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Crawlspace vs. Basement: Is One Better Than the Other?

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Brian in Michigan, welcome to The Money Pit. What can we do for you?

    BRIAN: Well, me and my wife, we’re looking to buy our first home and …

    LESLIE: Yeah, congratulations.

    BRIAN: Thank you. And we’ve been – you know, we’ve looked at a few houses. And I’ve kind of noticed a trend in houses that have crawlspaces versus, you know, like a traditional basement, that there seems to be – at least where we live – a lot more settling going on with homes that are built over a crawlspace.

    TOM: What leads you to believe, Brian, that there’s more settling in a home with a crawlspace? Because the foundation structure should be virtually identical. Both homes are going to have footings and probably block walls built on top of the reinforced footing. But why do you say that you see more settling? What is it that’s giving you that visual clue?

    BRIAN: Well, it just seems like the houses that we’ve looked at, I mean you can feel it when you’re walking through like the living room. You know …

    LESLIE: As far as floors angling one direction or are you noticing cracks?

    BRIAN: Kind of like a sinking, you know? Yeah, I’ve noticed cracks in the walls. You know, me and my wife will be standing – both standing in the living room and for some reason she’s three inches taller than me now. (Leslie chuckles)

    TOM: Three inches. That’s a lot. (chuckling)

    BRIAN: And I know I’m three inches taller than her. (chuckling)

    TOM: Brian, I don’t think it has anything to do with crawlspace versus full basement because the construction methods are virtually identical.

    BRIAN: OK.

    TOM: Homes are built on crawlspaces where the water table dictates that you really can’t put a basement in because you’d be, basically, under water. And so, that’s really the critical difference. There’s also an economic savings. It’s a little less expensive to build a home on a crawlspace than a basement. Are these older homes that you’re looking at or what’s the average age range?

    BRIAN: Yeah, they are mostly older homes.

    TOM: Well see, if you have an older house you’re going to have a lot more movement and that’s fairly typical. Older homes, while they were not – they were not structurally unstable, they do tend to sag a lot more because they had longer spans than we typically have on newer homes today. So you’re going to get sag. And typically that will towards the inside of the house. In other words, the outside will be higher than when you get towards the middle because that’s sort of a typical sag pattern. But I wouldn’t attribute it to crawlspace versus basement.

    What I would say to you is if you get to the point where you find a house that you really like and it has everything else that you’re looking for in it, make sure you get a professional home inspection done before you get too far into the contract. Typically, the way it works is you may sign a contract that’s contingent upon certain things like your ability to get a mortgage, et cetera or the ability for the house to have a certificate of occupancy. Make sure that you have a home inspection contingency in that contract and that it gives you a period of time to get the inspection done. Usually a couple to maybe three weeks from the time you sign it.

    And then I would also recommend that you hold back on any of the big money deposits until you get the home inspection report. Because I can tell you from all the years I was in that end of the business that if anything’s going to go wrong with the transaction it’s going to happen early on when the home inspector first gets in there and can see what’s really going on. And that inspector should be able to tell you whether there’s any significant structural concern associated with the slopes that you’re seeing or if it’s just sort of the home’s personality showing itself. (Leslie chuckles)

    BRIAN: Yes. (ph) (Chuckling)

    LESLIE: And older homes do have a lot of personality.

    BRIAN: Yeah. I’m noticing that. (chuckling)

    TOM: Brian, thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

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