Skip to Main Content

Top 9 Causes of Foundation Damage

dirty crawl space with damage

Crawl space problems can happen to anyone. No matter how well you take care of your crawl space or what you do to try and avoid issues, many crawl space problems can nonetheless occur. Of course, it’s more likely that you’ll experience crawl space problems if you don’t know much about how your crawl space functions and what you can do to avoid these problems. Here’s what you need to know about the causes of crawl space problems.

1. Poor Construction

The construction of your foundation is an important element to consider when you’re thinking about crawl space concerns. How does a building company create a crawl space underneath your home?

There are many elements to the initial construction process. Here’s how a building crew constructs a crawl space:

  1. Dig a hole into the earth
  2. Pour the concrete footing
  3. Build the foundation walls
  4. Set the flooring system above the foundation walls
  5. Build the rest of the house

These are the basic steps of the crawl space construction process. However, because of that construction process, there are multiple entry points that outside air and moisture can come in through. This is an even bigger problem because of the stack effect, which this construction process directly facilitates.

stack effect illustration

2. Stack Effect

What is the stack effect? It’s a way to describe the process that causes air to flow throughout the home, rather than remaining stagnant. Essentially, the stack effect happens because warm air rises.

When you have an entry for air from the crawl space, air will do its best to come inside. If the air outside is colder than the air inside, it will slowly start to warm up, moving up throughout the home. If the air outside is warmer than the air inside, it will quickly move up throughout the home.

Either way, you’re going to end up with drafts of air that pick up airborne particles of dust, mold, and other things in your crawl space, then pull them throughout the home. Essentially, when you have crawl space vents or other openings for crawl space air, it’s almost assured that you’re going to end up with drafts moving up through your home.

pooled water in crawl space

3. Poor Drainage and Grading 

Your home has a complicated draining system that helps pull moisture away from the foundation. 

However, some home architects put less thought into the drainage system than they should. If water from your gutters and roof just collects around your foundation, it’s likely to create mud, which can allow your foundation to move pretty dramatically. 

Heavy rain outside of home

4. Moisture and Rain 

You probably love those spring showers that give your garden a little bit of an extra pick-me-up, but your foundation doesn’t necessarily appreciate it. Rain often collects around your foundation regardless of the drainage system you have for water that flows off your roof. From there, you can have the same foundation problems, with your home’s foundation essentially sliding around on the mud. 

5. Plumbing Leaks 

Many problems can occur with a plumbing leak, but you probably mostly think about the issues that can occur inside your home, not necessarily the ones that could occur outside your home. When you have a plumbing leak that slips into the rest of the home, you’ll often end up with your home settling because it creates a slick of mud around the foundation. 

6. Open Crawl Space Vents

For a long time, open crawl space vents were essentially the uncontested standard in home design. The idea, which made sense to a lot of people, was that venting the crawl space would be the most effective way to dry out the crawl space. However, now that we know more about how air and humidity work in the crawl space, we know that these vents actually increase crawl space moisture.

7. Dirt Crawl Spaces with No Vapor Barrier

A dirt crawl space is any crawl space that doesn’t have a vapor barrier separating it from the dirt underneath. These types of untreated crawl spaces are not only extremely dirty when you need to get into the crawl space, but also very bad at keeping out moisture. After all, you’re just going to end up with the moisture from the ground moving up into the air.

8. General Humidity

People in more humid areas and areas more prone to rain will have more problems with crawl space moisture. Mold, for example, typically requires a humidity of around 70% to grow; if the area in which you live tends to have humidity that high, you may end up with more problems in handling your crawl space and making sure it stays as healthy as possible.

9. Weather Events

Lastly, the weather can itself be a driving force in crawl space problems. Even though you don’t have anything to do with the weather, you’ll want to remain on the lookout for these weather incidents, which can impact your crawl space significantly.

  • Hurricanes

Many people, especially those on the East coast of the United States, dread hurricane season. Hurricane season is known for its extreme weather. Hurricanes can have extremely powerful winds and torrents of rain. Especially if you live in an area where flooding is common, hurricane season can flood your crawl space again and again, which is frustrating if you don’t know how to deal with it. 

  • Nor’easter

While hurricanes typically occur during the summer, Nor’easters typically occur during the winter. These storms can be just as powerful and just as deadly as hurricanes. As with hurricanes, Nor’easters can create serious crawl space problems, including flooding, extra moisture in the soil pressing up against your crawl space walls, and more.

  • Drought

You would think that if rain caused crawl space problems, drought would be better, but unfortunately, either side of the scale is bad for your crawl space. Whereas too much rain will expand the soil around your crawl space and foundation, too little rain will shrink it, negatively impacting structural integrity. It’s important to take weather into account when understanding your home’s crawl space.

FAQs About the Causes of Crawl Space Problems

Although you don’t need the type of knowledge an expert has, it is important to know a little bit about why you might experience crawl space problems. This can help you isolate those problems earlier, leading to more effective resolutions.

  • Knowing the Basics

You don’t need to know exactly why every single thing happens, but knowing more about the causes of crawl space problems will help you avoid those problems. For example, if you know poor drainage around your home causes crawl space issues, you’ll be more likely to invest in high-quality drainage options.

Reading through some of the information on the Groundworks website is a great way to learn about these basics. Because Groundworks experts deal with a wide variety of problems every day, you can find in-depth information about many common or obscure issues on the Groundworks website. It’s a great way to know more about your crawl space concerns.

  • Getting Help from an Expert 

Some things need an expert’s touch. Knowing the basics about your crawl space health will help you understand why you need to be on the lookout for a sagging floor, for example, but it won’t help you with discovering the underlying causes of that sagging floor. An expert’s help will do that.

There’s only so much an online website can tell you about your crawl space. For most things, you’re going to need in-depth personalized advice to learn more about what you need to do to maintain your crawl space health. Getting an expert inspection will be the best way to ensure that you’re getting the best for your crawl space.

Many people wonder why their crawl space came with things like crawl space vents and a dirt floor if those things aren’t healthy for the crawl space. What was the reasoning behind these unhealthy building decisions and why should you change them now? 

  • Saving Money with the Initial Building

For the most part, these unhealthy building decisions likely started because the original building crew wanted to save money. Things like dirt crawl spaces typically happen because it’s easier and cheaper for the building crew to manage a dirt crawl space than it would be for the crew to encapsulate the crawl space.

When the original building crew creates your dirt crawl space, they don’t have to deal with things like a crawl space vapor barrier or crawl space vent covers. Instead, they can just leave the floor as-is, often with only minimal tamping. That is much cheaper for the building crew at the time.

  • Saving Money Now

Unfortunately, now you’re on the hook for those unhealthy building decisions and you need to make sure you’re fixing them. When you fix these unhealthy building decisions, you’re going to save yourself money moving forward, typically in the form of lower energy bills and less upkeep.

It can indeed be frustrating to deal with unhealthy building decisions that happened a long time ago. If you’re buying an older home, the home might have had these unhealthy crawl space decisions underneath it for many years. However, if you’re willing to commit to fixing them, you can create a truly healthy space.

Knowing a little bit more about your crawl space can help you keep it safe and healthy. That’s why it’s so important to know as much as possible about your crawl space. Keep these tenets in mind if you want to maximize your crawl space’s health.

  • Your Crawl Space Is Important

The best thing you can remember about your crawl space is that it’s an integral part of your home. Too many people treat the crawl space as an afterthought, assuming that they don’t need to keep it healthy because they never go into it. That’s not true; the crawl space is an important part of your home and you should treat it that way.

One of the best ways to remember to maintain your crawl space is to think about how your crawl space is basically like a basement. It shares space with your home in almost the same way, after all. If you keep in mind the fact that your crawl space is a bit like a small basement, you’ll be well on your way to a healthier crawl space already.

  • An Expert Can Help with Many Crawl Space Problems

It’s also a good idea to remember how much an expert may be able to help you with your crawl space problems. Crawl space problems can be very upsetting to deal with, but you don’t have to do it alone. An expert will help you uncover these problems and then solve them.

Remember, you can’t figure out all the problems in your crawl space. You might be able to understand a few of the problems in your crawl space, including problems that impact the rest of the home, like high indoor humidity, but you probably won’t be able to figure them all out. Getting an expert’s help is always going to be a better option.

It’s tempting to try and fix some of your crawl space problems yourself, especially if you’re already well-known for trying to DIY things around the house. You might wonder if you have the skills to fix crawl space problems. Don’t fall into this trap. 

  • The Downfalls of DIY

You should never try to DIY a crawl space problem. Crawl space repair is a very tricky ordeal that typically requires a lot of knowledge in many different areas. Chances are, you don’t necessarily know how to do even a few of these things. You could just end up making a mess in your crawl space.

The best-case scenario here is that you’re able to offset the problems by a few weeks or months, after which you’ll have to fix the problem again anyway. The worst-case scenario is that you’re not able to offset the problems at all and you make it worse. It’s much safer to trust an expert from the very beginning.

  • The Benefits of an Expert’s Help

Instead of utilizing a DIY fix that actually could do more harm than good to the crawl space, be sure to talk to an expert as soon as you can. Fixing the problem early on is always better than fixing the problem later. An early fix is much more likely to be less invasive, less expensive, and less time-consuming for you and the expert you call in.

A Groundworks crawl space repair expert will get into your crawl space, assess what you need to do, and work with you to build a path forward. It’s the best way to ensure that you’re getting the solution you need for your home. Unique solutions are always better than cookie-cutter solutions and this is no different.

Fix Your Crawl Space Effectively with an Expert’s Help

This can definitely be a little overwhelming to look at. It can be difficult to look at your crawl space and know that there are so many potential reasons for failure. However, it’s possible to maintain a healthy crawl space if you know what you’re doing. That’s where local crawl space repair experts come in. These professionals have had years of training and are able to pinpoint exactly what is going on in your crawl space, as well as have the proper tools and solutions to be able to fix these problems for good.

Man on computer

National Reputation, Local Expertise. Find your local Groundworks company.

search your zip code for a branch
Michael Wilcher

Michael Wilcher

Michael Wilcher is the Content Lead at Groundworks, helping us to answer all of our customers biggest questions about foundation repair, basement waterproofing, crawl space encapsulation, and concrete lifting. In his free time, Michael enjoys collecting vinyl records, watching Formula 1 Racing, and reading philosophy. He holds an MPhil from the University of Cambridge.