A crawl space often is a neglected section of a house, but it plays a big part in the everyday workings of a home. If you have high energy bills, you might want to check the conditions of your crawl space, since it contributes to how energy efficient your home is.
High Energy Bill Problem Signs
Before you ask yourself what you can do about your crawl space, you need to make sure it’s what’s causing the issue. Your house could be having energy efficiency issues due to small, simple problems. If this is the case, you shouldn’t worry too much because these problems are temporary and easy to fix. However, having high energy bills due to crawl space problems is something you should be wary of. Crawl space problems indicate that there’s something wrong with the way it’s acting as a foundation.
Having high energy bills isn’t enough to determine if it’s a crawl space issue, so let’s take a look at some of the reasons why your energy bills could be so high.
- Broken Home Appliances
There are many house appliances that continue working even when they are broken. When washing machines, dryers, HVAC systems, water heaters, and other high-energy consumption appliances are broken, they might use up more energy than they normally would. Even when plugged in, these appliances can use up a lot of energy.
- Attic Insulation
Your attic also affects the way air flows through your home. Hot and cold air can exit and enter your home through the attic, so that’s another spot in the house you need to watch out for. Depending on the kind of insulation your attic has and how old it is, there’s a chance it could be failing to control airflow.
It all has to do with the stack effect. The stack effect is defined as the movement of air in and out of buildings due to air buoyancy. Air buoyancy is a term used to define how air flows depending on its density. Hot and humid air is a lot lighter than cold, dry air, and due to heat exchange, hot air is always easing its way toward wherever it’s colder.
This means that, during the summer, hot air can easily enter your home. It can also easily leave it during the winter. And where is it coming and going from? It just might be from your crawl space.
One good way of checking the insulation in your attic is during the winter. Observe the roofs around your neighborhood and compare them to yours. If your neighbors’ roofs still have snow on them, no hot air is accumulating and escaping through the upper portions of the house. If yours doesn’t have snow, it’s because your attic is poorly insulated and all the heat is escaping through it, thus melting the snow.
- High Humidity
When hot and cold air is entering and escaping so easily, it makes it difficult for you to control the temperature in your own house. It can also let in water, or moisture in general, and drive up the humidity in your home.
When you use the AC on a lower temperature and the heater on a higher one, it makes the compressor work for a longer time, thus consuming more power. You might also have to run your HVAC for longer, which also consumes a lot of power.
Having a poorly insulated crawl space means it’s very easy to lose control over the temperature conditions in your home. This is not an issue you should neglect. You could save a lot of money every year by waterproofing your crawl space and making sure it’s properly insulated.
- Lifestyle Changes
Certain lifestyle changes can make it so your home consumes more energy than usual. New housemates, working from home, and buying new appliances can increase your monthly energy bill. Depending on how long they go on, certain kinds of renovation or remodeling might also cause a spike in your bills.
- Extreme Temperatures
Fargo, ND, and Rush City, MN, have a continental climate. Areas of the world that have this kind of climate experience extremely cold winters and unbearably hot summers, especially in a city like Fargo. This is because Fargo is far away from large bodies of water, which help cool things down when the temperature rises. Rush City is at least a bit closer to Lake Superior, though summer temperatures still run high.
With such extreme temperatures, homeowners of both cities use their HVAC systems extensively during the winter and during the summer. It’s natural for your energy bills to go up during this time. That said, when comparing your energy bills over the years, if the recent price spike is incredibly disproportionate, it could indicate other issues that have nothing to do with the season.
Is My Crawl Space Causing High Energy Bills?
Your crawl space is an area that needs to be unventilated and waterproof in order for you to have better thermal control over your own house. If you’ve checked your attic, your appliances, and you’ve made sure that there’s no new development around your home causing the sudden price spike, the state of your crawl space might be the answer. Let’s look at some problem signs that indicate your crawl space is causing high energy bills.
- Ventilated Crawl Space
If your crawl space is ventilated, it becomes very easy for air to enter and escape from your home. Having such little control over the kind of air that comes in and out of your home can and will affect how you use your HVAC. Because it’s harder to get your house to the desired temperature, you end up overusing your HVAC, causing a higher energy bill.
Due to the stack effect, whatever smelly, musty air that inhabits your crawl space will rise into your home. If your home is often bombarded by foul smells, it could be coming from your crawl space. This is especially true if the smells are frequent during the summer. June is the rainiest month in both North Dakota and Minnesota. Your crawl space is most likely to see the passage of hot, humid air during this time.
- Dirt Crawl Space
Dirt crawl spaces are the cause of some of the worst humidity problems in Rush City and Fargo homes. This is because the soil in these cities is high in clay content and retains moisture really well. Being exposed to constant moisture makes for a very humid crawl space. Humid air is a lot harder to cool down than dry air. If your crawl space is causing all that humidity in your home, it’s no wonder your HVAC is having trouble keeping temperatures stable.
You should check for mold growth in your crawl space, as it’s a sign that water or water vapor is able to get in. If any kind of moisture can get through, the air is able to get through and mess with the temperature in your home. Check the concrete and the wood for stains and spores. Spores are usually red in color and powdery. Even if the crawl space doesn’t seem very humid, there are some fungi that don’t need a lot of moisture in order to survive.
A good sign that the humidity is coming from the crawl space would be if it’s a persistent problem year-round. If you open your windows to air out the dampness yet your home is still humid, the problem lies in the consistently humid crawl space.
- Foundation Problems
Your crawl space is part of your foundation. It is the most important part of your home because it’s the part that supports the entire structure. If your foundation is having problems, it causes a slew of other problems that affect how energy efficient your home is.
Foundation issues can lead to crawl space flooding, which increases the humidity of the space, as well as damages the pipes and ductwork. It also causes cracks and breakage along the foundation, leading to insulation problems. A damaged foundation usually means settling, which damages your door and window frames. Having warped frames leaves space for air to come in and out of your house through the gaps.
When a house begins to settle, the floor begins to sag and bend. Having uneven floorboards makes it easier for the air in your crawl space to permeate through and warm up your home.
- Cold Floors
It can be very uncomfortable to be met with a cold floor as soon as you get out of bed in the morning. Cold floors are caused by the stack effect. When the hot air rises in your home, the cold air sinks to the bottom. Cold air also enters your home through your crawl space during the winter and, due to its density, blocks the warm air from dispersing itself below. This is why, in two-story homes, you’ll find the second floor is usually warmer than the first.
Unfortunately, this all means that all the cold air is cooling down your floor. With a properly insulated crawl space, there wouldn’t be a way for the warm air to enter your home and displace the cold air. The air in your home would be separate from the air in your crawl space, so you would have more control over the temperature of your house, eliminating your cold floor problem.
- Frozen HVAC Ductwork
When a crawl space is ventilated or has many small openings, water can easily get through. Your crawl space is where your home’s HVAC ductwork is, and during the winter, they can get compromised because of the freeze-thaw effect. The freeze-thaw occurs when a material is saturated with water that then freezes and displaces the material’s particles. When water freezes, it expands by about nine percent. This expansion creates micro-tears in the material.
The freeze-thaw effect has the ability to break apart your home’s ductwork and cause them to burst open. If the ductwork in your foundation is damaged, your HVAC system will not function correctly, leading to high energy bills. If the crawl space is insulated properly, the heat in the space would prevent the ductwork and pipes from freezing and becoming damaged.
What Can be Done About High Energy Bills?
So, what would the solution be for high energy bills due to crawl space problems? The crawl space would have to be repaired if there are any structural problems and then the space would have to be waterproofed. If it’s ventilated, it needs to be closed off so that the only way of entry would be any access doors you choose to keep.
There are multiple steps and solutions available to waterproof a crawl space. First, it would have to be encapsulated with a vapor barrier. This vapor barrier will block water vapor from entering the crawl space and humidifying the area. This is incredibly important since crawl spaces are surrounded by soil saturated with water.
Rush City’s soils are classified as Alfisols, which usually have a loamy topsoil. The topsoil isn’t the problem, however—the subsoil is. Alfisols are prone to leaching, which is when water drains from the topsoil and carries the nutrients down to the subsoil. Because of leaching, a lot of clay is brought down to the subsoil, making Alfisols expansive soils.
As for Fargo, the different kinds of soils in that area are also mostly clay. Miami black clay loam, Fargo clay, and Marshall clay are only some of the many soil types found around the city. The more clay content soil has, the better it’s able to retain water. While this can be good for the vegetation in the area, it’s terrible for your humid crawl space, which is partially underground. This is why vapor barriers are so necessary.
A dehumidifier should also be installed in the crawl space to make sure the humidity levels are always as low as possible. An interior drainage system collects any leaking water, and a sump pump removes this water and drains it far away from your home. And last but not least, insulation panels will trap the air in the crawl space and keep the area warm. Not only will your pipes and foundation avoid damage from the freeze-thaw effect, but your house will also be a lot more energy-efficient.
High Energy Bills
To help reduce your high electricity bills, there are many different types of insulation you can put around your crawl space. The kind of material you choose is very important because not all materials are suitable for all parts of the house. The most common materials used for insulation are fiberglass, foam, and cellulose. These materials are often used as insulation for homes, but whether they’re good for crawl spaces or not is a completely different story.
When considering a material to use as insulation for your crawl space, the things you should consider are how absorbent it is and its R-value. The R-value of an insulation material rates how well it’s able to keep heat from going in and out of a space. Northern states like Minnesota and North Dakota need insulation materials with high R-values because of the extreme continental climate.
- Problematic Insulation Material
Fiberglass is an absorbent insulation material made of extremely fine glass. It is commonly used in homes, but it would not work well in a crawl space. Fiberglass retains heat in a space by absorbing it, but it also absorbs and retains moisture. This moisture eventually ends up damaging the material and weakening it. Cellulose is made of paper fiber and is a lot better for thermal control, but it’s still absorbent and, like fiberglass, would not be a good fit for humid areas like crawl spaces.
Foam insulation is not absorbent and does not retain water. The problem with this kind of insulation for your crawl space comes with its R-value. Foam insulation usually has an R-value of 7 per inch. It’s more than fiberglass and cellulose, which have an R-value of 2.2-2.8 and 3.1-3.8 respectively, but it’s still not enough for what’s needed in Sioux Falls, SD, or Minneapolis, MN.
- Recommended Insulation Material
The best insulation material for a crawl space is a waterproof, reflective insulation material. As the name suggests, reflective material reflects heat off itself and keeps the air of an area still and warm. Materials like polystyrene are waterproof and have fantastic thermal properties. On its own, polystyrene has an R-value of 3.6 to slightly above 4 and it does not retain water.
Our ExTremeBloc™ Crawl Space Insulation has a polystyrene core with a reflective surface. It’s embedded with graphite particles that help the panels reflect heat, raising the R-value to 11. This superior kind of insulation material is exactly what you need to stop the stack effect from raising your energy bills.
A waterproofed crawl space will typically bring your energy bills down. If you’re accustomed to repairing things around your home, you might be wondering what you’ll need in order to fix it. Repairing and waterproofing a crawl space is a lot more complicated than you would expect, so it’s best to leave it to the experts.
- The Problem With DIY
There are many reasons you should not try to waterproof a crawl space on your own. If your crawl space has pest, mold, or structural problems, you could be putting yourself at risk by being in a contaminated space that is structurally unsound. You also run the risk of breaking something in your foundation and making the problem worse.
It takes special equipment and knowledge to understand how to properly waterproof a crawl space. Without the necessary tools and proper application, you could end up doing a poor job. Your energy efficiency problems will either persist or will come up again after some time, so you end up wasting your time and money by not calling a professional.
- How Professionals Can Help
Professionals have all the right tools and materials to do the job properly. After a one-time investment, they can make sure that you never have to worry about crawl space issues again. Professionals can also detect if there are any repairs that need to be done before you even think about waterproofing the crawl space. Certain foundation repair jobs can be extremely complicated, and it’s something only an expert can spot and fix.
Waterproofing a space is more than just applying a vapor barrier and insulation. It also involves installing an interior drainage system, a sump pump, and dehumidifier if you don’t already have one. Some crawl space repair companies have sump pumps and dehumidifiers that are of much higher quality than any of those you can buy commercially.
Frost walls are very common in places where winters are very cold. They are insulation panels that are placed deep beneath the ground along the periphery of the foundation, and they protect the foundation walls from the freeze-thaw effect. If you’re hoping to lower your high energy bills, you may consider this type of insulation.
- What Are Frost Walls For?
In extremely cold climates, any soil above the frost line will freeze and harm your foundation. Frost walls exist to protect your foundation from freezing. They are installed deep underground and are placed on both sides of the foundation walls. They serve as a barrier between the soil and the wall and act as insulation to keep the area warm.
Frost walls are usually installed below the frost line, which is where the soil tends to freeze. By protecting from frost damage, foundations avoid common problems associated with the freeze-thaw effect. This includes excessive soil displacement, wall damage, leaking, drainage problems, and settling.
- Are They Enough for Crawl Space Insulation?
Frost walls sound a lot like crawl space insulation, but they are not. Frost walls are specifically designed and installed to protect foundation walls, not the entire crawl space. They are mostly built underground, so the majority of your crawl space walls are still uninsulated.
They do provide some insulation to the crawl space, but never enough to impact the energy usage in your home. Besides, frost walls aren’t enough to deter moisture or air from getting into your crawl space. They only serve to protect your foundation walls for a specific purpose, so don’t believe that your crawl space is in the clear just because you have frost walls.
Call Innovative Basement Authority for Crawl Space Repairs
If you need to repair and waterproof your crawl space, call Innovative Basement Authority. Since 2005, Innovative Basement Authority has been helping the homeowners of Fargo, ND, Sioux Falls, SD, Minneapolis and Rush City, MN, and surrounding areas repair and waterproof their crawl spaces with innovative solutions and friendly service.
If your energy bills are too high and you suspect your crawl space is the cause, contact us for a free inspection and repair estimate. We’ll send one of our field experts to inspect your home, free of charge with an estimate given during the inspection. Lower energy bills await, so don’t hesitate to reach out.