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Crawl Space Insulation vs Encapsulation – The Pros & Cons

insulate your crawl space

Predicting the weather in South Carolina is not a job for the weak of heart. More often than not, a day full of sun will be punctuated by an afternoon of rain, or vice versa. As a result, your leaky crawl space may end up over-exposed to precipitation that causes it damage in the long term. What does that mean for you if you’re trying to store your belongings in an out-of-the-way spot?

In short: if you don’t waterproof your crawl space, you’re going to be dealing with the effects of flooding for a long, long while. Not only will your stored belongings suffer from water damage, but long-term exposure to water may damage the foundation of your home.

There are a few different ways you can waterproof your crawl space. The best way is to have a perimeter drainage system and sump pump installed to catch any seeping water and pump it out of the crawl space and away from your home. 

But what are other ways you can help keep water and moisture out of the crawl space? In general, the choice comes down to insulation versus encapsulation. Both processes will protect your belongings and home from South Carolina’s ever-changing weather. There are, however, distinct differences in the way these two processes do so.

Let’s break down the insulation versus encapsulation argument so you can choose the best solution for your home.

Insulation: An Introduction

Insulating your crawl spaces allows you to do more than just control the flow of water into the space. The benefits of insulation include: 

  • Improved temperature control
  • Less expensive heating, cooling and electrical bills
  • Improved family health (damaged insulation can release allergens) 

If you’re noticing signs of water damage or leaks in your crawl space, insulation will help keep your belongings safe and dry. Whether you take on that challenge yourself or work with a contractor, insulating your crawl space typically requires the following:

  1. Identifying leak sources – Before getting started, you’ll need to determine how water is making its way into your crawl space. Once you find the spot, you’ll be able to patch it, or help a contractor patch it, should you choose to seek out help. You cannot move forward with the insulating process until you’ve patched your leaks.
  2. Removing previous insulation – It’s likely that the insulation you or another homeowner previously installed in your crawl space was damaged by long-term exposure to dampness and water. Once you’ve patched the leaks in your crawl space, you’ll need to remove this old insulation.
  3. Re-insulating the space – With the old insulation removed, you can start replacing it with new, hypo-allergenic and water-resistant insulation. Talk to your contractor about the different kinds of insulation you have available to you.
  4. Protecting your pipes – As you’re installing your new insulation, be sure to pack it carefully around any exposed pipes you have running through your crawl space. Doing so will keep the pipes warm during the colder months of the year and prevent them from breaking open.
  5. Installing a moisture barrier – You can optionally choose to install a moisture barrier in your crawl space alongside your insulation. Talk to your contractor to see which insulations and moisture barriers pair best.
  6. Organizing and cleaning – Once the new insulation is installed, fill your crawl space back up with your belongings and make sure everything is as clean as you want it to be. 

It is worth noting that while insulation will protect your crawl space from leaks in your walls, it’s not all-powerful. If water has made its way into your foundation, then water may be getting into your crawl space via the floor. In these situations, insulation can’t help protect your belongings.

Encapsulation: An Introduction

The encapsulation process is a little more all-encompassing than the insulation process. Contractors frequently stack these two solutions to provide your crawl space with as much protection as possible. While the process can be expensive, depending on the size of your crawl space, it will keep your belongings safe, regardless of where a leak may have originated.

The process of encapsulating your crawl space typically involves the following steps: 

  1. Identify leaking sources – As is also the case with the insulation process, you need to start the encapsulation process by finding and sealing any leaks in your crawl space.
  2. Removing damaged insulation – You’ll also need to remove any insulation that’s been damaged by long-term exposure to dampness or water.
  3. Installing a vapor barrier – With the insulation removed, you can install the vapor barrier. This barrier, which looks like simple plastic but is actually made of a more complex material, stands between the walls of your crawl space and the soil, driving water away from your belongings. You’ll need to cut your vapor barrier to account for any pipes you have exposed in your crawl space.
  4. Installing a dehumidifier – Optionally, consider installing a dehumidifier in your crawl space. A dehumidifier will work in tandem with your vapor barrier to remove dampness from the space.
  5. Cleaning and organizing – Finally, clean out your crawl space and replace the belongings you had stored there.

Which of the two processes is more effective, then, if they have similar qualities? The encapsulation process is arguably the most effective waterproofing solution of the two noted here. However, insulating your crawl space will help you overcome small leaks. In the end, it’s the size of your leak that determines which solution will suit you best.

Don’t feel trapped by your damp crawl space. When you work with a contractor, you can reclaim this space with either the encapsulation or insulation process. Both will give you back your crawl space and let you store your belongings there in peace. 

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