What Is a Crawl Basement?

crawl basement

As a homeowner, you’ve likely wondered, “What is a crawl basement?” It’s easy to get confused about the different kinds of crawl, basement, and foundation areas.

What is a crawl basement? A crawl space is an area underneath your home’s first floor that has a very low height. It often gives access to pipes and wiring for the house. Crawl spaces often provide enough area for someone to “crawl” around. A crawl basement is when this same space gets used like a basement might be.

Now, a crawl space functions in a different way from typical basements. Basements usually allow for access by stairs from the house itself. They provide enough height to walk around in while standing upright. Many can even be “finished” to create another floor of true living space in a home. See Also: Unfinished basement ideas

On the other side of the spectrum, crawl spaces usually do not allow for such functionality. 

Some do have standing room height. That said, the vast majority of crawl spaces have only enough area to crawl around. You can store a few household items there, but that’s about it.

Keep things here that won’t get damaged by flooding. Crawl areas tend to be more susceptible to excess water.

A third type of foundational area exists, and it’s called a slab. This is the most typical foundation because it’s usually the least expensive option. A slab lies right on top of your plot of land, right beneath the structure of the house itself. In other words, there’s no open space at all between the house and the ground.

Of these three spaces, a “crawl basement” sits right in the middle. They offer a little extra area for storage and easy access to plumbing and electrical wiring. Also: no extra finished basement expenses.

Now, let’s dig in (pun intended) and discover what the differences are between these two spaces. Who exactly might stand to benefit the most from a crawl basement? We’ll also look at the pros and cons of having a crawl basement over a slab or traditional basement.

What Is a Slab?

Slabs function as the bedrock of the home. In fact, many houses these days have a slab as their foundation.

In practical terms, a slab is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a big slab of concrete that sits between your house and the ground itself.

Here are some slab quick facts:

  • Slabs are concrete foundations. As a rule, these get installed more often in warm-weather states. The dirt is less likely to get cold and freeze, which can result in a cracking of the foundation.
  • The potential for cracks is a major downside to slabs.
  • Concrete slabs usually cost less than other forms of foundation or basement.
  • Depending on the location and climate, slabs can be a safer option for some homeowners or renters. It’s always best to check with a contractor before making any decision like this, of course.
  • Your home’s air conditioning/heating units might need to get installed on the house’s ground floor. This can occupy otherwise valuable living space in your home.

In houses that use a slab, the primary space for the home is, well, inside the home itself. A slab doesn’t determine the size of the house in height or depth or width. They make for a very good option for many homeowners, builders, and renters.

What Is a Basement?

The answer to this question might seem obvious to some. But, there are some notable factors when it comes to basements over crawl spaces.

Here are some basement quick facts:

  • Basements are almost always the lowest room in a home.
  • Usually, basements exist underneath the ground.
  • Moisture and rainwater can find their way into basements. This is especially true if the home, apartment complex, or other building lies on the downside of a hill.
  • Possible downsides: the re-mortaring of bricks; laying silicone between openings and cracks.
  • Houses with basements often tilt their gutters away from doors and basement entries.

In general, a basement is a combination of concrete slab foundation and crawl space. You need concrete to sit underneath the floor of the basement (like a slab). And it provides room in which to move (like a crawl space).

Hilly landscaped areas often use basements in their construction. This is due to the natural up-and-down nature of the plots of land themselves.

What Is a Crawl Space or Crawl Basement?

A crawl basement has functionality between traditional basements, crawl spaces, and slabs.

Let’s understand how a crawl space works, as well as its cousin, the crawl basement. It’s important to get a solid sense of what a crawl space actually is and why they’re used in modern homebuilding.

With that in mind, we’ll go right into the nitty-gritty details: how crawl basements look and work.

Why Do Contractors Build Crawl Basement Spaces?

As the name implies, a crawl space isn’t very big. It’s not intended to do a whole lot, but when you need it, they can come in handy.

For this reason, homeowners often prefer to opt for a small crawl space over having a slab and no open space at all.

A crawl space lets you get to your plumbing pipes, electrical wiring, and HVAC ductwork. It’s much easier than if you had no open space underneath your home. This means that maintenance issues can get handled in a direct and efficient way.

Additionally, crawl spaces can offer more air circulation and ventilation for a home. This is especially helpful in warmer climates. That said, it can provide practical benefits almost anywhere in the world.

What Are the Drawbacks to Crawl Basements?

While they can offer many added benefits, crawl spaces also pose a few issues of their own.

There are some notable downsides to crawl spaces. Excess water or moisture, damage from termites, rotting wood and floor joists. Then there’s the biggest bugbear of them all: mold.

As you likely noticed, most of these drawbacks come right on back down to a single word: moisture.

Here’s How to Keep Moisture Out of Crawl Basements

If your house has a crawl space or a crawl basement, you’ll want to keep an eye out for excess moisture.

For one thing, your wiring, ductwork, and plumbing are most likely down there. Navigating a lot of water or moisture damage could pose a threat to the safety of you and your family.

Second, while moisture on its own isn’t much of a problem, excess condensation can cause issues. Rotting wood, mildew, and mold can make your crawl basement less than an ideal space to have under your home.

Keep excess moisture, condensation, and water out of your crawl space (yuck!) with a dehumidifier. This sucks out the humidity (aka, air moisture) from the air itself, leaving your crawl basement a dry place once again (not yuck!).

Some other ways to defend against excessive wetness and decrease moisture exist. Install your vapor barriers around the perimeter of the crawl area. You can also use sump pumps.

Sump pumps — a type of device that can get used even when submerged in water — can get installed in a pit. This is dug down deep within your home’s lowest point and is usually the crawl basement or crawl space.

In general, it waits until too much water collects — after something like a heavy rainstorm. When this occurs, the dirt and soil near your home can get saturated with moisture (in a word: waterlogged). This excess water flows down to the sump pit, filling it full of water.

Finally, the sump pump lives up to its name by pumping out the water from the sump pit and into a safe reservoir. Sump pumps not only keep your crawl basement or crawl space free of water. They can also save your home from flooding!

Crawl Basement Wrap Up

At the end of the day, a crawl basement functions a lot like a crawl space. Some people use their crawl basements for storage. That said, most consider it easy access to plumbing, electrical, and duct work.

Remember that crawl spaces and crawl basements are more or less the same thing. That said, a home with a “crawl basement” does not actually have a “basement” in the traditional sense.

If you’re on the hunt for a new home, make sure to look at the crawl area first before accepting anyone’s word for it.

If you opt to use something else, slabs and basements exist as your primary options. Both function very well in the right environment. Find the thing that works best for your needs and those of your family.

So, what is a crawl basement? It’s a crawl space that functions like a basement. It’s more space a slab (none) and less space than a traditional basement (usually quite a lot). For some, that’s the Goldilocks scenario they’re looking for.

If that’s you, let me know. I always love to hear from you and see all the awesome photos of your home (and the crawl basements, too!).

Blake Lockwood

I'm Blake Lockwood. I'm a self-proclaimed design snob and this is MY blog. I design fabulous interiors for a living so trust me, what I say is always what goes.

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