Ahh, crawl spaces - those lovely subterranean areas that often consist of dirt, cobwebs and feelings of claustrophobia. Even though we may try to avoid them, improving an existing crawl space is actually an important step in greening your home. Retrofitting these areas not only addresses energy efficiency and moisture problems, but for those living in a small home, they can also be turned into valuable storage space!
Historically, crawl spaces were built instead of basements to save on foundation and excavation costs, with vents in the exterior walls to allow air to flow in and out. While these spaces were built in much the same way for decades, according to sites like GreenBuildingAdvisor.com, experts now believe that a non-vented and conditioned crawl space is the way to go. By treating it like a very short basement, you avoid the problems commonly associated with these areas (like mold, rot, rodents, etc.). Furthermore, un-insulated ductwork often runs through a crawl space, meaning your heating system has to work harder to keep the house above warm. For more information on how to properly seal and insulate your crawl space, check out these websites from the U.S. Department of Energy:
(Note: some building codes have yet to change, so check with your local building official to make sure non-vented crawl spaces are allowed in your area.)
And here's the icing on the cake - once a crawl space is sealed and conditioned, it can be a viable space for extra storage. In our small home with zero closets, this was a no-brainer way to green our house and gain 350 SF of storage space for things like ski gear, camping supplies and decorations! After we sealed against unwanted moisture and installed insulation, we added a thin concrete slab over the dirt for a durable and level surface. Interlocking rubber mats were then installed over the slab to protect our knees, since it truly is a "crawl" space! Finally, retrofitting a crawl is also a good compromise for those on a budget; you get storage space without the expensive foundation work of converting that space to a full-height basement.
(Images: Lauren Zerbey)