What You Need to Know About Crawl Space Encapsulation

Crawl space encapsulation has been around for while now and people want to know if this process has any negative side effects. Crawl space encapsulation pros and cons if you will. Well like anything there can be a negative side to this very important home improvement.

The list of benefits goes on and on, in fact you can just google “crawl space encapsulation” and the results will supply you with as many opinions as you care to read and all good of course. For the record, I believe if the encapsulation is done properly and the homeowner is educated on the facts, encapsulating your crawl space is a great thing.

The problems that arise after an encapsulation really have nothing to do with the actual encapsulation. There are six root issues that cause a problem after the encapsulation is complete.

  1. Poor workmanship
  2. Poor quality of materials
  3. Incorrect material used as a “barrier”
  4. Seams not taped or sealed at the foundation
  5. Lack of proper conditioning/air flow
  6. Inexperienced or uneducated contractor encapsulating a crawl space

Each of these six contribute to an upset homeowner, but remember most often it is a combination of two or more that gets the contractor in hot water.

The first is poor workmanship. This is the common denominator in all cases where the problem is a complete mystery. This is, of course, because the contractor will refuse to consider his or her excellent skills to be a factor in any problem. The very first thing that should be done if the car won’t start, is check the gas. Eliminate the most obvious possibilities instead of ignoring them. This problem can mostly be prevented by hiring an experienced crawl space company that specializes in crawl space encapsulation and repair. The list of problems: high moisture, crawl space odor or “stinky crawl space”, flooded crawl space and hire another company to remove the original products & encapsulate a second time.

The second is poor quality of material. The first thing to understand about a properly encapsulated crawl space is that it is NOT done with the cheapest materials found on the planet. Each company that you call to give you a bid on encapsulating your crawl space is going to tell you they have the magic stuff. They will tell you it is so good they couldn’t install it wrong if they tried, it just works. Well, thats a salesmen for ya. The truth is, the product is only as good as the installation. A company can do a really good job with inferior products and it will outperform an really good product that is install incorrectly. The goal is to get the really good product, like the SilverBack™ vapor barrier or the Cleanspace liner, AND really good job installing it. The side effect of having a really good job installing an inferior product is it just wont last and you will have to do it again. Insist on having a vapor barrier that comes with a real warranty. Watch out for the vapor barrier warranties that say ‘the product is warrantied for 25 years against product defects on the day it was installed’. The list of problems: barrier tears, seam tape releases, seal to the foundation fails, dehumidifier fails or high electric bill to run it, crawl space floods, “stinky crawl space”, hire another company to remove the original products & encapsulate a second time.

The third is incorrect material used as a “barrier”. This is the common denominator for a chemical smell, high moisture and a complete failure of an encapsulation system. One example of the wrong material is a swimming pool liner. That product is made from PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) and it smells like chlorine bleach or well, a pool liner. As most of us have smelled a pool cover or liner and could recognize it as not so bad; it in fact has an overpowering odor when it is used indoors. The list of problems: strong bleach odor, health issues, seam tape release and punctures/tears. 

The fourth is seams not taped or sealed at the foundation. Crawl Space encapsulation has been used openly in the building industry for over 9 years now. The system and procedure has been honed, yet it never fails that new companies that want to get into this field “feel” those extra steps are unnecessary. What they really mean is, it sounds to much like work and they don’t want to do it. There is even a company that sells a product on the open market for the DIY’ers and claims there is no need for mechanical fasteners. Yet they have had to change their products, both barrier and glue, many times. Seems everyone wants to do it the easy way even if they have to call it patent pending. I agree there is no need in making it more difficult than it needs to be, but there is really only two ways to do something; right and again. Don’t let their ignorance force you to have to do it again. The list of problems: high moisture, high electric bill due to dehumidifier running ALL the time, mold growth, condensation, stinky crawl space & high odor.

The fifth is lack of proper proper conditioning/air flow. Hands down this is the absolute worst place to “save money”. Properly conditioning or dehumidifying the crawl space IS the reason you would have the crawl space encapsulation done, yet this is the first thing that is cut when the price is to high. I would compare it to buying a swimming pool, paying a company to install it and then refusing to fill it with water because the water costs too much. That seems ridiculous doesn’t it? Finish the job. Depending on where you live and how bad your conditions are you may need to buy a $1000 dehumidifier, there may be other alternatives. Alternatives do not necessarily mean cheaper. Look at it this way, if you have a mold problem in your 1200 sq ft crawl space it could cost you $4,000 – $12,000 or more to remediate and repair the damage, while a quality crawl space dehumidifier that can prevent a mold problem only costs about $1000. The list of problems: mold growth, condensation, high humidity, high odor and high energy bills.

The sixth and final is inexperienced or uneducated contractor encapsulating a crawl space. As you can imagine this is the common denominator when you have ALL five of the situations listed above along with ALL the listed problems. Ask for references and check them, even go to a job or two and see their work. Find out if they are a certified installer of a branded vapor barrier or if they have any endorsements from the manufacture like installation training. Ending up with this contractor is the result of price being the only important factor. The list of problems: everything listed above.