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A common question from homeowners is about the smell coming from their crawl space. If the homeowner recently purchased the home, they may be unaware of any previously stored materials or issues with dampness or leaks. Crawl space smells are a common complaint to basement, crawl space, and foundation repair professionals.

Crawl space vs. Basement: What’s the difference?

According to HomeLight.com“Of the three major types of residential home foundations (full or partial basement, crawl space, and concrete slabs), 54% of houses are built on concrete slabs, and only 30% have a full or partial basement. So, what kind of foundations do the remaining 16% of houses have? Fifteen percent (roughly 27 million) of these houses have crawl spaces, and the remaining 1% are built on stilts or pilings.

Now, we all know what basements are, and a concrete slab is just that — a slab of concrete. However, homebuyers ask a common question: “What is a crawl space?” The short answer: A crawl space is an alternative to a traditional basement; it creates a barrier between the ground and the floor of your house.”

What is that smell in my crawl space?

As mentioned, a crawl space is a barrier often unventilated and commonly used to store old paint cans, building materials, and other assorted items that should be sent to the garbage or recycling center. Darkness and dampness make for a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, mold, and subsequent odor. Musty smells in a crawl space can lead to a bad smell in one room of the house or a basement smell coming through the vents.

What are common crawl space smells?

The most frequently asked questions and comments asked of the basement and crawl space service providers are:

  • What does rotting wood smell like? Rotting wood emits a damp and musty odor. If you ever went camping in an old cabin or lean-to, you have smelled rotting wood.
  • It smells like something died in my house! A pest control professional may include an assessment of a crawl space as part of an inspection when determining treatment for a home for pests and nuisance wildlife. A dead animal, such as rodents or nuisance wildlife, will indeed emit a pungent smell.
  • There’s a bad smell coming from under my house. The smell could be from any number of sources, as discussed. If the air is circulating within your home, your family and pets could be exposed to bacteria creating respiratory problems, allergies, or infection.
  • Why does it smell like dirt or an earthen floor in my vents? Improper encapsulation designed to keep the water out may not have been properly installed. Wet and dark dirt floors will emit an earthen smell.
  • Why does my crawl space smell musty and mildewy? Same story! Improper ventilation, dehumidification, and standing water will force a musty and mildewy odor.
  • Why does my crawl space smell like sewage? If your crawl space smells like sewage, contact a crawl space repair professional immediately. Initial signs of a sewage issue in the crawl space include water backing up in your toilet or sink and low water pressure. Encapsulating your crawl space prevents toxic fumes and sewage from seeping into your living space.

What are the signs of a crawl space problem?

Crawl Space clean out services Rome NY

The preparatory stage for the construction of a ventilated crawl space in an old brick building

Unfortunately, signs of a crawl space problem appear when damage is significant. Damp areas with excess moisture in the crawl space can contribute to the problem, often showing these signs:

  • A feeling of dampness in the living area
  • Buckled hardwood floors
  • Mold growth that you can see is often the tip of the iceberg
  • Allergic reactions and worsen asthma symptoms
  • Wood rot also welcomes pests and infestations
  • Musty and damp smells

What can I do about the smell in my crawl space?

Airing out and deodorizing your crawl space as the seasons change is good practice.  We often tell our customers to examine the crawl space when they turn the clocks back or ahead and change their smoke detector batteries.  It makes for a simple way to remember. The best crawl space odor eliminator begins with a dry and clean crawl space. We do not suggest masking the smell with fragrances because the odor will indicate that you have a problem. 

Are you experiencing an odor or issue with your crawl space?

With over 40 years of experience working with foundations and crawlspaces, we will determine what happened, stop it from happening again, and restore your space to clean and dry. Request a quote today.