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Facebook: Terra Firma Property Inspections
Hey Travis, your blog looks great. Your piece on furnace filters is an extension on mine. Thanks. I just subscribed to your blog. Keep it up.
Hello Travis, thanks for the educational posts. I live in Central Florida and have just acquired a block home that was built in 1962. It has 1850 square feet of living space on the living floor and 1100 square feet of basement (approximate 6.5ft of headroom) with 5 windows and a walk-out sliding glass door (entire basement is not wholly below grade). There is also a crawl space of maybe 200 square feet with maybe 3-4ft of headroom that is close to being wholly below grade.
I have removed the 1100 square feet of basement wall material (wallboard akin to paneling and drywall) so now have bare block walls and the 200 square feet of crawl space is originally bare block walls. The 1100 square feet of basement ceiling has drywall with the hated popcorn look and the 200 square feet of crawl space has no ceiling material i.e. open subfloor. I removed a portion of the basement drywall on the ceiling to determine if there was insulation between floors and there was not with the exception of some roll/batt insulation around the bathroom area and its associated water pipes. The floor is carpeted. I am soon to remove the ceiling drywall and horrid popcorn look. Note also that my living floor flooring is original oak hardwood. Note also that the property sits on high ground and grades well (slopes downward so that water does not pool on sides or rear that could lead to water intrusion into the basement). Note also that I do not have any air-conditioning or heating ductwork feeding into the basement. Note also that the crawl space vents to outside via a screened opening of approximately 15 inches square in the upper crawl space wall and this venting also vents through a couple of holes (original construction) in concrete blocks in the common wall to the basement.
Crawl Space: I have heard that a plastic sheet should be laid over the crawl space floor (dirt) to act as a vapor barrier between the crawl space floor and the subfloor. Is this sensible?
Basement: As for the walls and/or ceiling with the hated popcorn look, what is the best approach? Should I add a vapor barrier and/or insulation and/or rigid board and/or drywall or a combination thereof between the floors and/or in the walls? NOTE: My preference through the humid and rainy season (3 more months) is to leave the basement with bare block walls and no material between floors in order to monitor the temperature and relative humidity of all areas of the basement for suitability, uniformity and acceptable levels of each. Is this acceptable and sensible? Is this latter approach also acceptable for a longer duration?
Thanks in advance.
Very good questions! Let’s start with the much misunderstood crawlspace. Yes, a thick plastic sheet should completely cover the floor of the crawlspace if it is a dirt floor (occasionally I run into poured concrete floors in crawlspaces of new built homes). This plastic sheet should be black and should go from wall to wall. I have seen some contractors use commercial grade spray adhesive to adhere it to the wall which was pretty cool. What wasn’t cool is that they left all they’re empty cans in the crawlspace but at least I got to see what they use! Any seam where the the plastic overlaps should be taped and they should overlap by a foot or two. It’s actually important for this plastic to be black, I’ve learned recently. It keeps anything fungal from growing under the sheet if light gets through. On to the -ations, ventilation and insulation. As for ventilation, it is my belief that any vents to the outside air should be blocked of permanently and there should be at least one HVAC vent open in the crawlspace. This will provide air movement and help keep the humidity level down. It also helps to keep the floor at a comfortable temperature above this area. I had my furnace replaced over a year ago and had the tech put in a couple vents to my basement space and it made a huge difference in the comfort level above. Before, with the temp set on 68 degrees, the floor would be 60 degrees. Not much fun! The last ventilation tip, don’t have an access panel that completely closes off the crawlspace. It should have airflow from “conditioned” air. This is air that hs been heated or cooled such as from the basement area. Now on to insulation. The standard is to insulate the exterior walls of the crawlspace since those walls are still subject to temp fluxuations. Personally I like the rigid foam board insulation in this situation because the pink fiberglass rolls seem to get soaked like a sponge with moisture. Yuk! The insulation should go from the ground level right up to the sill plate (what the floor joists rest on which lays on the top course of block on the wall). I’ve used this foam board before and put beads of an exterior use liquid nail on the back and smoothed it onto the wall, seemed to hold well. If your crawlspace is buttoned up like this, there really should be no need at all for insulation under the floor, this is just a waste of time and money. You normally only insulate a floor over a space that is unconditioned such as a garage. If it makes you feel more secure, insulate any water pipes. I would completely understand. I doubt you will get the prolonged cold spells which would cause them to freeze like in northern climates but sometimes there is no price on piece of mind and it certainly won’t hurt. Also won’t cost much.
That was the fun stuff, now on to your basement. I share your distaste for the popcorn cieling. My word of warning for removal would be that the age of your home could mean that it contains a small amount of asbestos. You could have it tested OR just go over it with 1/2″ drywall and close it all in. as for any dampness/moisture issues, the best place to start would be outside. Are the gutters clean so rainwater doesn’t overflow them anywhere? Do the downspouts come down and connect to extensions which move the water away from the foundation by at least 3′ or so? And finally, does the ground slope away from the house. We call this negative perimeter soil grade if the ground slopes towards the structure. What you have to remember is, 1000 square feet of surface area with 1″ of rain is 600 gallons of water!! I don’t care how many times I say that, it NEVER ceases to amaze me! Now, the basement itself. I would definitely give it a season to see what happens in your basement during times of hard rain. The other thing that I always recommend is a dehumidifier. They can be set to differ levels of humidity and you can hook up a hose so it drains right into a floor drain. If you rely on dumping the bucket, trust me, you will never remember. If everything seems to check out, go ahead and finish off your basement if that’s what you want. My buddy, who is a general contractor, and I consistently have discussions on the best way to finish off a basement. We have come to the conclusion that we do not like most methods of finishing off a basement wall. Concrete is porous and there is not much you can do about it. Water gets in whether you like it or not unless you water proof the walls on the outside during construction. Probably not done with your house. If it was up to us, the would obviously be treated wood studs, foam board insulation, no vapor barrier and some type of vent in the drywall every so often to circulate air. Code calls for a vapor barrier but if you do it yourself, no one would be the wiser (disclaimer: follow your local code and do not get me in trouble!). All that being said, I have seen some cool basements with just the block walls painted. Again, do not worry yourself whatsoever with insulation on the ceiling. It is a waste of time and money. You want to condition the air in your basement with vents especially if you are going to finish it for a functional area.
On the topic of flooring. I, personally, hate carpet in the basement. You really need to be sure that there is no moisture getting in and follow precise steps to make sure it is done well. I like tile with area rugs. That’s me though.
Now, back to my vacation in your neck o’ the woods somewhat in Key West, FL.
Hope this helps and let me know if you have any follow-ups,
That Home Inspector Guy
Hi Travis, thank you very much – especially on vacation! I will need to read and re-read your response and think about the important points that you stated. I will try to be brief and limit taking from your “down time”. A brief “yes” / “no” or short paragraph if required is much appreciated. Enjoy the vacation. Thanks in advance.
I forgot to mention that when I pulled the 1100 square foot area of wallboard and drywall there was very little in what could be construed as mold – that is a good thing. I also have a couple of window ac units if need to be used in some manner in the interim or short-term.
Here is what I would like to do until I have fully digested and thought out your response:
I will remove the hated popcorn textured ceiling (cannot cover over with new drywall since headroom is precious) and hated carpet so that after both are removed the entire 1100 square feet will essentially be block walls with view of joists and subfloor above and view of cement foundation below. This will allow me to evaluate the entire area for temperature, moisture, relative humidity, etc., with no obstruction. Do you foresee any reasons why it would not be prudent to tackle these tasks? Hopefully not!?! I am really itching to remove what I see above and what I see below! NOTE: Prior to my original post to your blog I had already removed about a 4ft x 8ft area of the popcorn textured drywall to evaluate area under the bathrooms for moisture, etc. I at least was using a standard dust mask (not compliant I know). Before the above tasks commence I will call a local asbestos testing company and determine process for testing/evaluating the popcorn texture (I am hoping and planning on the results to be no asbestos found and if it is found I may (or should I!?!) attempt to use respirator with proper clothing and wet the popcorn texture first and then bring down each sheet of attached drywall or must the removal be left to a costly professional?!?). I will also purchase a mold/asbestos/paint respirator to be used for all future projects as prudent and precautionary measure.
Ideally I would like to “finish” the basement in almost an industrial form i.e. block walls with view of joist/subfloor ceiling (or maybe re-drywall) and suitable flooring materials. Do you foresee any reasons why I cannot “finish” it this way? This of course assumes implementation where applicable of your stated points to be digested.
Sounds great and it seems like you are taking all the necessary precautions, from safety measures to monitoring what was behind the drywall on the wall when it was removed. I like the idea of the exposed ceiling because then you have access to all the plumbing and electric for the first floor just in case. When you mentioned wetting the popcorn ceiling down prior to removal you hit on the very thing I was going to follow up with.
Travis “That Home Inspector Guy”
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