Crazy Crawl Space Story – By Diane Milner

diane milner's living roomA year and a half ago, one of my brothers was helping to renovate my house and cut a hole in my floor to gain access to my dirt crawl space. He came back with horror stories of standing water in one corner of the crawl space and mold everywhere, and wanted to show me digital photos. I knew if I looked at them I would be even more stressed, so I refused, and began a search for a solution that was to last a year and a half.

After many hours of research it became obvious that I had to remove as much of the water as possible and shield the house from the wet soil. But how?

The solution to the standing water was obvious. A year later, in November 2005, my brothers returned to install a sump pump. There apparently was an old cistern in the corner of the house where the water was accumulated, nicknamed “The Pit”, and it was a natural place for it. I had also found numerous recommendations to lay heavy plastic on 90% of the ground (so as not to dry it out too fast, which would make the wood warp), and they did that as well. They also installed a powered ventilation fan that automatically turned off if it got too cold or if the air outside was too humid. Finally, they sprayed for mold with an EPA-approved spray. I thought with all this my problem was solved. The last thing to go in was a remote humidistat, to measure how effective it all was. I went to bed that night to waves of relief, thinking my problem was solved.

However, in spite of all that, the humidity hovered between 87 and 92 percent! The sump pump ran frequently every time it rained, which was often. It turns out I have what’s called a “wet spring” under my house, which releases a lot of water every time it rains. The day after a heavy rain I was pumping – literally – a thousand gallons of water. For about six hours the day after a heavy rain it would come in at the rate of 60 gallons an hour, then it would slowly decrease. I’m not exaggerating.

In addition, after several weeks I finally figured out that the sump pump was below the water table. Every single day it would pump water, no matter how long it had been since it last rained.

That winter was a constant nightmare. I needed to run the sump pump every day to keep the pool of water small to keep the humidity down, but of course it was usually freezing. With the volume of water I was getting there was no way I could pump it into my already saturated yard, so we pumped into the street. Of course if I pumped when it was below freezing it would create an ice slick. Fortunately my brothers had put the sump pump on a switch, so every day that entire winter I would check conditions around 10 in the morning. If it was above freezing, or just below freezing and sunny, I would turn on the pump. Every time I did I was reminded of the humidity, and the mold, and the fact that in spite of all the aggravation my problem still wasn’t solved. The stress caused high blood pressure; I couldn’t sleep well; and my health — which was already compromised by the years of exposure to the mold from the crawlspace — just took a nosedive.

Once again I turned to the Internet, but this time to find a professional. I’m a single mom and simply didn’t have the money to pay someone else to fix the problem but I had no choice. I knew my house was rotting from the bottom up, and I couldn’t sell it with that big a problem, so I had no choice but to get it fixed.

At the same time I decided to quit pumping out the water. It wasn’t solving anything, so I didn’t see any point in the daily aggravation, not to mention the expense.

A friend had a problem with water and she recommended someone. I found someone else through a coupon mailer that touted a product called “supercrete.” I set up appointments with both.

The first contractor recommended spreading a vapor-proof plastic on the ground and then attaching it to the foundation then sealing it with tape. Since some areas of my crawlspace have almost no clearance, they said they’d “do the best they could” to get it all sealed, and that I’d have to run a dehumidifier forever to keep the humidity levels low enough to keep the mold at bay. They said I would have to get “The Pit” filled with gravel and I would also have to find someone to do a street cut to tie into a city water-system storm drain.

The second contractor had a better approach — they sprayed concrete to cover the ground, which obviously is much more durable, but the salesman reminded me of a snake oil salesman. He gave me a price and then said “but if you let us do it on short notice we’ll do it for much less.” It was such an obvious ploy, I was concerned. He also didn’t have a clue what to do with “The Pit.” He basically said “we’ll come dump a bunch of concrete under your house, and it should help.” He also said I’d need a dehumidifier forever.

I turned to the Internet again and after many hours found Neutocrete. I set up my third appointment. It was such a difference from the others. The most important was that they offered a full solution. In addition to applying the Neutocrete, they offered to set up drainage ditches running to “The Pit.” They said they’d spray for mold. They said they would raise up the sump pump so it wouldn’t go off so often. They said they would fill The Pit with gravel, and would do the street cut as well. The attitude that came through loud and clear was “we’ll take care of everything.” And they did. I signed the contract then and there, without hesitation.

I’m thrilled that I did. They promised a lot, and they delivered. My crawl space, which once was loaded with mold on the “ceiling” — which was basically the underside of my living room and kitchen floors — and smelly wet dirt on the “floor” is now so nice my son actually took his skateboard down there to play with his friends. Because of the combination of the street cut, which had the side benefit of allowing most of the water coming down the hill to flow elsewhere, and raising the sump pump, the sump pump is only coming on a couple of times the day after a heavy rain instead of every 8-10 minutes. It’s finally cured enough they said I could put a small dehumidifier in there to help dry out the wood, so the humidity is dropping steadily as well. They say that once it dries out it should stay dry, because they also sealed all the cracks in the foundation with the Neutocrete.

The crews who showed up were just wonderful people. They were nice, considerate, and hard working. I’m an avid gardener and several precious plants were in their way. I asked them to please be careful not to damage any of them and to my amazement not one plant got hurt — perhaps not important to most people, but certainly a good indicator of their general attitude.

The last thing I want to say is how impressed I was with the attitude of every Neutocrete employee. The snake oil salesman told me he “loved helping people with their water problems,” which I could tell was just a sales line. The Neutocrete people genuinely cared, and were happy when I was thrilled with what they did for me. Tony Buonaiuto, the owner of the company, made it clear that if I was unhappy with anything he would make sure it was taken care of and he meant it. My problem was so extreme I must admit I was a horrible pain, and they answered every one of my numerous requests with a smile. I am grateful I found them, and I give them my highest recommendation.

— Diane Milner

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