I recently performed an inspection for a client where I found fungal growth on floor joists in the crawlspace.  Fungal growth in the crawlspace is primarily a problem because it decays wood and will cause structural damage to a house over time.  In some cases, with severe fungal growth and the right conditions, it can diminish interior air quality and cause health concerns for occupants.  This is a typical finding in my area because humidity is high in Virginia and builders keep building vented crawlspaces with minimal vapor barrier systems.  Our current code standards allow this style of construction despite its poor performance in our geographic area.  Even though home inspectors are not required to report the presence of fungal growth, I choose to make this a standard at my company because I believe it is too important to leave out.  I estimate that more than half of my home inspection reports contain a recommendation for remediating fungal growth in the crawlspace.  This remediation comes with a price tag in the thousands.

Circling back to my recent client, I was asked by the buyer’s agent for my opinion about a contradictory report the selling side had furnished about the crawlspace.  They hired a supposed mold remediation contractor to evaluate the crawlspace and that person said what is quoted below, exactly as written:

“I crawled throughout the entirety of the crawlspace and inspected under the insulation. I crawled to the main focal point of the area which would be ducting vents, or air handler. I inspected for any water damage that was present-existing and found non. There was an area pointed out that looked like it could’ve been microbial growth, but was not in as normal wear and tear from the crawlspace as it is not a climate control area. Therefore, it is more prone to the outside elements. The white substance on the brick is not a concern either as this is normal, and it is called effloresence. That does indicate that there is some ground water intrusion but that is normal, wear and tear for a crawlspace, and I do not see any reason to treat for anti-microbial, or to do any kind of waterproofing. The crawlspace is very clean. That is my recommendation.”


This paragraph was accompanied by 14 poorly taken, low light, low resolution, and blurry photos. The statement also reflected an elementary understanding of the conditions reported in the crawlspace. Let’s start breaking this down by using the photos that I took.

  • Reporting that the focal point for inspecting for fungal growth is around HVAC is not true.  This is often where fungal growth will be present because the cooling system creates moisture in its surrounding area.  However, there are other conditions besides this that cause fungal growth, such as deficient site drainage, deficient vapor barriers, ventilation obstructions, water leaks, etc.  HVAC is one of several focal points.  The picture shows the typical thin vapor barrier loosely laid with large gaps at the foundation wall.

  • Reporting that an area did not have microbial growth present based on an argument that it is normal wear and tear is illogical.  Determining what is or is not microbial growth requires taking a sample to a lab.  The pictures show the presence of fungal growth on multiple floor joists.

  • The concern with the efflorescence was that the patterns suggested that moisture was intruding from the top, not from the ground.  I also had found that the siding details at the porch could allow moisture intrusion.  Therefore, the efflorescence was a symptom supporting my observation that the porch would leak water into the structure.  The pictures show the porch with signs of moisture intrusion and concrete poured higher than the siding and trim materials.  Think about where rainwater will go where the siding meets the concrete.

Due to the deficient report from the selling side, my sixth sense was screaming that this was incompetence, so I started digging.  What I found is that this company had almost no reputation online, with the exception of two positive reviews on Angi, a site that gobbles up internet leads and sells them to service businesses.  The company was listed as a drywall and drain cleaning service on that site.  I looked up the business on State Corporation Commission’s Entity Search and found that the business was formed two months ago.  I looked up the Registered Agent’s name, who was the owner of the business, on the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation’s License Search and did not find any trades or contractor licenses for the individual.  In summary, the selling side hired an unlicensed, unqualified, and not reputable company to contradict what I recommended.  For comparison, I am a licensed home inspector with more than 800 verified continuing education hours and a 5-star reputation from more than 350 reviews on various internet sites.

The burning question I still have is, while in the age of the internet where a reputable company is just a Google search away, why are people like this hired instead?  The question leads me to an unsettling notion:  The people that are most likely to produce the desired statements are hired, rather than those knowledgeable and ethical enough to tell the truth.  While I can’t prove that this is what is happening, nor can I prove that it is intentional, it sure leaves me feeling concerned for my clients and every other home buyer out there.  It is yet another example of why I feel that the real estate industry is opportunistic and rigged against home buyers.

Here’s why I report on this condition and what can be done about it.  Remediating fungal growth in a crawlspace is more of an ordeal than most expect.  Simply spraying the floor joists with a chemical treatment is not reliable.  Fungal spores grow into the fibers of the wood and the chemical often will not absorb deep enough to kill all of the fungal growth.  Additionally, it may have grown where it is not visible, such as underneath or inside the insulation.  Lastly, fungal growth is a symptom of high humidity.  Even after properly removing all fungal growth, it will come back if the conditions in the crawlspace are not changed.  An effective remediation not only entails removing all insulation, scrubbing or sanding the floor structure, and applying chemical treatment.  It will also require making improvements to reduce the humidity level in the crawlspace.

These improvements can be made on a sliding scale of cost and effectiveness.  The simplest improvement is to install a vapor barrier that is actually functional.  In most crawlspaces, thin vapor barriers are laid loosely in the crawlspace without 100% coverage or sealing at the foundation walls and piers and are easily damaged by anyone accessing the crawlspace.  Water vapor can easily navigate around the vapor barrier at all these openings.  Laying down a thick vapor barrier that is properly sealed can reduce the amount of water vapor that comes into the crawlspace from the soil.

On the other extreme, a crawlspace can be fully encapsulated, where it becomes a heated and cooled part of the house.  This is effective, but also expensive and is not always necessary to achieve the desired result.  A full encapsulation will involve removing insulation from the floor, adding insulation to the foundation wall, air sealing the vents and other cracks or penetrations, applying a thick and properly sealed vapor barrier, and adding supply air from the HVAC system.  This is the most effective solution that I am aware of at this time.

The main takeaway for buyers is to hire a properly vetted home inspector that you trust is competent.  When given conflicting information, first consider the motivations of the party providing the information.  Then, compare the credibility between the dissenting party and the home inspector.  Also, ask the home inspector to provide a response to the conflicting opinion.  They probably have a good explanation for their recommendation.  Lastly, I recommend avoiding asking the seller to fix anything on the house because there is financial incentive to act against the buyer’s interest.  Instead, asking the seller for a credit will cover repair costs while retaining control over the quality of the work that is performed.

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