How to Practice Crawlspace Safety
Tips from a Crawlspace Industry Expert
I have been in my fair share of crawlspaces, inspecting for insect and rodent infestations as well as crawlspace moisture issues, such as wood decay fungus, mold and wood rot. When it comes to crawlspace inspections, never will you find two that have identical problems. However, in my experience, all crawlspaces do have one thing in common: every crawlspace presents some type of safety concern that you must be aware of and be prepared for to protect yourself and your property from potential damage. This post will feature what I have found to be some of the most important safety issues to address.
First and foremost, being safe in crawlspaces begins before you actually enter the crawlspace itself. In my opinion, safety is a mindset. You must keep safety top of mind in order to be safe, and just being aware of what can or might happen is the edge you need to do the right things necessary to stay safe.
Lights, Camera, Crawlspace!
Next, you need to focus on entering the crawlspace itself. Most crawlspace inspections and actual crawlspace work are performed in poorly lit environments. Crawlspaces are normally dark in nature. Without proper lighting, it is near impossible and far less likely to see everything that needs to be seen, let alone complete the work acceptably. Flashlights or headlamps are the most commonly used lighting by inspectors, and if the lights used are high lumens, it can provide enough light for short-term use. However, technicians and homeowners working for an extended time inside the crawlspace need more than adequate lighting to feel comfortable in such a limited space. A flashlight provides insufficient amounts of light for extended periods of time, and occupies one hand when the task takes two. In my opinion, this is limiting and can create a safety hazard.
If your crawlspace does not have installed lighting, I urge you to ensure you have work lights available that can be connected with proper electrical drop cords (use proper gauged or rated electrical drop cords). There are two types of work lights I recommend:
- A minimum 500 WATTs, halogen work light or lights
- String lighting with multiple lights which can be strung throughout the crawlspace
Proper Crawlspace Protection
Before illuminating your crawlspace, you want to make sure you have all your Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The PPE includes:
- A pair of heavy (leather) work gloves to protect your hands from puncture wounds and possible contaminants
- A pair of knee pads
- A hard hat
- Safety glasses or goggles
- A dust mask or respirator
- A pair of coveralls or a protective outer garment (Tyvek) to protect you from sewage, or other waste products that could cause skin irritations or infections
- A suitable pair of boots or shoes
You might be asking “how can I move around inside a crawlspace, much less do a job, with all this safety equipment on?” Believe me, you can, and that ounce of protection is worth the risk and cost of what could happen if you don’t protect yourself. Good safety practices and PPE work hand in hand to keep you protected, and the results are a successful project.
Beginning Your Crawlspace Inspection
Once you have the proper PPE and adequate lighting, it is time to begin the inspection. If you observe any of the following hazardous conditions, I recommend you stop and consult a professional to assess the situation and correct any of these concerns. These conditions include, but are not limited, to the following:
- Exposed electrical wiring. Dangling electrical lines pose the hazard of possible electrocution. Again, the best advice and safety practice is to stop and call an electrician. Better safe than sorry!
- Exposed raw sewage, chemical spills, and wastewater (or standing water of any type). Bacteria and other pathogens thrive in sewage and wastewater that can cause serious complications for you or those working inside your crawlspace. Chemical spills not only affect the environment but are also dangerous to human health. Standing water can stagnate and fuel fungal growth and cause foul odors that can also affect your health. Be safe and have these issues corrected before working inside a crawlspace.
- Structural issues such as broken support beams or a leaning foundation wall or pier. Either of these are a serious situation, not only to you as you are inspecting or working in the crawlspace, but to the integrity of your home and need to be addressed immediately by a professional.
- Evidence of wildlife occupying your crawlspace. If you know of or observe living animals inside your crawlspace, do not attempt to remove them yourself. Immediately call a wildlife professional to eradicate them. I have experienced opossums, raccoons, rodents, snakes, feral dogs and cats, even a few goats and chickens inside crawlspaces. Any of these encounters pose a real safety threat, so be safe and halt work until these safety issues are rectified.
Let’s face it, a crawlspace can be a scary place if you are not aware and have not protected yourself properly. Usually, your crawlspace doesn’t offer much free space to move around in, and it contains man made obstacles that can prove challenging, like HVAC ducts, plumbing pipes, piers, hot-water heaters, well pumps and storage tanks, and even gardening tools and lawn equipment. Being aware and prepared are the best safety practices of all.
Crawlspace professionals are trained to observe and identify crawlspace safety hazards like the ones I have discussed here. If you’re interested in a DIY crawlspace encapsulation project, do your research. Speak with a professional like the team at Your Crawlspace (YCS). They have years of experience and have dealt with these types of safety hazards at one time or another.
The Your Crawlspace website has videos of how a typical crawlspace looks before it is cleaned out and prepared for a crawlspace moisture barrier installation. The sharp contrast of how your crawlspace looks once your moisture barrier is installed will amaze you! The good news is, now you will also be prepared to recognize safety hazards and perform safe work practices.
As always, I hope reading this blog has helped you, and I invite you to give us your feedback or contact me at www.drsllcpd.com with any questions you may have. Stay safe!
Don Richards, ACE, CPI