Crawl Space Access

Crawl space access is one of those completely unsexy things that inspectors get excited about - and with good reason, since we get paid to go in there. Most homebuyers take one look at the spider webs and confined space and pat me on the back. "Good luck, take pictures." seems to the general idea. They're not coming with me. Accesses get placed in all sorts of interesting spots - outside, in the garage, through a basement wall, closets - you name it, someone has put it there.

Okay, not the attic. We'll save the discussion of attic scuttles for another time. . .

The code for crawl space access is pretty specific.

R408.4 Access Access shall be provided to all under-floor spaces. Access openings through the floor shall be a minimum of 18 inches by 24 inches (457 mm by 610 mm). Openings through a perimeter wall shall be not less than 16 inches by 24 inches (407 mm x 610 mm). When any portion of the through-wall access is below grade, an areaway not less than 16 inches by 24 inches (407 mm x 610 mm) shall be provided. The bottom of the areaway shall be below the threshold of the access opening. Through wall access openings shall not be located under a door to the residence.

Did you read all that? No, don't worry. The inspector will manage it. Heck, we're delighted if we actually get a code-compliant hatch in an older home. Some that I've gone through are a half or less of the size above. It's why you should always hire a skinny inspector.

No, the part that will drive the inspector nuts and possibly cost you money (if you're the buyer) or a sale (if you're the seller) is having a perfectly acceptable hatch that isn't accessible.

Don't Cover or Block the Crawl Space Access

Yesterday was a classic example. We have a home with a sloped floor, a large tree five feet from the foundation wall, and no way to check the crawlspace for structural damage because the hatch was in the laundry room. Under the washer/dryer.

Very few inspectors are going to move installed appliances, risking damage to the appliances and the flooring, to get to a hatch. Instead, most will write it up as a defect, mark the structural components as uninspected and leave the buyer guessing about sloped floors.

The longer they guess, the worse the problem will get in their minds.

If you are the seller, please do yourself a favor. First, know where your access is. If it's under equipment, take the time to move things for the inspector.

If it's in a closet, remove your personal possessions to leave it available. Same thing for exterior hatches - don't stack the firewood on top.

Some older homes will have the hatch nailed down. If this is the case, pry it up before the inspector gets there. The odds are that he or she won't take the chance of damaging flooring.

And if you're using screws to hold the covers in place - frequently done on exterior hatches to keep the board tight to the wall - use a standards screw head - no need to go with fancy star-patterned heads. We might not have that particular pattern or size on board the truck. Use a Phillips or square head screw.

The inspector will thank you, and the buyer will get the information they need without the extra worrying. And you move one step closer to a successful sale.