Can I Dig Out My Crawl Space Into a Basement?
If you’re thinking of digging your crawl space out into a basement, you may want to stop and think about this decision a little bit first. It’s a big choice, and it’s one that can come with a lot of problems. It’s extremely unfortunate the number of homeowners who have jumped into this project without really considering how it could have gone wrong, ending up with a basement they’re not happy with instead of the crawl space they once had.
Although it’s possible for you to dig your crawl space into a basement, it’s probably not the best choice. Whether you’re thinking about it right now or you just want to know more about the process, here’s everything you need to know about digging your crawl space into a basement.
The Process of Turning a Crawl Space into a Basement
Turning your crawl space into a basement isn’t at all easy. There are a number of steps, each of which comes with its own potential problems. Though it may be slightly different for each crawl space, these are the general steps.
1. Create a Scaffolding for Your Home
The first step is to create a scaffolding for your home. When you’re digging out your crawl space, you’re going to have to move the home from its current foundation to a new foundation that’s attached to the basement. That means creating a scaffolding that can hold the home’s weight up while the construction crew is building the new foundation.
There are a lot of things that can go wrong with this scaffolding. Part of the problem is that the construction crew has to build the scaffolding before digging everything out, which means they have to know where the weight is going to fall after moving the current foundation. That makes the scaffolding the most important and the most nerve-wracking element.
2. Dig Out the Current Crawl Space
This is the step most people think about when they talk about “digging out” the crawl space. In this step, the construction crew will go in and literally dig into the area underneath the home. Most basements are the same height as typical roofs, which means they’ll need to be around eight feet tall. An eight-foot basement requires digging out a crawl space at least a few feet, if not up to around six feet.
This process is more complicated than you might expect. To dig out the crawl space, a team needs to be able to get tools underneath the ground, then dig and hollow out the area with the home resting above them. They also have to haul the dirt out as they dig. That means prioritizing a lot of sensitivity with very strong tools, which isn’t always possible for a construction crew.
3. Complete the Basement, Including the Foundation
The next step is to pour the extension onto your foundation. Typically, that requires an additional four to six feet of concrete walls around your home. Not only do you have to pour those slabs properly, but you also have to make sure they flow into each other. It’s extremely difficult to make sure you get a strong connection between the old foundation and the new foundation, and that seam leaves you open to water troubles.
Another concern here is that concrete often takes a while to set properly. When a construction crew is building a brand-new house, this isn’t as much of a problem because they can leave the concrete to set for however long it needs to set. When you’re digging out your crawl space, however, time can feel like it’s of the essence due to the constant construction work. It may be tempting to move things forward before the concrete has dried.
4. Cover the Basement and Return the Home to the New Foundation
The last step is to finish the basement, then move the home onto its new foundation. That means removing the stilts and making sure the home’s weight sits properly on the new foundation. The construction team will also fill in the area around the home again, returning the external look back to how it was before construction started.
It’s important to remember that you won’t know whether the transfer was completely successful for a few months. Over those few months, the home will continue to settle and could end up with problems. You have to be on a constant lookout for potential foundation and basement problems during those few months so you can call the construction team if necessary.
Why Shouldn’t You Dig Out Your Crawl Space?
Although many homeowners want to dig out their crawl spaces, it’s actually probably not a great choice. There are a number of reasons this can backfire on you, including these important elements you need to consider.
The high price tag is a huge reason many homeowners don’t dig out their crawl spaces. Most people don’t have that kind of money lying around, especially for something that has a high possibility of not working out. Plus, it typically doesn’t add as much value to your home as what you spent on it.
There are huge elements of risk inherent throughout the process of digging out your crawl space. Putting your home on stilts while you dig out the crawl space is itself a gigantic risk because any of these elements could fail. From start to finish, you’re hoping none of these elements fail so you don’t have to add more time, money, and energy into the process.
- Length of the Process
Digging out your crawl space isn’t a weekend project. The digging itself can take many days; pouring the concrete and allowing it to set is a process that can sometimes take even longer. When you’ll likely have to stay out of the home until the process is complete, this is a huge problem and can even make digging out your crawl space completely untenable.
- Problems Moving Forward
The problems don’t stop when you’re done with the actual digging process. As you move back into your home and start using your basement, you’ll often discover some problems with the basement itself. It’s common for the basement to have waterproofing problems due to the clashes between the new foundation and the old foundation, and your foundation can still have cracks and problems as the home continues to settle.
Are There Other Options?
If you’re still aching for a new storage area or a higher home value, there are things you can do to make that possible without having to dig out your crawl space. Consider these other options that are much simpler to accomplish.
An above-ground add-on is great if you’re looking for more living space and you have a decently sized area for your home. Some homeowners even choose to convert areas like their patio to indoor areas, which can be a great way to expand your home without having to dig into the ground and open yourself up to a plethora of potential issues.
This type of add-on fixes almost all of the problems you may experience with digging out your crawl space. Although it may still be fairly expensive, it may actually be less expensive than digging out your crawl space. Plus, there are fewer problems you may experience throughout the construction process and beyond.
Crawl Space Encapsulation
If you’re largely thinking about your crawl space’s storage ability and health, you may want to consider crawl space encapsulation. Encapsulation offers a number of health benefits because it closes a dirt crawl space off from the dirt. When you do that, you’re going to end up with less humidity, less chance for problems like mold and mildew, and pests won’t be as interested in your space.
Encapsulation can also offer storage space in your home. When you have a strong 20-mil crawl space vapor barrier, you may be able to put items for storage down in the crawl space the same as you would a basement. It can be a great way to fix your crawl space’s health problems while also opening up opportunities for storage you may not have otherwise.
Other Elements of Home Repair
Some homeowners want to have a basement because they assume it’ll be easier to keep a basement healthy than it would to keep a crawl space healthy. You’ll often see this type of thinking with homeowners who currently have unhealthy basements and don’t really know how to stop the problem. Although it’s an understandable reaction to have, it’s the wrong one. You want to create a healthy crawl space, not create a new space in your home that may be more prone to unhealthy problems.
To this end, it’s important to invest in making your crawl space healthier. Encapsulation is definitely an important element of making your crawl space healthy, but it’s not the only thing you can do. You may need to install a dehumidifier in your crawl space, fix up your crawl space’s floor joists, or do other things that can maximize the health of your crawl space. A crawl space repair expert can help you understand what you’re missing in your crawl space.
Digging Out Your Crawl Space
For the most part, homeowners want to dig out their crawl space because they think it’s going to be better for them as a basement. The idea that a basement is somehow “more useful” than a crawl space is one that’s a leading reason for people choosing basements over crawl spaces. However, a crawl space can actually be just as useful as a basement overall.
- Storage Space: The storage space of crawl spaces and basements can be comparable in many situations. Although you can’t stack things as high in a crawl space as you can in a basement, you can still store a lot of things in your crawl space as long as you’re able to keep the crawl space clean with a vapor barrier. Some crawl spaces also have a surprising amount of clearance, so you can maximize your storage space in your crawl space.
- Cleanliness: A lot of homeowners think of crawl spaces as being inherently much less clean than basements. Although crawl spaces can certainly be dirty, especially if you have a dirt crawl space, they can also be extremely clean and well taken care of. You just need to make sure you have an encapsulated crawl space and are willing to manage the cleanliness levels of your crawl space.
- Pleasant Appearance: It’s common for homeowners to assume that they can only have a nice space if they have a basement instead of a crawl space. This typically arises from the fact that most crawl spaces don’t look very nice because homeowners don’t put a lot of effort into them. The truth is that crawl spaces can look just as pleasant as basements as long as you’re willing to put in the effort.
Digging out your crawl space definitely isn’t the right way to go, as it can have a variety of serious impacts on your home as a whole. It’s most certainly not possible on your own. There are many different reasons to avoid digging out your crawl space, whether you’re hoping to do it yourself or with an expert’s help, including these.
- Structural Instability: Structural instability is one of the biggest reasons you might want to avoid digging out your crawl space. When you dig out your crawl space into a basement, you’re going to have issues with structural stability no matter how well you craft the basement. Additionally, while the digging out process is happening, you’re going to end up struggling with structural concerns due to the lack of structural support. These might even cause foundation problems.
- Cost: It’s extremely expensive to dig out a crawl space. A basement can take weeks to dig out, requires significant amounts of structural change, and typically requires that you leave the house while it’s happening. Cost is one of those things that varies dramatically between different crawl space needs, especially because it has to do with your crawl space’s size, but it will likely take tens of thousands of dollars.
- Mess: Another huge problem with the process of digging out a crawl space is that you need to make sure you’re prepared for all the mess that can occur. Digging out a crawl space requires the removal of a huge amount of dirt, which means there’s inevitably going to be a tremendous amount of mess all around the home.
Most crawl space repair experts won’t dig out a home’s crawl space because it’s so difficult to manage. Digging out a home’s crawl space is extremely complicated and might not even provide you with the benefits that you were hoping for. Instead, a crawl space repair expert will probably recommend these options.
- Encapsulation: Crawl space encapsulation is by far the best way to maximize your crawl space usage options. Crawl spaces are prone to all sorts of problems, but if you have an encapsulated crawl space, you’re much less likely to end up with those problems. Encapsulation is an important element of maintaining the healthiness of your crawl space, so you should do it as early as you can.
- Generalized Home Repair: It’s also important to maintain your home’s structural integrity at all times. Home repair is one of the most important elements of a better crawl space experience because your crawl space typically provides direct access to certain elements of home repair including your floor joists and often your home’s plumbing. If you stay up to date on crawl space repair, you’re less likely to have issues with your crawl space.
Digging Out Your Crawl Space Isn’t the Best Option
For the most part, it’s not going to be a good idea to dig out your crawl space into a basement. The process of converting your crawl space into a basement takes a very long time, it’s very expensive, and it’s not going to add a lot to your home’s storage or living space opportunities. Your crawl space deserves more than a halfhearted attempt at change.
If you do want to make a change with your crawl space, start with encapsulating the space first. When you encapsulate your crawl space, you’re making it healthier overall. That’s a great way to avoid some of the problems you may be trying to help with a complete digging out of the crawl space. From there, you can talk to a Groundworks crawl space repair expert during a free inspection about what you can do with your crawl space in the long run.