How Long Can I Count On Fix-A-Flat To Last Crawlspace Vapor Barrier Mythbusters

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Crawlspace Vapor Barrier Mythbusters

Below are the 4 most common methods I have seen used when installing a vapor barrier. If you talk to different builders, you will usually come up with many different methods of installing a vapor barrier in a crawl space. Here are the most common:

1. Pea gravel over a plastic vapor barrier – This has to be the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen, yet it’s probably one of the most common. I’ve been told by builders that plastic on the ground KEPT groundwater and moisture from coming out of the ground. If there is no moisture or water in the soil, this may be possible; but if that were the case, there would be no need for the barrier in the first place. So here’s the basic idea – ground floor (bottom) – plastic (middle) – 4″ pea gravel fill (top). Once the crawl space is built, builders install 4 – 6 miles of plastic on the ground and dump about 4″ – 6″ of pea gravel over the plastic. What always ends up happening is that water comes in from the walls and the ground floor and ends up on top of the plastic. So what you end up with is a pool liner that holds water in the gravel for extended periods of time Almost all the water and moisture in the gravel backfill must evaporate into the structure Another example of construction practices and science turning a blind eye to crawl spaces for decades.

2. Vapor barrier on top of the ground floor – By far the most common practice for installing a vapor barrier. A 6 mm polyethylene vapor barrier is placed above each ground floor. Here’s the idea – parterre (below) – plastic (above). The ground floor can be river rock, pea gravel, soil floor, sand, etc. Seams usually overlap 6″ – 12″ and almost never stick. Although this will temporarily stop some moisture evaporation, it does not isolate the moisture from the interior perimeter wall where the greatest water intrusion occurs. Also, moisture can seep out of the seams and the plastic isn’t durable enough to crawl over. It almost always ends up with a lot of rips and holes in it.

3. Vapor barrier at the bottom of the floor joists – This is rare and usually only homeowners try to do it. This is probably the method that causes more wood rot than any other method. If you’re even going to do this, stop thinking and call a professional to fix your crawl space. Most crawl spaces are ventilated and cooler surfaces such as ducts, pipes and floors will condense in the summer. The plastic will trap condensation on the subfloor and mold and wood rot will occur. Good intentions do not always lead to good results.

4. Vapor Barrier Attached to Sill Plate – There is a new industry in crawl space renovation that encapsulates crawl spaces. The encapsulation process is to install a heavy plastic liner on the floor and up the walls of the foundation. The plastic wrap is attached and sealed to the base wall and all overlapped seams are taped. Any potential gap or seam in the cladding is meticulously sealed to prevent moisture from evaporating. The vents are then closed in the encapsulation system to prevent hot humid air from entering during the summer. There is another system that is sold and installed out there and is billed as an encapsulation system, but it is far from it.

This “other” system is 6mm plastic that is routed along the base walls and stapled to the sill plate. None of the overlapped seams are taped. This is basically a glorified vapor barrier on top of the ground floor that is run up the walls and stapled to the wood. They seal the vents without properly insulating the moisture from the ground floor or foundation walls. The problem with attaching plastic to the baseboard is that moisture will “soak” up the foundation wall and the moisture will absorb into the baseboard and floor joists. They give free access to all the moisture under the sheathing to rot the baseboards and floor joists. Not to mention all the moisture will evaporate through all the seams that aren’t taped and the plastic backing is only 6mil and will eventually puncture and tear. Be very careful when choosing a contractor to properly encapsulate your crawl space.

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