My Crawl Space is Dry, How Do I Keep it That Way?

Praise be! Your crawl space passed our free estimate and got a dry passing grade. Or maybe all you needed was a vapor barrier, that is great too! But lets keep it that way. Unfortunately, just because it is dry today does not mean it will be dry tomorrow. Lame, I know, but in a world of shifting water tables and changing seasons it is the harsh reality.

In the wet Spring of 2022 we put in 300’ (!!!) of drainage in a home with 2(!!!) sump pumps. All his down spouts were clear. There was no plumbing leak. AND he had exterior drainage around the home, but the homeowners woke up one morning to 19” of water and approximately 25,000 gallons. After a pump out and during drainage installation we discovered the spring that had popped up under his home.

I don’t share that customers unfortunate story to tell you to install drainage just in case a temporary spring pops up under your home, these are exceedingly rare especially this severe. I do share this story to explain how a passing grade one day doesn’t mean a failing one later in the life of the home is out of the ordinary. We need to mitigate that though. We can’t prevent the unlucky temporary spring, but, we can do plenty of other things to keep the crawl space dry, route water away from the foundation and in turn prolong the life of the home (potentially by A LOT).

Down Spouts and Gutters

Those pipes attached to the bottom of your gutters are almost as important as the gutters themselves. And the gutters are almost as important as the roof! Your home displaces a lot of area, and all that rain water captured by your roof does not belong running along your foundation. But the gutters are meaningless if we can’t take the water completely away from the foundation. Down spouts fail because they get clogged, which is why you need regular gutter cleaning, or they might as well not exist at all. Much too often we arrive at homes and the gutters are just dumping water right at the base of the home. Or the down spouts are overflowing.

Step 1: Regular gutter cleaning and unclogging or fixing down spouts when they overflow.

No down spouts or old and undersized ones? This is common also. We use 3” buried ABS (black plastic pipe) and generally send it to a pop-up emitter or some form of a drywell. Rule of thumb is no less than 15’ away from the foundation, but more the merrier. Any chance you can get to increase the soils ability in and around your home to absorb water you should take it. If running it 60’ away out towards the street is possible and is in your budget you should do that. Once the soil has settled and the grass seed we toss afterwards takes you won’t even be able to tell we were there.

Vent Wells

The foundation vents around your home are also very important! If it seems like I have a reoccurring theme of telling you something is important, it is because I see a reoccurring theme of eye rolls and homeowners not thinking anything matters. But, if the soil against your home is not a solid 2”-4” below the opening of the foundation vent then we should install a foundation vent well to keep it so. If the soil is in the vent well or your vents are filled with soil then you have a fairly effortless way for water to intrude into your home. Easy fix. Generally we install something like this for free when doing a full crawl space restoration.

Step 2: Foundation vent cleaning and/or vent well installation

Now we are routing roof water away from the home. We have also cleaned or installed our vent wells. But the wife insist on watering the roses.


No, your sprinkler system is not flooding your crawl space. Could it be attributing to a little pooling because one particular sprinkler is aimed perfectly through a vent? Absolutely. But the cracked pipe you found 3’ away from the foundation that runs for 10 minutes 3x a week 9 months a year is in no way flooding your crawl space. However, I have been to homes where they are severely over water their lawn AND they have bark dust up the bottom of the siding AND their vent wells are full of dirt. That could be one piece of this big puzzle.

Step 3: Be mindful of your watering practices

Gutter water is at the street. Vent wells installed. Ensuring not to over water our lawn and plants, especially near the foundation. Mostly easy and mostly cheap solutions. But I live on a hill and my lawn is always soggy still. That can’t be good.

French Drain

The exterior drainage system, also commonly known as the French drain, is the biggest tool in our belt. All those rocks and dry riverbeds you see around homes in suburbia do serve a function, and they usually have a drain pipe in them. Generally speaking if your crawl space is flooding and you have done steps 1 thru 3 for the past few years or so then chances of preventing future flooding with exterior drainage is slim. It is also hard to promise that any exterior work will solve the problem, but it will give the interior system the greatest chance for success so it is not a total loss. It also looks nice and can elevate the style of your yard.

Placement of the drain is critical and so is discharge, which can/should/will be a entire blog itself. There are a few quick options, if the goal is to only protect the foundation, we can get it pretty close to the foundation often times. Or if the lawn is obviously pooling in certain areas then we can and should address that too. There are a lot of factors and considerations when contemplating French drain placement and depth. Including but not limited to, discharge, goals, and of course the budget. With cost in mind though we are able to do a lot for the life of the home for as little as $2,000.

Step 4: Drainage

Maybe this seems like a lot. Maybe it seems like a little. But a little does go a long way. Especially when none of the steps have been completed. The order of the steps was thought out. Not only in importance, but in order of ease and cost. A lot of home owners would not have a problem doing one of these steps but tackling all 4 or 2 of them might not be worth your time. If that is the case or if you just want some application advice please give us a shout and we would love to assist you in keep your home dry.

How Much Water is Too Much Water in My Crawl Space?

We are of the belief that you should have virtually zero tolerance for water on top of the vapor barrier under your home. This distinction of on top of the barrier is important and we will explain. But why so strict when on top of the barrier? Because it is easily achievable to have a dry crawl space and the risk of allowing anything more than zero does not seem like one taking.

When we find water in the crawl space we usually tell homeowners to have a mold inspection in their attic. More often than not there is mold discovered. And in our experience the inverse is true, a dry crawl will usually yield a passing grade from a mold inspection. Why is that? Well, mold needs 3 things. Moisture, oxygen, and darkness. Just eliminate one of those factors and we severely limit molds ability to spread. Eliminate two factors it would seem exceedingly rare that mold could replicate in such an environment.

We can severely restrict and/or eliminate the moisture by installing a drainage system under the home with a PROPERLY installed vapor barrier (notice the emphasis). That black plastic in your crawl space does serve an important function. It’s job to keep soil gasses and moistures out of the crawl space and in turn out of your living space is an important one. Often there is no need to install a drain system. The rips and tears in the existing vapor barrier along with incorrect overlap of seams might be allowing the smallest amount of ground water to percolate on the barrier and accumulate into standing water. If the vapor barrier is properly installed and in good condition then the water is evidence that the soil has reached maximum absorption and that the water table around your home is too high to just have a vapor barrier without drainage below it. The best way to increase the soils ability to absorb water, and the only way that I have heard of? Remove water from it with a drainage system and generally one that ends at a sump pump.

You will never hear anyone at Better Basements tell you that a home with proper drainage and a dry crawl space will never experience foundation issues. However, we will confidently tell you that major foundation issues are often caused by running water and poor groundwater management. Why and how is that? Running water carves canyons and creates mountains on the earths surface. The clay and soil around the foundation of your home truly stands no chances up against an Oregon Winter and Spring rainfall. Then when it settles your foundation ever so slightly to create a crack, water will easily find it’s way into that crack and begin to carve it’s own canyon. So is water in and around your home really THAT big of a deal? Only if you think your foundation is a big deal.

“All homes have water in them, this is Oregon. Can you even stop it?”
This is my favorite push back. Because if we are making these statements then it would seem I have convinced you that water in your crawl space and standing water around your home is in fact a big deal. Now I get to tell you how simple the solution is, which is why our tolerance for these symptoms should be nearly zero. There is a fix. A straightforward easy fix. AND it is generally done for less than most people are expecting it to be.

Let’s share cost before we share application, then I have a hunch you will think it is a bargain. And we share cost with a very large and obnoxious disclaimer. Many homes are much larger than average, and many homes only need 20 feet of drainage where as the average needs 120’. So what does a full crawl space waterproofing cost? In our experience between $4,000 – $8,000. With the vast majority of homes being in that $5,000 range.

Maybe you think that is outrageous. Well let me share some quotes with you from homes that had their foundation sink from years (or A year) of standing water and we’ll think it is a bargain.

“Okay, fair point, I am not interested in spending $50,000+ for foundation stability and restoration. But I will just do it myself because it is not that much work”. By the way, we love our DIY types. That is how all contractors got started, so if you need advice on how to do this just let us know and we would be happy to sell you some materials and give you advice (still free). Lets just not kid ourselves on it being easy.

  1. Go under home. Cut up and remove ALL vapor barrier and debris under home. Put into trash bags. Remove trash bags filled with debris. (this usually takes a 2 man crew about 2 hours, and they do this all the time and their fear of dead rats and living spiders has disappeared).
  2. Decide what proper drain trench placement is. Do you really need to do a full perimeter drain system? Afterall, if we can do 50’ instead of 140’ that would be ideal. Are you prepared to make that educated decision to ensure that you are not going down there in a flooded crawl space on a Saturday morning to right your wrongs?
  3. Dig trench. Easier said than done and I usually do not need to convince anyone of that. We use mini D-Handle spades. They are about 25” long and work well for digging on your side. Yes, you have to lay on your side and dig trench whilst throwing the soil evenly over your shoulder. This process is obviously the longest and will take a good crew with “good” soil conditions a full day, Generally about 20 man hours.
  4. Dig sump pump basin pit, lay a gravel base, install basin and surround in gravel (have fun bringing that gravel to the lowest point in your muddy crawl space). Install sump pump in basin and connect with PVC.
  5. Crawl out of crawl space and install your discharge line (not going to explain how important this part is and how to decide that, alas it is important).
  6. Install drain pipe/drainage/drain tile or whatever you would like to call it.
  7. Properly install vapor barrier. So, likely better than the last guy. Which is there can be no earth exposed and all the seams must overlap no less than 12”. BUT, we must keep as minimal seams as possible. Which means you need to use as large of sheets as possible, make tight cuts around your post, and to keep it really professional roll yourself out of the crawl space to ensure it is clean. We even go the extra mile and take a small leaf blower with us to keep any dust and dirt under.
  8. Finally, you have to be willing to stand by your work. Because you can’t call me for a warranty repair to fix your mistake!

In summary, why should our tolerance for water under our home be nearly zero? Because it is simple to keep it nearly zero and the ramifications of it not being dry can be drastic.

We covered a lot and this is a very brief overview. We did not explain material selection, drain trench or pump discharge placement. Why not do a gravity system? There are reason why you should and should not have a pump. What are some obvious fixes that we can do to see if that fixes our flooding crawl? All valid questions and pushback that have answers. Give us a shout to set up a free estimate or just to ask some questions and have a conversation with someone who has likely seen what issues you are experiencing. We truly love hearing from you.

Crawl Space Encapsulation, Is It Right For Me?

Male worker dressed in a white coverall suite in a crawl space under a house with a white PVC vapor barrier on the ground.

In the small community of crawl space contractors encapsulations are all the rage. They do offer quite a lot of benefits, but I believe that those benefits need to be weighed accordingly before committing to such a large project. What is encapsulation? Simply put, encapsulating a crawl space means you seal the crawl space from the outdoors creating a conditioned space. Most crawl spaces in the North West are vented. That means exactly what it sounds like, it is vented and not sealed.

In a vented crawl you have a vapor barrier no less than 6mil in thickness covering the entire floor of the crawl. In an encapsulation the vapor barrier is still fastened no less than 12” up the wall of the foundation, but instead of overlapping 12” at the seams, you only overlap 6” and you seal the seams. This practice is the first step in stopping moisture from getting inside your living spaces.

Of course it is never that simple. When encapsulating you also need to install an interior drain system. To do this you dig a trench around the entire perimeter of the interior of your crawl space. Then you install drain pipe and to route all the water that does manage it’s way into the crawl to a sump pump and sump pump basin. The sump pump will then pump the water out of the home.

Now that you have the water being pumped out of the crawl space and you have successfully blocked moisture and soil gasses you need to condition the space. What that means practically is that you move the thermal envelope of the home from the insulation in the floors, to the walls of the foundation. This gives an entire conditioned space below your living space. That is what it means practically, but to execute that it is much easier said than done.

First you remove all the insulation between your floor joist as it is no longer needed and likely was nothing more than a place for rats to nest any how. Then you insulate the walls of the foundation with foam board. The foam board is installed before you install the vapor barrier, and is secured with epoxy and with concrete fasteners.

Your foundation walls are insulated and you have installed a interior drain system and vapor barrier in your crawl space, but it is still cold and damp. Of course it is, you have not sealed your space yet. We now need to seal all the vents in your foundation, leaving one open for a crawl space fan that will run non stop creating negative pressure. Seal the sill plate to the foundation wall with spray foam or caulk. Insulate the rim joist. And finally, seal any and all penetrations with spray foam.

Finally, you have encapsulated your crawl space! True, it is encapsulated at this point. But is that everything? Maybe to some. But is this a conditioned space? No not really. Now you need to install a dehumidifier and ensure that your condensate line goes to your sump pump or all that moisture you suck out of the air will just go right back into it. Some contractors will say to just put your HVAC vent into it but I do not recommend that. Your HVAC system was not designed for the added square footage and your system also does not run at all times or manage humidity like a dehumidifier does.

Who is encapsulation for? Well that is a loaded question as it really is the best thing for your home. It significantly cripples the growth of mold. It controls the humidity in the rest of your home and increases air quality, and if dimple board is installed below the vapor barrier you can now use your entire crawl space for storage. So why is it not for everyone? It is expensive. Quite expensive when compared to traditional crawl space methods. It is not maintenance free. Now you have a sump pump and a dehumidifier to add to your list of home service needs. The benefits may also not outweigh the cost for everyone.

So why would anyone do it? You just told me it is a lot of work to do, it is expensive and it requires maintenance. If you are sensitive to mold, have an auto immune problem, allergies, or really need the storage, encapsulation is probably a good thing to have if the pocket book allows it. It is also probably something you should consider doing if you live in your forever home and getting the return on your investment is not always your top priority. People who will notice the most drastic differences are of course those that started with really damp crawls and homes with moisture problems. The maintenance is not really THAT bad, just make sure you get eyes on your system every 6 months or so and address any problems right away.

What does a proper crawl space encapsulation have?

  • Insulated foundation walls
  • Interior drain system and sump pump
  • Vapor barrier
  • Dimple board under vapor barrier if using space for storage
  • Sealed rim joist and sill plate
  • Sealed foundation vents
  • Dehumidifier

We’re Not French but Our Drains Sure Are

Sometimes in these more wet climates contractors and long time homeowners throw around terms that not everyone knows. Not everyone knows what a foyer or powder bathroom is (it’s a large entry way and a bathroom without a shower), but people also don’t know what a French drain is. And no, it isn’t a drain with a funny accent.

As funny as it is to call a small bathroom a powder bath, maybe its as equally funny to call a trench with rocks in it a French drain. Afterall, that is kind of all it is, a trench with rocks in it. However, just like your powder bath would be a bad one without a light and a fan, a French drain wouldn’t be a good one without a perforated pipe and fall.

The application for French drains are probably pretty obvious. They just move unwanted water from one area to the other. If you have a soggy yard or a flooded crawl space we must have an efficient and reliable way to dry out the soil and keep it dry. In comes the proper drainage system.

If you spend any amount of time searching online on the proper depth, pipe, gravel type, location, and even color (yes color is argued) of French drains you will see there is absolutely no consensus. Shocking, I know, educated people on the internet with good arguments don’t agree on something. BUT! We are different in our approach because we have not been convinced that one method is better than the other. But of all the methods we do find that each one has its place.


EZ-Flow by NDS has great application as a crawl space drainage solution in our experience. However, we rarely use it in exterior drains for many reasons. Cost being a large one, it is 5x per foot than other applications, but it also is unpredictable in its ability to allow soil to settle around it. This might seem minor but no one wants their drain rock that is looking good in front of their home to look different or funky after that first heavy rain. And yes, in our experience EZ-Flow does in fact flow significantly more as the manufacturer advertises. I am not sure it is the whomping 30%, but it CLEARLY takes on more water and OBVIOUSLY runs cleaner. But we do not need to be as concerned about that in every scenario. Clean does matter when going into a sump pump. Into a drywell, maybe not so much…


The corrugated pipe wrapped in a filter fabric is the safest bet and is a big go to and rightfully so. It is our usual application for exterior pipe. But what about no fabric? That is likely a good option, which is real fighting words in this very niche world. When would you “risk” not using a filter fabric on a drain pipe? When you really need that sweet sweet flow baby! One less thing for the water to flow through does make a difference. It does come with careful application selection. But we have found that high clay soil, often times with a nice sod or high end dirt on the top layer makes this a good candidate for no filter fabric (usually referred to as a sock).

Say you have a nice yard that is very soggy but not quiet a sloppy mess. It could even be flooded but not a muddy mess. You dig down 6”-9” and the hole mostly keeps it shape, then it might be worth keeping the sock off. Afterall, the real filtering is done via the drain rock surrounding the pipe and it would be nice to get the extra flow. Someone is yelling and screaming “It’ll clog! It’ll clog!”. Yeah. It will. So clean it out. Big deal. You know what also clogs? Filter fabric. Which means that adding a clean out whenever possible without it being an eyesore is even more important.

The corrugated pipe really is the unsung hero for the French drain. The corrugation makes it flexible, which also broadens it’s application, but it also aids in cleaning and preventing clogs. As the pipe fills the corrugations cause the water to spiral and acts as a self cleaning process. It makes the pipe extremely durable and difficult to crush, a life saver for high traffic areas. It is easy to cut and extend in length for repairs, patching, and additions. Praise be for industrial plastics!

PVC and Triple Wall

PVC or Triple Wall pipe (the white pipe) is a far less common commonly used pipe for drainage in our experience. The price increase in minimal so I do not believe that is why, but it is definitely more difficult to work with. Whenever you need to make a turn you have to use an adapter which adds to the cost. These pipes seem to take on more water than corrugated pipes and I am lead to believe it is simply because it has larger holes. This pipe would be a terrible application for a high traffic area because it crushes easier and when crushed does not function nearly as well as a crushing corrugated pipe.

Applications where white pipe would be a good fit is where the water flooding is severe AND you do not need a sock. We have considered to start using this pipe for large soakage fields on the side of homes where you would run (3) 3” pipes next to each other to really move a lot of water in a straight line. It would be important to use a lot of rock and place these pipes pretty deep.

Down Spouts

This is just a friendly reminder that down spouts (buried and not) should never have perforated pipe near the home. Maybe when you get over 15’ away from the foundation you could switch to perforated to start dissipating the water but no closer. Down spouts do not feed into French drains. French drains have a pipe that is perforated (pipe with holes), in order to absorb water. A down spouts job is to take water captured by the gutters away from the foundation. Putting that water into a pipe with holes would be very counterproductive and likely flood your crawl space.


In summary there are a handful of different pipes you can use for your drainage and French drains. There are dozens of different application methods when you factor in placement, depth, discharge, rock type, filters, and so on. We do not believe one way is right. We do believe that different budgets, applications and goals warrant a certain type of French drain set up, of which we would love to discuss with you (for free).