Crawl spaces are parts of the house we always seem to forget about. Or maybe we just wish we could forget about them. But sooner or later, there’s going to come a day when, for some ungodly reason, you have to crawl in there to fix or inspect something. Let’s face it, it’s nobody’s favorite job.
Not only are crawl spaces dark, damp and generally creepy, but they can also be dangerous. Before you go shimmying in there unprotected, it’s very important that you understand the risks, and how to keep yourself safe. Here’s what you need to know about the protective clothing and gear you should use for working inside a crawl space.
Getting Into Your Crawl Space
First off, we’re mostly talking about the crawl space located under your house. Some people refer to a small, unfinished attic space as a “crawl space,” which is not exactly wrong, per se, but just to avoid confusion, let’s assume that we’re all referring to a basement crawl space. That being said, most of the protective clothing you would want for one is just as effective in the other. You may want to dress a little lighter in an attic crawl space, as it’s likely to be hot in there.
Understand the Dangers
Crawl spaces may contain some potential dangers that you need to be aware of before you enter. Crawl spaces can also be pretty gross. Ideally, you’ll want clothing and gear that protects you from both the icky stuff and the really dangerous stuff. Plumbing pipes, electrical wiring, heating and air conditioning equipment and other essential parts of your home’s innards may be located in the crawlspace. These are a few of the other things you may run into:
- Moisture: Crawl spaces (especially dirt crawl spaces) are susceptible to seepage. It’s fair to expect to encounter a little bit of moisture, but standing water is another issue altogether. This is important: Do not enter your crawl space if it contains standing water. With all the electrical wires down there, there’s a serious risk of electrical shock; all it takes is one loose wire and a small amount of water.
- Mold: Where there’s moisture, there’s often mold and mildew. Some types of mold are harmless, but others are not, and it’s hard to know the difference. In any case, it’s something to be aware of, and take precautions so you’re not breathing in spores.
- Pests: It’s fair to expect to run into some cobwebs and creepy-crawlies down there. Centipedes and spiders are pretty common in crawl spaces, but are mostly harmless. You could encounter mice, rats, and even snakes in your crawl space, and in rare cases I’ve heard of bees and wasps building nests in a them.
- Sharp Stuff: You may run into a lot of things that can poke or cut you in a crawl space. Debris on the ground, loose strews or nails jutting out of the boards, splinters everywhere. Stay alert and be aware of your movements to avoid injury. Move slowly and carefully, watching for debris on the ground, and be especially careful of sharp objects protruding from overhead where you may not see them.
- Insulation: Insulation often comes loose in crawl spaces. Avoid contact with fiberglass insulation, as it can irritate the skin, and especially avoid insulation that’s been damaged by water or pest infestation. In an older home, there’s also a chance that there could be asbestos down there. Do not disturb asbestos insulation. If you’re not sure what kind of insulation is in your crawl space, don’t risk it; contact a professional for an inspection.
- Sewage Backup: Watch out for evidence of sewer backup and spills. Even if the area is currently dry, a past sewage backup can contaminate the area, leaving behind sewage bacteria as well airborne pathogens.
The Best Crawl Space Protective Gear and Clothing
You know how people always say, “dress for the job you want”? Well, assuming the job you want is inspecting your crawl space, this is what you ought to be wearing. Be sure to inspect your crawl space from outside, at least as much as possible, before you enter, so you have at least some idea of what you might face and what you’ll want to wear.
Tyvek Suit or Jump Suit
A lot of people like to just throw on an old pair of overalls or coveralls before entering a crawl space. Honestly, I don’t think that provides enough protection. A Tyvek suit or jump suit covers your whole body and is impervious to water, so you’ll stay clean and dry while you’re down there. There’s a pretty wide range of quality and durability to these jump suits, but you can get a good pair of disposable DuPont Tyvek coveralls for under $20. Look for one that includes a hood and boots.
A good pair of gloves is essential when you’re working in your crawl space. Look for a pair that’s sturdy enough to resist being punctured by nails, but not so clunky that you aren’t able to work with your hands effectively.
I know a guy who once knelt down on a nail while he was shuffling around in his crawl space. Just the idea of that is enough to keep me from ever going into one without knee pads. If nothing else, they’ll keep the knees of your Tyvek suit from getting torn up by debris, but they could also save you from serious injury.
There are differing opinions on headgear for crawl space work, and a lot of guys insist on wearing a hard hat. I won’t argue with that. It’s certainly a great safety measure, but I find that a hard hat can also get in the way and be very restricting in such a tight space. A padded hat is a great alternative that will give your noggin some cushion from bumps. I’m also a big fan of Bump Cap Inserts, which you can slip inside just about any baseball cap.
Gear and Safety Tips
In addition to protective clothing, you should also have a few other pieces of protective and safety gear on you at all times when you’re entering a crawl space. Always check your gear before you enter, so you know it’s in good working order.
Can we just think about what a nightmare scenario getting stuck in your crawl space, alone, in the dark would be? No thanks. Bring a good quality flashlight. Make sure it works and that the batteries are fresh. Choose a durable model so it won’t conk out if you accidentally drop it. I’m also a big fan of wearing a head lamp for crawl space inspections. It keeps both hands free at all times, and you’ll never drop it.
For goodness sake, cover your eyes! From dust and debris to sharp corners and loose wires, there’s so much stiff in a crawl space that can hurt your eyes, I almost don’t want to get into it. A good pair of safety glasses or goggles will keep debris from getting into your eyes. That’s that.
You really never know what’s floating around in the air down in your crawl space. Dust, mold spores, bits of insulation, rodent dropping particles, chemicals, airborne bacteria—it’s a nasty place. You need to protect yourself from breathing all that stuff in, and a cheap paper mask doesn’t really do much. You need a respirator with a filter to really make sure your lungs are safe. Here’s a tip: while you can buy eye protection and a respirator separately, some Tyvek jump suits come with the whole getup, which might save you some money.
Never enter your crawl space without letting someone know where you’re going, and always take your cell phone with you! If you get hurt or injured down there, you will be extremely grateful that you brought along a way to call for help. And even if that never happens, you can use it to call for a snack or a tool you forgot. The camera is also great for taking pictures of problem areas. It’s just good common sense.