Crawl-space Hell 

Hard in, hard out, and miserable in between.

Let me just come right out and say it: I hate crawl spaces worse than I hate pompadoured TV preachers, electric banjos, and American League designated hitters all put together. Understand, by crawl spaces, I mean the miserable little caves under houses. I'm not talking about attics, which, for some odd reason, some people call crawl spaces. If I were making the building rules, no house would have a crawl space.

Now, I know some of you are thinking, Why does Jowers hate crawl spaces so? They don't really bother me. Well, I've got two big reasons: First, I've traversed several thousand of them, and each one sucked a little bit of life out of me. Second, since I'm in the home-inspection business, customers expect me to find every little thing wrong with a house, including all the little things wrong in the crawl space. I know I can't do it. Nobody can do it. Believe me when I tell you that you could send a team of steely-eyed jet pilots, NASA rocket scientists, Hollywood animal wranglers, experienced exterminators, and crackerjack structural engineers into a crawl space and they wouldn't be able to find everything wrong. And even if they could, it would be devilishly hard to fix the stuff they'd find.

Let me back up a little and tell you why crawl spaces suck the life out of me and everybody else who visits them regularly. It's simple: Crawl spaces are earthly previews of hell. I can think of a few jobs that are worse than crawling under houses every day, and they all involve multiple trauma, third-degree burns, or severe mental illness.

Just getting ready to go into a crawl space is pure misery. First, you check your flashlights. It's best to take two, just in case your primary light's battery dies when you're in the deepest, darkest part of the crawl space. Next, you put on coveralls, which, no matter how many times you wash 'em, smell like every other crawl space you've ever been in. Then, you put on mud shoes, gloves, and knee pads. That's the minimum crawl-space uniform. If you're safety-conscious, you put on a hard hat (to keep nails from ripping your scalp open) and a respirator (to keep poop-borne germs and nasty funguslike aspergillus from destroying your lungs). By now, you're pouring sweat and breathing hard even if it's 30 degrees outside.

When you finally waddle over to the crawl-space hatch, you knock down the spider webs and check for other critters. Since I've been in the home-inspection business, I have shared a crawl space with two snakes that I know about. It would've been three, but the third one crawled out from under some leaves as I was opening the hatch and I instinctively stomped him to death. Too bad, because he turned out to be a garter snake.

A while back, co-inspector Rick and I shared a crawl space with a tribe of salamanders who were making a pretty good living off a wheelbarrow-sized pile of human crap. Seems the plumber hadn't bothered to hook the commode up to the waste plumbing five years earlier.

We have also had the company of many feral cats, some of whom avoided us and some of whom chased us. Some years ago, I made a 90-degree turn in a crawl space and found myself nose-to-eyesockets with a fairly fresh dead cat. I'm glad it happened, because it proved I cannot be scared to death.

Rick has been locked into two crawl spaces -- once by a busybody seller who thought he'd carelessly left the crawl-space hatch open, another time by an obsessive real estate agent who just had to lock up doors as the inspection went along. Both times, he had to stay until I missed him and went looking for him.

With few exceptions, these adventures took place in two-foot-high, damp and dank mini-caves full of humpback crickets who like nothing better than hopping right onto an inspecting man's face. Add to that the hidden puddles of filthy water, the collections of big, small, wet, and dry turds of unknown origin, and the maze of pipes and ducts that always block the short way in or out, and I think you'll understand why I don't like crawl spaces.

Frankly, it's amazing that anybody is willing to go into a crawl space and even more amazing that anybody can overcome the distractions and discomfort long enough to find any broken walls, rotten framing, termites, loose heat-and-air ducts, dangling wires, and leaky plumbing.

When we get lucky and find something wrong, the first thing our customers want to know is who they should call to fix the problems. This brings me to the biggest problem with crawl spaces: Nobody wants to work in them. I mean, what person capable of doing passable work wants to haul materials under a house and spend his day working in a damp, critter-infested, nasty space that's too short to even allow him to sit up? There are a few people who'll do it. If you can find one, just pay him whatever he asks. And don't make a big deal about the beer bottles he leaves in the crawl space. That's just the price of doing business.

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