cause severe respiratory problems in children and immunocompromised people, who are less equipped to fight off the mold spores they breathe in. That’s why it’s incredibly important to mitigate the issue by encapsulating your crawl space.
If done correctly, you should have a clean, dry crawl space that doesn’t have any gaps or pockets of dampness where mold can grow.
This is another issue that most homeowners consider encapsulating their crawl space because of. Rodent and insect infestations usually happen when there’s a lot of standing water or torn and tattered insulation to nest in.
If you hear sounds of scratching or chattering in the night, chances are there’s a family of rodents that made its way into your crawl space. There are also reports of crickets that chime constantly after they infest the area, which makes a good night’s sleep pretty difficult.
Encapsulation will effectively eliminate any chances of rodent or bug infestations, since all entryways into the crawl space are sealed shut. The issue of standing water will also be taken care of thanks to the presence of a sump pump and/or a dehumidifier.
Now that you know how crawl space encapsulation protects your home and saves energy, the answer to this question is a resounding yes! Having a clean, dry, sealed crawl space adds pretty significant value to your home as opposed to a dirty, moldy crawl space with water damage.
This is simply because crawl space encapsulation serves as an insurance policy for the prospective homeowner. If you know that:
- You’re probably not going to pay huge heating or AC bills
- There’s a slim-to-none chance you’d have damaged wooden beams, flooring, or siding in the house because of standing water or mold
- There’s no danger of a rodent or bug problem in the near future
Then, you’ll feel more secure in your choice to purchase the house.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that people will pass up a sale on a house in great condition just because the crawl space spells trouble. Signs of damage that might compromise the foundation will severely devalue your home, which isn’t something you’d want to risk in today’s market.
Crawl space encapsulation does indeed qualify for a tax credit. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act bill that was passed in 2009 states that you can get up to $500 in tax credit when you improve your home’s energy efficiency.
This is great news since the project can cost a lot of money, so having this financial reward sure helps!
However, even if that wasn’t the case, the return on investment that you initially put in this project will show within years, even months, of energy bill savings. So it’s a sound decision all around.
Unless disturbed by a natural disaster, like flooding or a hurricane, crawl space encapsulation lasts anywhere between 15–20 years. In some areas where it’s mostly dry, encapsulated crawl spaces can last well over 20 years with no problems.
That’s great news if you’re worried about having to go through the trouble of redoing the encapsulation scheme every few years. Just keep in mind there are a few things you should stay on top of when it comes to maintenance.
- Checking the dehumidifier and sump pump for clogs: these two devices are supposed to keep humidity levels down. If there’s any malfunction, you could have an issue with standing water and/or flooding in your crawl space.
They usually need cleaning and checking on filters every year or so. Doing this prevents a small problem from becoming bigger.
- Checking radon gas levels in the crawl space: This is a crucial part of the encapsulation process, since radon gas is one of the leading causes of lung cancer in the US, only second to smoking. Radon naturally exists in the soil, but can become a hazard if present at high levels indoors since the air circulates less.
Some states are more prone to radon contamination, so it’s best to know where your home stands. You can check its levels using a home-test kit or by sending samples to a lab.
- Checking for termite infestations: This shouldn’t be a problem if the encapsulation process was done correctly. But in some cases, a termite infestation can start from a crawl space behind foam boards that aren’t sealed correctly, or on any exposed beams.
Just look frequently for any signs of termites, especially if you live in an area of high termite activity.
Taking on the project of crawl space encapsulation yourself might sound tempting, especially since the cost of hiring a professional could sound too high.
However, you should keep in mind it’s not an easy job to do. The process can take several days even when you have a team of 2–3 highly-skilled professionals, and that’s a full 8 to10-hour workday.
This project, most of all, requires meticulousness. You can’t just throw insulation materials in there and hope for the best. It requires careful planning as well as top-notch safety precautions.
A reputable company will also give you a 15 to 20-year warranty on the encapsulation job. So should anything go wrong, you can ask for a do-over or a repair. In my opinion, this is the biggest selling point for hiring a contractor for crawl space encapsulation.
Rest assured, though, that you can accomplish the task if you live in an area where you won’t need a flawless seal, like dry areas with low humidity. It’s also much easier to do this job yourself if your house doesn’t have a large crawl space, less than 2000sf is ideal for a DIY job.
The financial investment, as well as the time and effort, can make you question: is crawl space encapsulation worth it?
When you factor in all the benefits you reap from the project, like better heating efficiency in the winter and cooler living space in the summer, the energy savings can tide you over the upfront cost.
Not to mention the cleaner and safer result that doesn’t invite mold or pests to make a home out of your crawl space.
There’s also the benefit of the tax credit you get for having an energy-efficient home, which can cover a good chunk of the money you’d spend on materials.
Lastly, you should know that crawl space encapsulation should last you 15–20 years or even more, barring the occurrence of a flood or hurricane. All of this points to the project being worth your while.
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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