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Question DetailsAsked on 10/19/2011

We have a 111 year old home with an inaccessible crawlspace-we are concerned about possible moisture/mold/rot - looking for an expert.

Our home has a musty smell and we think a few of our floorboards on the ground level are soft. How do we know if we have mold and/or destructive rot? We are concerned about the cost of even just assessing such a problem. But also want to fix it right the first time and not just apply a band-aid as it seems previous owners may have done. We purchased a 50-pt dehumidifier and it's been going a week, in our living area. We haven't gotten the RH below 50% yet and we have to dump out the bucket every 12 hours. Again, our crawl space is inaccessible; the home has two vents on the north and south sides - they are permanently open and part of the brick. Who do we consult? An engineer? A basement/water expert (is that even a trade)? Thanks.

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1 Answer


Everything you describe points to a moisture problem.

There are experts in water proofing, drainage, etc. who can do the work to fix your moisture problem; but you need to identify the problem first (the saying; if you have a hammer everything looks like a nail--a professional sealer will suggest sealing, a professional floor guy will suggest reflooring, a drain guy will suggest new drains, you get the idea). Finding a facilities manager to investigate your home will allow you to find the solution without worrying that they are trying to sell you something. Many architectural firms offer this service. They also should be able to recommend professionals for your task, or you can find your people here on Angie's List.

Some things you may want to look at yourself:

Did you install a new HVAC system? (was there an existing system and was it off for awhile?) If a new system was installed, it requires an expert to balance the system for an older house: high humidity is common because the house was unconditioned for so long, the house found a balance with moisture. If a system was installed, the building will be 'out of balance' for awhile as the moisture is pulled from the plaster, framing, trim, floor, etc. Older houses often require humidifiers on the units to pull this extra water out while the unit is running, and it takes a few years before the house 'balances' again. Also because the air is pumped through the entire house or zones, it displaces moisture from one area to another, causing walls to sweat, floor boards to sag, etc where they didn't before.

The area where the floor is soft; does it relate to anything with water? Near a plumbing area, near a window or door, etc? What makes you suspect the crawl space has moisture? Can you see through the vents? Is there mold, standing water, discolored lumber (darker in areas?)?

The other concern with moist wood is termites and beetles, depending on where you live. Have you had a termite inspection?

For access to your crawl space, look for a closet or pantry area where you may be able to cut the floor boards. You can always screw these boards to cross pieces to make a panel that you can lift out for access, while keeping the original floorboards to hide the panel. Odds are good your crawlspace will be very shallow (7" to 8" deep), so if you can find an area towards the center of the house (under the stair?), it will probably be at its deepest.

Don't be surprised if you have to dig out a little of the crawlspace to make room for getting down in there and investigating. Be aware, the crawlspace dirt is 110 years old and should be extremely dry. This means it will be a fine powder that should not be inhaled; use masks. It also will get on everything, so keep some towels down, use coveralls or an extra layer of clothing to remove in or near the hatch and minimize movement through the house after going in the crawlspace.

I hope some of the ideas help you narrow down where the moisture is coming from. We enjoy working with older homes and I hope you enjoy yours as well.



Answered 8 years ago by Kenny Johnson

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