Subfloor Hazards

Subfloors are host to many conditions that may harm the house or those inspecting the area. Never enter a subfloor without proper personal protective equipment.

Subfloors are notorious for the nasty discoveries made there by inspectors, and it isn’t hard to figure out why; for one thing, their cool, dark environment attracts undesirable pests and can promote dangerous conditions. And since subfloors are mostly unmonitored, hazards can breed there unchecked for long periods. The following are some of the more common dangers discovered in crawlspaces:

  • mould and fungus. Just like pests, mould and fungus can grow rapidly in crawlspaces. They are both a health concern as well as a cause of wood decay, which can require costly repair. Airborne mould spores can potentially enter the living space from the subfloor. Moulds produce allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions), irritants and, in some cases, potentially toxic substances called mycotoxins. Inhaling or touching mould or mould spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash (dermatitis). Homes infected with moulds and fungus are also much more difficult to sell, often requiring costly remediation before closing the deal.
  • pests. Dirt subfloors provide the environment that is enjoyed by ants, termites, and various other pests. Termites cannot survive long outside of their mud tubes, which you may see on foundation walls and piers. Carpenter ants should be obvious as well, and both of these pests can cause structural damage. Also bear in mind that where there are pests, there may also be pesticides, perhaps improperly applied, which is one reason why you should not enter crawlspaces without personal protective equipment. Snakes, spiders, bees and scorpions may also be lingering on the subfloor, and while they pose little structural danger to the house, they certainly can harm you! Rapid retreat there can be difficult, so be cognizant of escape paths.
  • asbestos debris. Do not disturb asbestos! The microscopic fibres that cause illness become airborne when the insulation is handled or disturbed, and if it appears to be in good shape, it might not be a problem at all. Prolonged exposure to asbestos insulation can cause mesothelioma, which is a cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity, as well as asbestosis, in which the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue.
  • standing water or sewage. Dirt subfloors are susceptible to water seepage, which can create a host of problems, such as microbial growth, odours, damage to stored belongings, and the risk of electrical shock.
  • structural collapse. If the home itself is unstable, it might be dangerous to enter its subfloor. It is easy to become pinned, trapped or even crushed by unstable subfloors. Make sure someone knows that you are inspecting the subfloor before you enter it.
  • improper wiring. Watch for loose wiring, open junction boxes, or wiring that has become loose and fallen to the floor. 
  • source of energy waste. Traditionally, subfloors have been vented to prevent problems with moisture, and most building codes require vents to aid in removing moisture from the subfloors.

In summary, homeowners should expect to encounter a number of dangerous conditions in subfloors, so they should take proper precautions before entering them.

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