Although most homeowners notice when a few shingles go missing from their roof, they probably won't notice when mold, mildew, and insects damage the crawl space beneath their feet.

Here are some tips to help you waterproof or encapsulate a problematic crawl space.

Assessing the Damage

For many homeowners, waterproofing or encapsulating a crawl space is a response to three problems: mold/mildew, moisture, and/or insect/rodent infestations. Each of these problems requires a specific waterproofing or encapsulation strategy.

Mold/Mildew: For mold/mildew to invade a crawl space, there needs be both moisture and a lack of proper ventilation for it to take hold. If you notice a foul or rotten smell when you open the cabinets beneath your kitchen or bathroom sinks, you might be detecting the presence of mold/mildew just below your feet. Most licensed damage contractors will begin the mold/mildew remediation process by treating the most affected areas multiple times with anti-microbial spray. Once the mildew/mold is killed, the damage contractor can figure out how to prevent moisture from getting into your crawl space and how to properly ventilate the area.

Moisture: Few things damage a home's infrastructure like prolonged exposure to moisture. As discussed above, moisture can lead to mildew/mold damage, but it can also erode your home's foundation and cause your walls and floors to rot from the inside out. The best damage contractors will manage moisture in a crawl space by locating and fixing where the moisture is getting in. Once these compromised areas are fixed, they can begin the encapsulation or waterproofing process.

Insect/rodent infestations: If you've noticed a steady stream of bugs in your home, despite your efforts to clean and eradicate the insects, they're likely traveling up from your crawl space into your home. The best damage contractors will often subcontract a pest control specialist to eliminate the rodents or bugs in your crawl space. Next, they will begin the process of thoroughly sealing the area. This means sealing off access points to your crawl space and from your crawl space into your home. Insulating and sealing water and waste pipes can be particularly effective for keeping any bugs or rodents in your crawl space from getting into your home.

Encapsulation vs. Waterproofing

Essentially, encapsulating your crawl space is a more fortified and complete version of waterproofing it. Here is how you might decide between the two options when you're talking to your licensed damage contractor.

Waterproofing: If your crawl space occasionally floods, but otherwise stays dry, waterproofing might work for you. When waterproofing your crawl space, your damage contractor will seal the outside of your crawl space and address any drainage issues contributing to the crawl space flooding. Once the crawl space is sealed and the drainage is fixed, your damage contractor will lay down vapor-blocking sheets on the floor of your crawl space. These vapor-blocking sheets will prevent any moisture from coming up through your crawl space floor. Although waterproofing is likely to be cheaper than encapsulating your crawl space, it's a good idea to have your damage contractor draw up a quote for both strategies.

Encapsulating: Like waterproofing, the encapsulation process begins by focusing on sealing and drainage. Once those factors are addressed, your damage contractor will level your crawl space and pour a thin concrete composite on your crawl space floor. After the concrete dries, most damage contractors will install a dehumidifying system. The last step of the encapsulation process can be transforming your crawl space into a functional storage area. Since you now have concrete on the floor, your damage contractor can build storage shelves, install root cellar containers, and clear out spaces for seasonal equipment storage like snow blowers or lawnmowers. They can also add electrical outlets and hardwired lighting.

Contact a company like Central Penn Waterproofing to learn more.