Crawl space drainage problems may seem like an insignificant thing, but it is something you should worry about as a homeowner. Water in a crawl space is just the beginning of multiple structural problems that can slowly deteriorate your home and end up costing thousands of dollars in repairs.
Crawl spaces usually have little to no waterproofing measure in place, which is why they are always the most humid part of any residence. This means that certain devices need to be installed to help redirect moisture away from the crawl space. A good drainage system is what will prevent crawl space drainage problems and keep your foundation structurally sound.
Is Water in a Crawl Space Normal?
Standing water is common in crawl spaces, especially older ones. However, just because it is common doesn’t mean that it is acceptable. Water is an erosive element that is capable of destroying your foundation from within, especially in Missouri and Iowa, which have long, bitter winters.
Water in a crawl space due to drainage problems can lead to things like:
Wood rots when it gets infected by fungus. Fungi are microorganisms that eat organic matter and absorb moisture to survive. The wood in your crawl space, such as the floor joists, contain starches and natural sugars that keep the fungus alive. If your crawl space is poorly drained, then it will also have plenty of moisture too.
Wood rot, as the name suggests, causes the structural deterioration of the wooden structure, almost as if it is rotting away. Depending on the kind of fungal infection that overtakes the joist, the wood will either soften up, shrink, or break off. This, of course, makes it difficult for the joists and the support posts in the crawl space to keep the house stable, causing uneven floors and wall cracks.
Winters in Missouri can be unforgiving, bitter, and long. Temperatures fall below freezing, and although it may not seem like it, the cold can severely affect your wet crawl space to the point of structural failure.
The freeze-thaw effect refers to the freezing, thawing, and then refreezing that water goes through during the winter. When water freezes, it expands by about 9%. A bit of ice may seem like nothing compared to a solid structure like concrete, but ice actually can be very destructive.
Concrete is a porous material capable of absorbing water. During the winter, when the concrete in your wet crawl space is saturated with water, the moisture within freezes, expands, and tears through the concrete structure. The initial tear that forms is small, but as the cycle continues through the entirety of winter, the tears become bigger and bigger until the wall cracks a few years down the line. Once the concrete in your crawl space begins to deteriorate, other foundation problems will follow.
High Energy Bills
Around half of the air you breathe in your home comes from the crawl space. The stack effect makes it possible for the humid air in your crawl space to rise into your home since warm air is lighter than cool air. Humid air is also warmer than dry air since moisture retains heat, so a wet crawl space will almost always have warmer air than the other parts of the house.
During the summer, air from the outside makes its way into the crawl space and then rises into your home. The warm air flowing in from the crawl space will interfere with your AC’s ability to keep things cool, resulting in high energy bills.
How Does Water Enter My Crawl Space?
Water in a crawl space is normal in rainy places or in places where flooding is frequent, like St. Louis, MO. Although your crawl space may have four walls and seems secure and closed off from the world, there are many ways in which water can seep through. Your crawl space doesn’t have a way to drain it out, which is why the standing water won’t go away. Some of the areas of the crawl space that moisture uses to seep through can be sealed, but many others can’t; this is why a good drainage system is so important.
Crawl spaces, especially older ones, are built with vents. This is because it was believed that vents would help prevent crawl space humidity and help with air flow. Decades later, we now understand that this isn’t the case and that vents actually help moisture leak into the foundation. As long as there is a vent in the crawl space, warm air, snow, and water will find their way inside.
If you have a dirt crawl space, then you should know that groundwater can seep in through the soil. There’s an area underground called the zone of saturation where the soil is completely saturated with water. An invisible line called the water table marks the beginning of the zone of saturation.
When it rains, the water table rises as rainwater gathers in the zone of saturation. The depth of the water table varies, but some residential properties have a very shallow water table. As it rises, some of the moisture may seep through the soil and form a puddle in your crawl space.
The water table rises when there is a lot of precipitation. In Kansas City and Springfield, summertime storms cause most of the flooding, though spring flooding can occur as all the snow melts. Those two times in the year are when your crawl space is most vulnerable to water intrusion.
Concrete is a permeable material. Because of all the groundwater that surrounds the crawl space, moisture sometimes leaks in through the concrete walls themselves. If the concrete has any cracks, then water will seep through easier.
Concrete walls crack either due to age and wear from freeze-thaw damage or from improper mixing and pouring techniques. A bad cement mix creates structurally weak concrete that cracks on its own over time.
Your crawl space houses a lot of the pipes in your home. While storing the pipes in the crawl space is a convenient way to keep them easily accessible but out of sight, it becomes a problem when the pipes burst or leak. A crawl space with little to no drainage systems will not be able to get rid of the standing water after a malfunctioning pipe.
Signs That Your Crawl Space Has Drainage Problems
There are certain things you need to watch out for if you have a crawl space. This is a sensitive, often dangerous area of your home that we do not recommend you try to get into. That’s why a professional assessment is always best. However, there are some clues around the rest of your home that you can be on the lookout for that will tip you off to crawl space drainage problems.
Because of the stack effect, any kind of humidity that exists in your crawl space will travel up towards your living space. Houses tend to be much better insulated than crawl spaces are, so even if it’s summer and the humidity is high, your home shouldn’t feel too muggy. If it does, then all the moisture is most likely coming from the crawl space.
Crawl spaces provide mold with the perfect conditions to grow and thrive. Mold needs a dark place with humidity and organic material for food. A wet crawl space is at high risk of harboring mold because it fits all these conditions. Mold produces mold spores, which can rise into your home along with the humidity because of the stack effect.
Mold spores can trigger allergies and breathing them in long term can ruin your respiratory system. Keeping your crawl space dry is a matter of health.
The water in your crawl space doesn’t necessarily smell pleasant. If there are drainage issues in your crawl space, then you might be able to smell the dirty water in your foundation from within your home.
Sump Pump Malfunction
It may be that you already have a sump pump in your crawl space. If you’ve inherited an old sump pump from the previous owners or you have a sump pump that is poorly made, then it is likely to malfunction. When a sump pump stops working, it stops draining water out of the foundation.
You might be able to tell when the sump pump stops working just from sounds alone. Many sump pumps emit a sound when running, even if it’s very mild. If it’s raining but you don’t hear the sump pump running, then it may have stopped working. Sump pumps also malfunction when they are clogged, which happens the most during the fall and winter due to frozen discharge lines. When clogged, the sump pump will either run loudly or make strange stuttering noises.
It’s a bit frustrating to know that your crawl space was built in a way that makes it easy for water to seep through. You might be wondering why crawl spaces weren’t built with the right waterproofing and drainage solutions from the get-go. The truth is, it started with misinformation but continued due to cost-cutting and outdated building codes.
Tradition and Costs
Traditionally, it was believed that crawl spaces didn’t need any sort of drainage or ventilation system other than the vent. It also wasn’t known that a lack of drainage problems could lead to things like foundation settling, wood rot, and mold growth. This is why many older homes will still have crawl space vents while newer ones might have different ventilation systems in place or will not have a vent at all.
However, crawl spaces with little to no waterproofing solutions in place are still being built. This is mostly due to cost-cutting. Building a waterproof crawl space is a lot more expensive than building one without waterproofing solutions. If a drainage system is to be put in place, then it would drive up the value of the home, and the property would have to be sold at a higher price, which may not be what the project overseer wants.
Even if the construction company wanted to implement some waterproofing method, this can be incredibly difficult in some states. The building codes in some parts of the country have yet to be updated, so the codes requiring houses to have a proper foundation drainage system have not been put into place.
Because of this, the company needs to receive permits from the city in order to go against the outdated codes and build a non-traditional crawl space capable of draining out water properly. This can take a lot of time, which might discourage contractors from going this route. So, instead of going through the trouble, many discard the idea of waterproofing installations and simply build a normal crawl space.
Because of their humid climate, most cities in Missouri get a lot of rain and flooding. Thunderstorms and sustained rains make it difficult for foundations to stay dry, which is why a good drainage system is crucial.
Crawl Space Sump Pump
A sump pump is a must-have item in any foundation, be it a basement or a crawl space. It takes any water that flows into the crawl space and converts electrical energy into hydraulic energy in order to pump the water out of the foundation. A sump pump prevents foundation flooding and keeps the interior as dry as it can.
Sump pumps first collect water into the sump pit before redirecting it down a discharge line. They only run once a predetermined amount of water has been collected. If you live in Missouri, then it is in your best interest to get a sump pump with a battery backup. This is because of the annual thunderstorms and blizzards that run across the state. You definitely want to have a backup so that your sump pump can continue to function during a storm.
Perimeter Drainage System
A perimeter drain is a pipe that is installed around the perimeter of your crawl space. It can collect water that enters the crawl space, but it is also in charge of collecting water from two other places: the soil and the walls. A perimeter drainage system is capable of removing the groundwater that surrounds the foundation, which is needed to prevent humidity problems and frost heave. Being able to collect moisture from the walls also prevents a slew of moisture problems.
Traditionally, perimeter drains are installed outside the foundation, but Foundation Recovery Systems offers a better drainage solution than conventional drains. Our perimeter drainage system is installed inside the crawl space in a small trench right below the surface. Installing it this way eliminates the need for excavation, which can be expensive. The drainpipe also can be connected to your crawl space sump pump, allowing for quick, automatic removal of the water.
A sump pump can malfunction for many reasons and leave your crawl space with no drainage system. Floods and humidity await any foundation in Iowa or Missouri that doesn’t have a sump pump. As soon as you notice that something isn’t right with your sump pump, contact your local experts. Pairing emergency help with annual maintenance in the future can ensure your sump pumps stay in greater condition for longer.
Some of the biggest reasons sump pumps fail has to do with season-specific factors. For example, during the fall, the sump pump can get clogged with debris. During the winter, the water in the discharge line could freeze and clog the water’s only means of escape. Discharge line freezing actually can be fixed with a line protection system, which allows the water to escape even when the discharge line is frozen.
Other seasonal problems you have to watch out for would be springtime rain and floods. Because of power outages and heavy flooding, sump pumps get overwhelmed during storms. They malfunction, and you only realize after your crawl space is already flooded. The sump pumps we offer here at Foundation Recovery Systems come with an optional battery backup for such occasions. It even comes with an alarm that warns you of when the backup kicks in, so you are always informed of what goes on in your foundation.
If you’ve inherited your sump pump from a previous owner, then it’s possible that you have an old, poorly made sump pump. Sump pumps are complex machines with many moving parts. If one of them is damaged, cheap, or incapable of handling the moisture in a crawl space, then the sump pump will malfunction more frequently. If your sump pump is constantly failing you, then it might be time to consider getting a new one.
It’s important that you do not attempt to repair the sump pump yourself. As mentioned, sump pumps are complex machines. Unlike a toilet, a sump pump is an electrical device, so it’s not as easy to fix. A professional can provide you with top-of-the-line repair solutions, so contact your local experts if your sump pump is broken.
Call Foundation Recovery Systems for Crawl Space Drainage
If you need drainage solutions for your crawl space but don’t know where to start, then you can call your local experts at Foundation Recovery Systems. We operate in Kansas City, Springfield, Moberly, and St. Louis in Missouri as well as Des Moines, IA. Contact us today to schedule a free inspection and repair quote. We have multiple drainage solutions to offer as well as flexible financing options. A dry crawl space awaits, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us!