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Home » Troubleshooting/Inspections » How long am I responsible?

For problem floors and inspection-related issues.
2/18/2011 9:11:15 AM

Joshua Crossman
Joshua Crossman
Posts: 70
Not the first time I have seen this but somehow I get the blame for it. (Makes me want to quit new construction)

New house, crawlspace is vented and black plastic is laid out. Subfloor checks in at 8%. Heat is up and running (at the time) Prefinished flooring. Fast forward 6months to a year the floor is starting to cup. Crawl under the house looks the same. Pull back the plastic and bingo it's wet. So the plastic and the aquabar just caused a moisture issue to take longer to reveal itself.

A) How long after installation am I responsible for this?
B) What's the point in using aquabar or having the ground covered in black plastic if it doesn't work? (have seen this failed many times)
C) Is there better products out there that is affordable to seal the subfloor? cause I'm getting tired of this

--
Joshua Crossman
www.ptlhardwoodfloors.com
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2/18/2011 3:10:13 PM

craigdewitt
craigdewitt
Posts: 125
Joshua, where in the world are you? Or more specifically, where is this house? The intent of the plastic is to keep moisture under the plastic, not let it evaporate into the air. If its wet under the plastic, it means its really necessary and doing its job.

In warmer climates, venting crawl spaces doesn't work. Outside air is too humid, and just gets more humid in a cool crawl space. Tis often better to not vent them.

It isn't your responsibility to keep the crawl space dry, unless that is in your scope of work. Building codes have recently added language saying they can't be constructed in such a way as to cause problems from moisture. Sounds to me like the situation violates that language.

Be forceful in saying that you would be happy to fix the floors (for a price) after THEY fix their water problem.
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2/18/2011 4:09:16 PM

TDMAC
TDMAC
Posts: 1323
Craig,
Venting drawls spaces in 'warmer climates" is an Oxymoron. We have DRY 'warmer climates' and ALL raised foundations are very well vented with 100 sq. Inches around the perimeter per 100 sq ft in the home, per UCB Codes.. Plastic is an absolute no no under the crawl space over the dirt. In our climate of California. It has never been used and should never be used!
Plastic over the earth will draw any moisture up and under that plastic, especially with hardpan 3 ft down..
In the 60's I designed homes for a very progressive builder here in the San Joaquin Valley. He did close off the crawl space perimeter and then insulated the footings. He then laid 6 mil plastic and wrapped it up the walls over the insulation. He then ran his heating and airconditioning ducts 'wild" not connecting them to the vent holes in the rooms of the floor. The whole crawls space became a PLENUM, and the 1-1/8" subfloor was warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
The big down side was when a flood in the house invaded that Plenum. there was no way to evacuate the massive moisture under the crawl space with out months of running moisture dehumidifiers.
I designed an air movement system in the walls with vent pipes and fans to dry out a few situations.
Tom
It is very different here in our climate with low humidity summers of 90 to 110 degrees and moderate winters with higher humidities and non freezing temps.
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2/18/2011 8:13:27 PM

craigdewitt
craigdewitt
Posts: 125
OK Tom, maybe I should have said venting doesn't work in warm, humid climates. Dew points below about 60 degrees shouldn't cause problems. I am puzzled by your statement of no plastic because it draws the moisture up. If moisture is condensing under the plastic, it is there regardless of the plastic. Without plastic, it just evaporates into the air. Might be expansive soils or something like that is affected by the moisture rather than a concern with it getting into a crawl space.

Plenum systems can work great, as can unvented crawl spaces. But we do need to be concerned with floods and broken pipes, etc. Most closed crawl spaces contain some kind of alarm.

I had a call earlier this week from a wood person in Calif. about a wet crawl space. He had read a paper I wrote a few years ago about crawl spaces. But CA is a big state with a varied climate. What may help him may not in your area.
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2/19/2011 11:35:51 PM

johannes
johannes
Posts: 410
Joshua,

Difficult question how long you are responsible.

Obvious the plastic groundcover is doing it's work. Moisture can also still get in the crawlspace thru the vent openings (you are in the Humidity capital of the US (rainforest climate). Moisture will also wick up in concrete/block/brick walls and can still evaporate into the crawlspace if the walls are not covered with plastic also. I have seen arrticles where this was recommended to do but find it hard/almost impractical to do this succesfully/completely. Is the house located in a low laying/wet area?

To me the only way is to have a moisture barier installed below the joist to keep moisture from getting in the subfloor in such a wet climate! I have seen often insulation with some sort of moisture barrier in your area inbetween/under the joist, that should definately control this somewhat.

Moisture will move from a warm area to a cool area, if airconditioning is used indoors during the summer the floor often gets cooler than the outside air and condensation will occur under the subfloor when there is no moisture barrier under the joist. With a well installed insulation/moisture barrier this problem should be significantly reduced.

Did this floor have an insulation/moisture barrier installed inbetween/under the joist?

Aquabar is a moisture retarder (which it is suposed to be), not a 100 % barrier. So. moisture can get in the flooring from below when the subfloor absorbs moisture from below.

If any gaps developed between the boards the face may have shrunk and caused the cupping. I have seen engineerd flooring do this also (was it engineered and what was the width of the boards?)

The only thing to recommend now is to wait and monitor what the floor will do in and after the winter. Did you check the moisture content of the subfloor in the crawlspace when you looked in the crawlspace?

Johannes.
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2/20/2011 8:03:06 PM

geniasmith
geniasmith
Posts: 231
How long am I responsible? Mayyybbbbeeee, forever? OR until the house changes hands, hard to figure anymore, lolol
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2/20/2011 8:51:34 PM

Stephen Perrera
Stephen Perrera
Posts: 1005
Tain't never seen no plastic covered crawl spaces in my area. Even in homes 100 years old. Hardwood fastened to the joists, no subfloor, no problems.
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2/20/2011 8:58:55 PM

Stephen Perrera
Stephen Perrera
Posts: 1005
Joshua Crossman wrote:
Not the first time I have seen this but somehow I get the blame for it. (Makes me want to quit new construction)

Fast forward 6months to a year the floor is starting to cup.


Make up yer mind sonny, is it a year or six months? Time frame...winter wood dries and shrinks, maybe dry cupping with heat on. Maybe some residual moisture still under the wood. Get yer facts in order Length of time heat was on prior to installation. Time it takes excessive new construction moisture to evacuate the premises.

Take a class, become an expert....post on forums as expert. Common sense, invaluable.
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2/20/2011 9:10:30 PM

Dan Schultz
Dan Schultz
Posts: 69
grooving wrote:
Tain't never seen no plastic covered crawl spaces in my area. Even in homes 100 years old. Hardwood fastened to the joists, no subfloor, no problems.


Why would you look if there was not an issue? I don't expect to see where I don't look. Not saying you didn't.
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2/20/2011 9:52:53 PM

Stephen Perrera
Stephen Perrera
Posts: 1005
Dan Schultz wrote:
grooving wrote:
Tain't never seen no plastic covered crawl spaces in my area. Even in homes 100 years old. Hardwood fastened to the joists, no subfloor, no problems.


Why would you look if there was not an issue? I don't expect to see where I don't look. Not saying you didn't.



Problem or no problem we always check under the house. Ya know, could be potential structurial problems justa waiting down there. And if I dint I might have someone like you coming out asking why I dint. ho ho Beware of the boogie monsters. lol

Have you checked under your bed recently Danny Boy?
edited by grooving on 2/20/2011
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2/20/2011 11:43:16 PM

Joshua Crossman
Joshua Crossman
Posts: 70
Some more info for ya:
Located West. WA

I was subbed through a floor covering store and they have been dealing with the issue so far. I have yet to see it myself. The store rep had checked it out and been under the house and pulled 16% from floor joists and noticed under plastic was wet.
Installed Sept 2009. Customer noticed floor cupped in Oct. 2010. Inspector says it was installer error. Funny thing is that builder claimed he didn't see me do any moisture check, which is true because he wasn't there.


I have yet to see a perfectly covered crawlspace. Even seen some with water sitting on top of the plastic (how does that work if the plastic is supposed to be a barrier). I would like to see the reports that backs the plastic requirements and would like to know where is plastics point of failure because I haven't seen it work.
Craig you have a crawlspace report? How can I read that?

Grooving-I've been to a few classes, fan of NWFA, but remember guidelines are just that, meant to cover most situations but not all. I've installed successfully in situations that NWFA says to run from. Like installing prefinished wide plank hickory over 18+% moisture in subfloor with water needing pumped out few months of the year.
There's the perfect world-where every crawlspace would be encapsulated (that was a doozy that had 2 inches of water sitting in crawlspace prior) and there's the real world where you try to please everybody and sometimes get hosed in the process. I've paid my share of fixes both due to my lack of due diligence as well as not really my fault but that's life.

Johannes--Call me next time you're in town and let's get some lunch. New construction has insulation between joists but not moisture barrier. And this is a prefinished solid 3/4".

--
Joshua Crossman
www.ptlhardwoodfloors.com
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2/21/2011 5:35:58 AM

craigdewitt
craigdewitt
Posts: 125
Joshua, I wouldn't consider your climate warm, humid, but rather cool, humid. According to weather underground data for KGFR, WA, summer 2010 EMC is about 11%. If the joists were 16% MC, there's another source of moisture in that crawl space, or the crawl space is pretty cold. You need RH above 80% or so to get 16% MC wood. That puts the crawl space colder than 60F in the summer in your area, or other water.

As for seeing water under plastic, on a rainy day you would see water on top of your roof shingles. But the attic would be dry. The intent of the shingles and plastic is to keep water out, whether that water be above or below your house. We specify a vapor barrier material (plastic) on the soil to keep water out. Its not there to hold the soil down or keep stuff from growing or make it clean to crawl in. We've got data showing as much as 18 gallons of water a day evaporating from the soil under a 1,000 sq ft house. Its easier to cover it and keep it in the soil than it is to vent it or even dehumidify it. In some places, it is necessary, in some its not. But if you've got wet crawl space wood, I'd start there. I've seen plastic do amazing things.

One of my crawl space papers is at www.rlcengineering.com/csfallacies.htm
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2/21/2011 11:05:25 PM

johannes
johannes
Posts: 410
Joshua,

I just looked at the history for Tacoma and it showed that 2010 September and October was often rainy and foggy. All that humidity will get in the crawlspace in addition to the moisture that rises from the ground. When the house is in a low laying /wet area it will get worse quickly.

When there is no barrier below the joist nothing will keep moisture from getting in the subfloor. I myself (using my logic) would rather install sheets of solid insulation which would function as a thermal break (to prevent moisture condensation below the subfloor) and as a moisture barrier. You would have far less chance for moisture to get in the subfloor/flooring from below that way.

If there would be no insulation or a barrier below, the only other working solution could be to spray on a low perm coating on the subfloor/joist to reduce the moisture absorbtion in the joist/subfloor (I expect that many would pull up their nose for that suggestion also, although, this method gets commonly used on exterior wood siding applications and is known as backpriming and serves the same purpose I'm suggesting here in reducing excessive moisture absorption thru the back therefore reducing potential of warping). Insulation serves a better purpose, a thermal break.

I think it would be worth to study the local building codes what is recommended in new construction in your area (retro-fitting old homes can still be an option). If there is simply no specific recommendation in that regard than that would not allow you any argumentation (or support your argument) as to the cause/result of the moisture intrusion from below.

The fact is that when moisture gets in the crawlspace and there is nothing to prevent it from absorbing in the joist/subfloor than it will get in the hardwood flooring causing problems like we see in this case.

The best crawlspace I have ever seen was in a loghome in Troy, MI. It had a thick concrete floor poured without natural crawlspace ventilation but was tied into the HVAC system (heating and AC) controlling humidity in the crawlspace also. A simple continuesly running dehumidifier was used for backup when AC/heating was not utilized. I have checked the RH in the crawl several times during the end of the construction (1 1/2 year building process) and measured always the same reading as in the living quarters.
In MI homes have typically basements which can have their own moisture problems, I often have to remind people to utilize at least a dehumidifier in their basement in the summer, often basements also do not get handled by AC because homeowners keep the heating/cooling ducts closed when the space is not being lived in. I have seen buckled floors because of this.

Johannes.
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2/23/2011 6:53:48 AM

craigdewitt
craigdewitt
Posts: 125
Industry installation requirements are that the soil in a crawl space be covered with plastic. I don't necessarily agree with all the requirements, but if there is a crawl space moisture issue, plastic is a very easy, inexpensive step. Ventilation may or may not help, depending on your climate. There are other options, such as sealing the underside of the subfloor, but most are more expensive and have their own set of negatives.

One test for concrete slab dryness is to lay a piece of plastic on the slab and see if you get water forming between the plastic and slab. Its a great, simple test. So why does water under plastic on a slab indicate a problem, but water under plastic on soil not indicate a similar problem?

Going one step further, how do we solve the problem of a wet slab: we seal it with a vapor barrier. Why can' we do the same for wet soil?
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2/23/2011 7:42:54 AM

Stephen Perrera
Stephen Perrera
Posts: 1005
craigdewitt wrote:


One test for concrete slab dryness is to lay a piece of plastic on the slab and see if you get water forming between the plastic and slab. Its a great, simple test. So why does water under plastic on a slab indicate a problem, but water under plastic on soil not indicate a similar problem?

Going one step further, how do we solve the problem of a wet slab: we seal it with a vapor barrier. Why can' we do the same for wet soil?


The matt test is a horribly innacurate test. That would be like licking the concrete to test the ph of it. lol And any manufacturer that suggests it is only hoping they get a free out card. I don't believe you even said that.
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2/23/2011 8:01:26 AM

Joshua Crossman
Joshua Crossman
Posts: 70
So why doesn't the inspector say "you have a wet crawlspace there's your problem."

I go on some of these estimates to either refinish or add on and the current floor is cupped. Now I'm not an official inspector but just about 100% of the time I'm right when I explain to them that they have a wet crawl space and we go look and find moisture.

How come its not required to seal the crawlspace? Obviously the moisture just travels around the plastic to a weak point and up it goes. It's just sitting on the ground, seams aren't taped, loose laid up to the foundation wall.

--
Joshua Crossman
www.ptlhardwoodfloors.com
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2/23/2011 1:29:42 PM

TDMAC
TDMAC
Posts: 1323
Craig,
This discussion is very revealing to me. The different climates of California are so varied, so I sure do not know how that affects all the crawlspace under homes on our coast.
BUT I do know on the central coast of California,at my brothers home and cabin we built in the 50's we used no plastic under the crawlspace. The climate there is so varied compared to our Valley climate yet there has been NO effect of moisture under that areas or to the subflooring for 60 years.
Proper ventelation is a huge factor and unless some moisture is introduced under the crawlspace, It remains dry. It is of course imperative that DK -construction paper is used between the subflooring and solid hardwoodflooring.
All the homes I have seen have that paper membrane& it prevents moisture to the flooring.
Our hardpan out here is notorious and it will hold vater from perculating into the earth, yet under our homes the crawlspaces have never had plastic used.
Absolute and proper ventilation is required and necessary even on the coastal areas in California..
I am not knlowlegable about climates back east with extreme humidity in the summer. We have the opposite climate here.

Bottom line on this discussion is that if there is no moisture under the home when it was built and no introduction of constatnt moisture under that structure, then why the need for plastic on the earth underneath?
Where is all the water/moisture in the earth coming from under an enclosed covered structure?? Protection from invasive water runoff under crawlspaces is of course imperative and common sense!!

Now he
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2/23/2011 4:12:35 PM

Ralph Brookens
Ralph Brookens
Posts: 15
Of course the reoccurring issue with new construction crawl spaces is the fill settling and water running into the crawl rather than away from it. A changed condition and not the installers fault. There is no one answer but here in central Illinois we are beginning to see upper end homes with climate controlled crawls including humidity control.

--
Ralph Brookens
Brookens Wood Floors Inc.
2621 Dickens Drive
Springfield, IL 62711
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2/24/2011 9:00:01 AM

Daniel
Daniel
Posts: 8
I do have to agree with Craig. If you look at NWFA technical publication A 100 page 8 , you will find potential sources of moisture including Crawl Space.For you Joshua, If you have a project on a Crawl space, you have to be familiar with the outcome and what can happen a few months later. Be upfront with the customer and explaing that cupping will occur.If you get water on that 6 mil plastic, you have a drainage problem, grading or craks in the foundation. Part of my house is on Crawl spece and what I did is, covering with 6 mil black plastic and #15 lb felt paper.It worked for me.
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2/24/2011 9:07:38 AM

Daniel
Daniel
Posts: 8
Joshua Crossman wrote:
So why doesn't the inspector say "you have a wet crawlspace there's your problem."

I go on some of these estimates to either refinish or add on and the current floor is cupped. Now I'm not an official inspector but just about 100% of the time I'm right when I explain to them that they have a wet crawl space and we go look and find moisture.

How come its not required to seal the crawlspace? Obviously the moisture just travels around the plastic to a weak point and up it goes. It's just sitting on the ground, seams aren't taped, loose laid up to the foundation wall.


Joshua, with all due respect I believe you hired the wrong inspector. Call NWFA if you do not know one.
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