Creepy Crawl Space


Written by:
Wes Kelley, Certified Inspector
7 Oaks Home Inspection, LLC

Inspecting the crawl space under a home is always a little daunting. This unfinished area located underneath the home is usually cluttered and accessed only by crawling and scooting on your stomach over the dark damp earth with your face right in the dirty undersurface of the home. The average home owner or home buyer wince at the thought of checking this area out on their own. This fall a routine home inspection of a 75 plus year old home in Montgomery City made it’s way on the inspectors’ “get me out of here” list.

The owners (names changed), Bob and Cathy had lived in the home three years. They had a 2 year old little boy and a small breed puppy. They were selling due to a job relocation to Atlanta, Georgia. They had not had the home inspected when they bought it from Cathy’s Aunt because they felt confident they knew what they were buying. Cathy had been in and out of the home her entire life and she felt she knew every nook and cranny. This was a first home for Greg and Cindy. They had an 18 month old daughter and a son on the way.

So far the inspection was going good. It was a cool clear beautiful fall afternoon. Home inspections are not on a pass or fail system but rather a gathering of information to establish an understanding of the condition and function of the different systems in a home. We had found that some regular maintenance items had not been done which meant there would be a little catching up. Nothing big. No home is perfect. All homes have a story to tell. This story started in the crawl space.

The foundation of this home was on field stone about 20” from the dirt. The entrance was located behind a thorny rose bush. There was a loose board leaning over the two and half foot hole. Judging by the cob webs, dust and weeds it appeared this spot had not been touched for a while. Greg and Cindy told me good luck and to holler if I needed anything. They joked about tying a rope to my ankle so they could “pull me out” and that they’d kill any bears that ran out.

For the first five minutes I examined the north and west wall. I saw a few old balls, some lego toys, a puppy squeaky toy and various live bugs. Usual stuff. I had to shimmy-in over two thirds of the dirt floor to the back to examine the south wall. As I turned to see over my shoulder my light caught sight of a huge jumble of 12 AWG wire. My flashlight followed it over and up the wall. Seems that some years ago this house had the washer and dryer located on the south porch. Through remodeling the laundry area was eventually moved into the home but the wiring had not been removed. In fact -the wiring was within reach and at that moment I understood this could mean trouble for me. If this was a live wire (and indeed it was – it had an over sized 30 amp breaker), a wrong move could mean my life. Then I began to really think. The people living in this house had a toddler and puppy. I had already seen toddler and puppy toys laying in here. How easy it would have been for a tragedy to happen to that family. It made me shudder.

I carefully made my way out taking about twice longer than usual. After securing the wood panel door over the hole I went straight to the panel box, found the right breaker (which was incorrectly marked), and shut it off. The new wire to the washer and dryer had been run to the electric panel and hooked into a new circuit breaker. The old wire should have been removed entirely. The home owner may put a “Spare” label on the breaker, but as I found out in the crawl space, that doesn’t always stop people from tripping on that breaker.

Having found three of these bad boys this year my inspection routine includes extra caution. Live wires are hard to find when in the breaker is in the “on” position because the suspect breaker blends in with the others. You’ve got to be looking for duplicate breakers and other signs such as a breaker labeled “Hot Tub”, when there is none in or around the house. Also, you need to look in the attic, where I’ve found live wires as testaments to half finished projects, coiled and ready to strike!

A typical inspection shouldn’t make the inspector feel like he’s just been watching Alfred Hitchcock or going through the “Little House of Horrors.” But it is better if the inspector get scarred than a family member get injured. Inspectors are trained for surprises and have the knowledge it takes to keep safe while doing a thorough inspection. Most people get their home inspected before they move in with their children and pets -for security and peace of mind.This inspection was worth it’s weight in gold – and one for the books.

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