Crawl space dehumidification methods.
Here we describe how to make best use of dehumidifiers or heat to remove crawl space moisture.
We also explain that crawl space ventilation by exchanging outdoor air with crawl space air does not work well to dry out most crawl spaces even if the air exchange rate is quite large, and it is unlikely to work predictably if the crawl space is tightly sealed. Other measures to dry out a crawl space such as removing sources of water entry and use of moisture barriers are detailed in companion articles.
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How to install a continuous dehumidification system in a crawl space: (with a permanent drain hookup and a condensate pump if necessary so that condensate will be disposed of automatically and so that the crawl space dehumidification system can run unattended. Use an A/C condensate pump to a building drain if a gravity drain connection is not feasible.
First remove the mold, remove any moldy insulation, then correct the water entry problems, then clean the surfaces, then you can put your dehumidifier to work to keep the space dry.
This installation could have done a better job on the plastic but the dehumidifier is well placed near the center of the crawl space.
[Click to enlarge any image]
If your crawl area is large, add one or more small fans blowing towards the dehumidifier from remote areas of the crawl space. You'll find this makes an enormous improvement in the rate of dehumidification.
Don't even bother to try to dehumidify the crawl space if the area is taking on standing water or puddles. First you'll have to solve the water entry problem. Cleaning up puddles or active foundation leaks with a dehumidifier won't work any more than you can suck the dust off a the living room carpet by standing across the house in the kitchen and waving your vacuum cleaner wand in the air. (This is also why an indoor "air cleaner" cannot remove a problem mold or allergen source in a building.)
Don't put a new, expensive dehumidifier into a moldy crawl space if you're going to clean up the mold. Doing so will increase the airborne mold level in some cases - yes as things dry out the mold will begin to release more spores than ever. Also you'll contaminate your dehumidifier with mold spores.
We like to set our crawl space dehumidifiers to 45% RH or lower. We've made lots of humidity measurements. When the humidity right close to the dehumidifier is 45%, you'll find that more distant crawl spaces will have a higher humidity level, especially close to the foundation walls. So if you're trying to dry out the whole area, don't set your dehumidifier above 45% RH.
A dehumidifier in a crawl space will also provide some heat in that area; if the crawl space is too cold (despite perimeter insulation) it may be necessary to add a small level of heat there. Some building also permit introduction of dry heat into these areas.
Make sure your crawl space electrical wiring is safe and meets current electrical codes. Receptacles (such as the electrical outlets you may want to use to power your crawl space fans or dehumidifier) should be GFCI protected and all of the circuits there such as wiring for lighting should be AFCi protected.
See AFCIs ARC FAULT CIRCUIT INTERRUPTERS for details on the 2008 National Electrical Code requirements for AFCIs and GFCIs.
Add a heat source to the crawl area to help keep it dry. If plumbing supply or drain lines are in the crawl space that will be another reason to add heat if your building is located in a freezing climate.
You don't need much. An air supply register cut into an existing supply duct in the crawl area may be enough, or a small section of heating baseboard if your building uses hot water heating. In crawl spaces where these heat sources are not convenient, add a small electric baseboard or oil-filled electric heater with a thermostat that turns it on at low temperatures.
Can Exhaust-Only Venting for Crawl Spaces or Bi-Directional Crawl Space Air Flow / Vent Systems Help Dry a Crawl Area?
OPINION: well yes, ... maybe, and sometimes no, it may make things worse. Here we discuss all four possible cases involving make-up air and crawl space exhaust vent systems.
Some building experts like to add an exhaust vent to the sealed up crawl area, opining that a humidistat-controlled exhaust vent will help reduce crawl space moisture levels. But keep in mind that for a fan to move any air out of a building area make-up air has to enter that area. In the case of a building crawl area, if we run an exhaust-only vent system, make-up air will come from two areas - from outdoors or from inside the building, or perhaps from a combination of the two.
Case 1: Crawlspace Makeup Air Drawn from Outdoors: a humidity SNAFU
I outdoor air is drawn into a crawl area to satisfy the negative pressure created in the crawl area by the exhaust fan we risk sometimes drawing air into the space at higher humidity levels than the space already had.
The result of humid air entering the crawl space is most often an increase in crawl area humidity level. We can avoid this dilemma by using a more costly humidistat that compares both indoor and outdoor humidity levels and only operates if outdoor humidity is lower than crawl space humidity.
Case 2: Crawl Space Makeup Air from Other Building Interior Areas: an IAQ Advantage but a Radon concern
If a crawl space has been tightly sealed against outdoor air entry, when the exhaust fan operates it will seek makeup air from leaks between the crawl space and the building interior - from the floor above or from an adjoining basement. If air inflow into the crawl space is from the conditioned living space above, it is possible, indeed likely that often (though not always) the incoming make-up air will be at a relatively low humidity level and the crawl area humidity level may drop in turn.
There is an advantage of leaking or deliberately drawing air from the conditioned space of a building through the crawl area to ultimately be blown outdoors: the improvement of building air quality. If a crawl area or its insulation risk harboring mold, allergens, or other airborne hazards, keeping the crawl area at negative pressure with respect to the building occupied space prevents convection currents from carrying potentially problematic particles up into the occupied space.
We have recommended this approach using a simple and small continuously-operating crawl space vent fan, venting out through the crawl space foundation wall, for buildings suffering from IAQ complaints that appear to originate below the structure.
Watch out: placing the crawl space under negative pressure with respect to the building upper levels may improve IAQ above, but if the structure is built over radon-gas bearing soils you risk creating high radon levels in the crawl space and worse, subverting an installed radon mitigation system.
Watch out: also that in some buildings where a whole house fan or other building air exhaust vent systems are installed, when the building air from the occupied space is being exhausted the system may overcome and subvert the crawl space vent system, drawing harmful particles or gases into the occupied space.
Case 3: Crawl Space Makeup Air Drawn from Both Outdoors and Inside the Building: unpredictable results
Depending on varying conditions we list below, the make-up air to satisfy a crawl space exhaust vent fan may sometimes come from just outdoors, sometimes just indoors, or from a variable mix of the two sources. The result in any case is that with mixed source air leaks into a crawl space, the performance of a crawl space exhaust vent fan in dehumidifying the area will be unpredictable
Case 4: Tightly Sealed Crawl Space Has Inadequate Make-up Air: exhaust effort is futile
For a crawl area that has been tightly sealed against all areas, its floor, foundation walls, the perimeter rim joist, and the floor above, an exhaust fan is unlikely to be very effective.
For a comparatively large crawl area, running an exhaust-only fan will produce some sensible movement of air out of the crawl area, but it should be quite apparent that if the crawl space is tightly sealed so that little or new new2 air from an external source can enter the area, the exhaust fan is making a near-futile effort to move sufficient air to change crawl space conditions.
CRAWL SPACE REINSPECTION: Inspect the crawl space periodically to make sure your crawlspace dryout measures have been effective. How often do you need to inspect the area? It depends ... on site conditions and building history.
At least once a year you should look for any new leaks such as a leaky plumbing drain or an outside water entry problem. If you have been having trouble keeping water out of the crawl area, you should check more often until your confidence is restored.
Watch out: for steps 1-7 above, in some conditions, dust containment, negative air, and more protective gear or help from professionals may be needed.
Also see our other crawl space dryout and safety discussions beginning at CRAWL SPACE GROUND COVERS where we describe crawl space venting, crawl space poly over dirt, and crawl space heat, to illustrate current best-practices in keeping a crawl space dry.
This article series describes the steps needed to get into, inspect, clean, and then dry out a building crawl space. We give a step by step crawl space entry, inspection, cleanout, dryout and keep dry guide explains how to get into or inspect a crawl space even if there is no ready access, how to assess crawl space conditions, how to stop water that is entering the crawl area, how to dry out the space, how to clean up and if necessary disinfect or sanitize the crawl space, and how to keep out crawl space water and moisture in the future.
Continue reading at CRAWL SPACE DRY-OUT PROCEDURE or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: are my crawl space "dryout" fans blowing moldy wet dust and debris and maybe chemicals from a wet crawl space into the living area?
I recently moved to an 800 square foot single story historic house in Pacific Grove. The home has a very shallow crawl space (as little as 6" near the perimeter- the foundation is only 12" deep) and the crawl space was covered with a moisture barrier when I bought the home. It has a solid concrete wall bisecting the underneath of the house (the long way).
I had termites and was advised by the inspector that the house is very damp underneath. They recommended removal of the moisture barrier and installation of fans to dry out the space. I have been having symptoms like I get when I am exposed to dust (dry, red nose) and feel very uncomfortable ever since the fans went in. This is driving me absolutely nuts.
The crawl space is wetter now than before (it has rained). I can't put in a french drain because there is only about 6" clearance between my house's crawl boxes and the fence, also it is on top of the sewer lateral.
I live on a hill in an area known to have underground springs but nobody knows exactly where they run.
I think they should remove the fans and put the moisture barrier back.
Do you agree? Is there anything else I can do? Perimeter moisture barrier?
Thank you. There is lots of mold down here and I am concerned that just putting the moisture barrier back will cause mold or rot. - S.A. 2/7/2013
Reply: how not to "dry out" a wet moldy crawl space
Sounds as if you got some advice that was good in intent but not competent.
I do on occasion recommend adding a fan to increase air movement in a crawl area or basement where a dehumidifier is at work, as that will increase the rate at which the dehumidifier can dry out the area. But just blowing air around in a wet moldy crawl space seems like a bad idea.
Removing the moisture barrier from the crawl floor and blowing fans turns the crawl space into a moisture pump, moving moisture from soil into the crawl space air. Perhaps if the fans blew OUT of the crawl space that might have been better, but the proper approach is to find and fix sources of water entry, seal (poly is ok) the floor, and dehumidify the area.
Watch out: there is an added risk of blowing pesticide contaminated dust and debris into the home if the applicator used a surface spray - something that's not usually done for termites. Usually for termites the pest control officer places a termiticide in the soil around the home; but in a home with a dirt crawl space they may be unable to take that approach because of the risk of chemicals surfacing in the crawl area and entering the living area - making occupants sick. So I'm not sure what has been done about your termite issue but that too needs expert review.
I suspect that dust, possibly allergens (insect fragments, mold, even soil particles, potentially other particles) have been stirred up; and if the fans were not blowing out of the crawl area, it may have been pressurized by the air movement; if that's the case, the arrangement may have increased the movement of particles up into the living area from the crawl space.
More likely you need to stop the fans, find and fix outdoor water sources like roof or surface runoff spilling by the foundation, put the poly back down to stop pumping water into the crawl area, and after the mold problem has been evaluated and most likely removed (cleaning the wood surfaces, tossing out insulation), then you might get a fan and dehumidifier back at work to keep the area dry.
Question: How do I dry out a crawl space quickly?
While this article did address the dehumidifier to a large extent, it really did not give instruction on how to rapidly dry out the crawl space after the water issues had been resolved so that the other remediation steps could be taken. More instruction on that would be extremely useful. - C. Brown
Reply: Rapid Crawl Space Dryout Procedure
Thanks for the comment C. Brown. In response to your well- CRAWL SPACE DRY-OUT PROCEDURE, from which I excerpt below:
Question: what about drying out a crawl space over a radiant heat floor?
Thanks for all the info, very helpful.
Robert, it's an interesting question that I'll think about further, but my initial thought is that presuming you're talking about tubular radiant heat - tubes stapled up under the subfloor over a crawl area, I don't think that material's presence changes our normal recommendations for drying out a crawl space
Question: Hurricane Sandy flooded our Ocean City NY House - what do I do in the crawl space?
Hurricane Sandy hit my old Sears House (1930's)in Ocean City, NJ so the water was 1 foot deep on the first floor (the floor being 3 feet off the ground!) Sometime within the last 25 years the water was deep enough to get the insulation wet and it was removed at that time and not replaced (The house is not heated in the winter).
What should I do in the crawl space area? If I would encapsulate the crawl space, it would be like a swimming pool next time it floods. Ideas on a good solution? Is a spray insulating foam worthwhile for protecting flooring from underneath? Thanks!
I have also a home in Ocean City, NJ that got hit with Sandy. I have just pulled out the mostly wet insulation. I got water damaged in my first floor from the water seeping up from the craw space. Electric wires are down now and I am worried about structural damage.
Reply: tips for improving the resistance of crawl spaces to flood damage
Closed-cell foam products are somewhat resistant to wetting from flooding or other water intrusion in a building crawl space or anywhere else, but if a building area is actually inundated with floodwaters again after such an installation, I'd be concerned about the difficulty and cost of disinfecting or addressing the risks of sewage-contaminated floodwaters.
For this reason, just taking up some closed cell foam board can be problematic - how will you clean the space that was soaked with sewage waters between the foam boards and framing or subfloor above?
Talk with spray foam insulation contractors in your area about the water resistance of sprayed-in-place closed cell foam insulation. That product actually adheres to wood surfaces, a step that may resist sewage-contaminated water from entering the space between the insulation itself and wood surfaces that otherwise would need cleaning.
In addition, sealing the exposed wood and interior foundation surfaces with a sanitizing or fungicidal sealant (after they are thoroughly dry) will also reduce the moisture uptake (and sewage-contaminated water uptake) of those surfaces in future flooding, making surface cleaning and area dryout a bit faster after the next flood.
Frankly, if the home is likely to be flooded to a depth that submerges the first floor or higher, no crawl space encapsulation is going to completely protect the building; if you cannot afford to raise the building on a taller, flood-damage-resistant foundation or pier system, I'd be troubled about the prospect of recurrent, perhaps even increasingly frequent significant cleaning and repair costs from future area flooding.
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