Crawlspaces & Ventilation: 10 Fun Facts & Random Observations

1. Inside the living space of a property, proper ventilation is absolutely crucial to the health, safety, and overall comfort of the occupants inside the home.

2.  Standards and guidelines have been established to specify minimum ventilation rates and other measures intended to provide indoor air quality that is acceptable to human occupants and that minimizes adverse health effects. More info here:  http://eetd.lbl.gov/ie/viaq/v_rates_1.html

3.  Improving the overall air quality inside a property can be achieved by two methods:

•    Exhausting air contaminants from the building
•    Removing contaminants from the air stream using filtration and/or absorption technologies (i.e. HEPA filtration and activated carbon)

Since most residential properties do not have access to proper filtration or absorption technologies, exhaust ventilation is most practical and commonly used.

4. In addition to improper ventilation, excessive or chronic water intrusion into the property, especially the crawlspace, will contribute to the growth of certain microorganisms.  This can lead to mold infestation impacting Indoor Air Quality, and even more destructive structural damage such as wood decay or dry rot.

5. Water intrusion into the crawlspace will often cause damage to flooring systems (i.e. cupping of hardwood floors, grout separation in tile floors, etc.), wood decay, and oxidation or rusting of metal strapping/hardware.

6. Water enters a crawlspace in either liquid or vapor phase by four moisture transfer mechanisms:

•    Liquid water (i.e. plumbing/sewer leaks, high groundwater table, drainage or exterior flooding)
•    Capillary suction or wicking (i.e. moisture being drawn through concrete footing from saturated exterior soils)
•    High moisture laden air (i.e. elevated humidity from atmospheric conditions entering the crawlspace through vents)
•    Vapor diffusion (i.e. moisture in the vapor phase moving through building materials)

7. Most properties are constructed with vents that are intended to remove moisture from the air in a crawlspace by cross-ventilation.   However, the introduction of moist air from outdoors can actually increase the relative humidity in a crawlspace.

8. Due to stack effect and vapor diffusion, which is a very powerful force, moisture in a crawlspace will seek dry areas.  When moist air comes in contact with  a surface that is colder than the  air, condensation will occur.  Condensation can develop on uninsulated plumbing pipes in the crawlspace, on the underside of a sub-floor, or even the attic roof deck.  Interestingly, many houses with exposed wet soil in a crawlspace also have mold and water damage due to condensation on the underside of the roof deck. 

9. If vapor diffusion from the soil, water intrusion from poor drainage, unmitigated plumbing leaks, or infiltration of moist air exist in a crawlspace, one or more of the following is usually observed:

  •   Surface mold growth, structural damage, and health issues
  •   Termite or other pest infiltration
  •   Accumulation of odors  
  •   Termite or other pest infestation

10.  The best way to mitigate crawlspace moisture is to treat the crawlspace as a conditioned space by (1) insulating walls with foam panels, (2) seal the crawlspace floor and walls with heavy gauge polyethylene or vinyl encapsulation system, with the seams sealed tightly at all edges and overlaps, (3) seal the rim joists with two-part closed cell foam.

Good Morning America & CleanliNEST™ by Sanit-Air Team Up For Investigative Report

We’re excited to announce that ABC’s Good Morning America will be in town tomorrow, Wednesday April 28, 2010 to film an investigative report for which the CleanliNEST™ by Sanit-Air team will be lending our expertise. The samples have been submitted to the lab and GMA will be here to film my response, as well as the sampling procedure and analysis in our CleanliNEST™ by Sanit-Air lab.

We can’t reveal at this time the topic as it is an investigative report. We can say, however, it will be eye-opening, enlightening, informative and of particular interest to women. We’ll give everyone the heads-up when the segment will air on GMA so stay tuned!

Creepy Crawlspace: A Major Source of Contamination In 9 out of 10 Homes

What can you expect to find in a typical crawlspace? It has been determined, after reviewing thousands of air samples collected from properties with occupants that suffer from poor indoor air quality, that the source of contamination in 9 out of 10 homes comes from a poorly ventilated crawlspace. Common environmental contaminants found in crawlspaces include mold contamination, radon gas, pathogenic bacteria, fiberglass, pesticides, foul odors, asbestos fibers, raw sewage, and/or rodent excretions. Although some of these contaminants are classified as allergens, some are classified as carcinogens, which is why evaluating these air contaminants is important and significant.

If it’s in your crawlspace, it’s in your home! Studies have shown that approximately 40%-50% of the air inside the home generates from the crawlspace. Contaminated crawlspace air will enter the home through pressurization differentials or a condition known as the “Stacking Effect.” Inside a house, warm air rises (especially in multi-story properties) which then reduces the pressure in the base of the house (i.e. crawlspace or basement). This reduction in pressure then forces cooler air from the crawlspace to infiltrate the home through plumbing and electrical penetrations, through cracks or seams in flooring, and up into wall cavities.

During property inspections, crawlspaces are often the most overlooked and under-inspected areas of a property, yet they continue to be the source of more damage than any other area of the house. Crawlspaces are a major source of indoor air quality (IAQ) problems and should be one of the first places you and/or your IAQ Specialist inspect when trying to determine any suspect indoor air quality issues.

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action Report Promotes Healthy Homes

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to promote Healthy Homes Report looks at the many ways housing can affect health. The purpose of the report is to initiate a national dialogue about the importance of healthy homes. “The home is the centerpiece of American life,” said Steven K. Galson, then acting Surgeon General at the time of the report. “We can prevent many diseases and injuries that result from health hazards in the home by following the simple steps outlined in this Call to Action.” The report urges Americans to “improve air quality in their homes by installing radon and carbon monoxide detectors, eliminating smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, and controlling allergens that contribute to asthma and mold growth.”

Follow the link here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/bookshelf/br.fcgi?book=hssurggen&part=cta-home to view the entire Healthy Home Report from teh surgeon General’s office.

How Much Mold and Bacteria Are On Your Walls?

This is a healthy home idea from York Wallcoverings: YorkGuard® Anti-Microbial wallcoverings. This unique contract wallpaper is perfect for healthcare facilities and other public spaces but can also be used for residential homes. YorkGuard is EPA approved and hospital tested.

York’s unique Granshield technology (diagramed above) protects against mold, mildew, bacteria and odor causing germs and does not leech toxic chemicals or heavy metals. The anti-microbial properties work continuously on both sides of the wallcovering and comes with a 5-year warranty.

Obviously you’ll want to apply this product over a pre-tested, clean, mold-free surface. This is a great product for immuno-compromised individuals and allergy sufferers to help protect their homes from bacteria, mold and poor indoor air quality. Learn more about YorkGuard Anti-Microbial Wallcoverings at www.yorkwall.com/yorkguard or call them at 1-800-455-9913.

Science of Spring Cleaning Tip: Clearing The Air On Ionizers

Air ionizers do not get rid of particulate matter. They change the location of the particulate by charging the particles, which then attach to oppositely charged objects such as walls, ceilings, floors, computers, and tables.  Particles may become airborne again as cleaning begins.

Interview: The Craig Fahle Show On WDET Public Radio | Topic: Avoiding An Unhealthy Money Pit

The Dirty Secret On Foreclosures: Avoiding An Unhealthy Money Pit. WDET Public Radio host, Craig Fahle, interviews me on the topic of hidden hazards when purchasing a foreclosed home. Learn what to look out for and and tips on protecting your potential investment.

They “Mite” Be Giants: 6 Helpful Tips To Do Battle With Dust Mite Allergies

Studies have shown that the dust mite lives in areas in our home that are moist and warm. Forty thousand dust mites account for one ounce of mattress dust. They descend on our bedding because when we sleep our bodies shed skin, this skin is nourishment to the dust mite. Dust Mites are not necessarily harmful, unless you are allergic to them. Symptoms for allergic reaction would be runny nose, itchy eyes, asthma, or a rash. If you are allergic to dust mites then you should follow these steps.

Step 1: Survey your home and interior and note areas where dust mites hide, bedding, cloth sofa, drapes, carpets. Determine if your budget will permit you to replace these soft surface items to hard surface items such as wood blinds, leather sofa, and wood or tile floors. Prioritize the rooms in your home by the time that you spend in each room,the bedroom would be the first room that would have a makeover, TV room second, kitchen, dining room and such would follow on the list.

Step 2: Cover the mattress, box springs and pillows with allergen protective covers. These protective covers prevent the dust mite from penetrating and hiding in your bedding. Wash bed linens and comforter once a week to remove dust mites from fabric.

Step 3: Depending on the severity of your dust mite allergies you may want to cover your floors with a thin textured fiber carpet and invest in a Hepa filter vacuum that removes mold, pet dander and dust mite allergens. All fiber floor coverings will need to be steamed cleaned once a month to remove the dust mites that hide in the fibers. If you suffer from severe allergic reaction to dust mite you need to remove the fiber floor coverings and replace with a hard surface.

Step 4: Remove fiber window coverings and replace with a hard surface blind or shutter. Replace your upholstered furniture with leather or vinyl. Leather is more durable and the dust mites will have no place to hide. If leather is not in your budget, invest in a vacuum with allergen filter and vacuum your upholstered furniture twice a week. For severe allergies steam clean the upholstered furniture seasonally.

Step 5: Cover your nose and mouth with a ventilator mask before you dust your home. Remove the dust from your hard surfaces with a dust and allergen product. Use it on your wood furniture, cabinets and other hard surfaces. By using a product that is effective in controlling dust mites, you will be preventing a dust build up and thus reducing an allergic reaction.

Step 6: Replace your air duct filters with allergen protective filters. Change air filters four times a year or as recommended. Remove dust and other air borne irritants with an air purifier. Place the air purifier in the bedroom and an additional unit in the living area of your home.

Insurance Claims, Contractors, Homeowners: Why Can’t We all Play Nice? Here Are Seven Steps That Can Help…

After a fire or water loss, which can result in mold contamination, the only goal of most homeowners is to have competent and timely restoration that will protect both the indoor air quality as well as the asset value of the property. Similarly, the goals of good contractors are to restore the home, be paid for the services, and have a happy customer. The goals of reputable insurance companies are to restore the home to pre-loss conditions and pay a fair market price for the services. Since these goals are not mutually exclusive, they all can be realized with little or no conflict, right?

Most people who have experienced such losses are probably raising their eyebrows as they whisper, “Yeah right,” to the question. Unfortunately, many factors, including policy exclusions for mold, poor documentation from homeowners, greedy contractors, and overburdened insurance adjustors, can cause conflicts, delays, disappointments, and antagonism during the restoration of a covered water or fire loss.

At times, little can be done by the homeowner to mitigate antagonism if an adjuster takes on a confrontational demeanor from the get go. However, in many cases, proactive measures that begin at the time an insurance policy is purchased empower homeowners to steer an unfortunate loss in a harmonious manner. The following “to do” list for the insured party will go a long way toward making sure that the insurance company, contractors, and homeowners play together in the same sandbox without throwing sand in each other’s eyes.

  1. Understand the insurance policy before purchase. Ask questions about mold riders, sump pump and drain coverage, covered water losses, water damage after fires, smoke and soot damage, odor mitigation, and deductibles.
  2. Research and retain a list of reputable water damage, fire, and mold inspection companies and restoration contractors so that you can be in control of who is hired to do the work.
  3. Have your home inspected by a qualified inspection company that can document conditions relative to water damage and mold before you ever have a loss. This step can prevent claim denials due to poor maintenance or historical damage.
  4. Retain records of prior losses and repairs.
  5. Retain photographs and receipts of furnishings and belongings.
  6. Have realistic expectations regarding repairs.
  7. All documents, including the insurance policy, should be stored in a fireproof safe at home or at another location.

Just like a group of kids in a sandbox, bullies exist on both sides of the fence with insurance losses.  Courtesy, common sense and commitments to doing the right thing are sometimes overshadowed by fear, greed, and hidden agendas. I still believe that it is wise to be prepared and try to play nice before calling in the troops.

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