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bad vapor barrier

Bad Vapor Barrier

Whether you have moved into a new home or you’re simply assessing the state of your long-time home, being able to spot the signs of a bad vapor barrier is key.

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Your property’s crawl space is one of the most vulnerable parts of the structure when it comes to dampness, humidity, and other forms of water damage. This is partly because of the climate in Grand Junction, CO which is temperate and changeable, but often very wet in Spring. It’s also because of the unique problems that a crawl space placement offers. For example, crawl spaces are often the first spaces to suffer because of foundation damage or structural damage. Furthermore, if a crawl space has not been encapsulated, or the waterproofing measures are damaged, then water will be able to access the space in several ways. 

A vapor barrier or retarder is just one of the many different products that are used to properly waterproof a crawl space, they are also one of the more important parts of the system because they keep water out of your home altogether. When they are damaged, they let moisture in and trap it, making a bad vapor barrier more detrimental than a non-encapsulated crawl space. 

Problem Signs of a Bad or Damaged Vapor Barrier 

The signs of a damaged or ineffective vapor barrier in your crawl space commonly cross over with the signs of dampness and humidity. For this reason, it can be hard to diagnose a bad or damaged crawl space vapor barrier unless you can physically see the damage or problem area. This is why it is imperative that you act quickly when you see problem signs arise.

damaged vapor barrier

Visible Tears and Damage 

The most obvious sign of damage or defects in your crawl space vapor barrier is, of course, visible damage. If you notice tears, punctures, or gaps in your vapor barrier while in your crawl space, then you should call in a professional at once. 

Damage can come about for a few reasons, but the most common causes of damage to a crawl space vapor barrier are tearing or puncturing due to pressure when someone is in the crawl space or objects are being moved around. 


Condensation is a sign that humidity in your crawl space has reached a breaking point. When the air can hold no more water, condensation is the common result. This creates localized areas of saturation that will cause damage to organic surfaces, but humidity, in general, is damaging enough. 

If condensation has been a frequent issue in the space, then you may also see corrosion on exposed pipes in your crawl space. It is imperative to act quickly to prevent the situation from escalating further. 

Pooling Water 

Pools of standing water in your property’s crawl space are a strong sign that there is the damage of some kind at work. This can either be damage to your structure and vapor barrier (or any part of your waterproofing measure), or it can be damage to your internal plumbing systems. 

Standing water in your crawl space will create the perfect environment for high humidity and condensation, as well as all the issues that they can lead to. The most worrying potential issue, however, is an imminent plumbing flood (which will cause a huge amount of damage very quickly). 

Rotting Wood 

If you have exposed wooden beams or joists in your Grand Junction, CO crawl space, then you should check them at regular intervals. Any level of dampness on a consistent basis poses a huge risk of allowing wood rot to start forming. When this happens, the structural damage will be serious. 

You will recognize wood rot by how it changes the texture and color of the wood. White rot, brown rot, and soft rot all look slightly different, but the common factor is how the wood will feel under your fingers. Rotting wood will feel soft, spongy, or brittle. 

Mold Formations 

Mold is, of course, a worrying issue in a crawl space. However, while most people know what mold is, they are not always likely to know what it looks like. Mold can be spotted in several ways. Firstly, it can create a musty and unpleasant smell in your property. 

On a visual level, however, mold will cause discoloration and a slight change in texture to surfaces that it is growing on. If you suspect that you have mold in your crawl space, please do not touch it, and take measures to minimize breathing it in. 

bad vapor barrier

Sagging Flooring 

A sagging crawl space or floor is a bad sign no matter what state your vapor barrier is in. If you notice visible unevenness or sagging in your home, then you should contact a professional as soon as you are able to. Sagging or damaged floors are easier and cheaper to fix when you catch them early. 

If you are paying close attention, you could even catch this kind of damage before the floors start to sag. Pay close attention to the way your flooring feels, your floors should always be firm and stable underfoot. If it is springy or bouncy, then you should investigate. 

Cosmetic Damage 

Cosmetic damage like staining, wallpaper bubbling, and warping wood is a common side effect of dampness and humidity. While this kind of damage may not seem like a huge issue, it will lead to further damage. 

Increased Energy Bills 

Sudden and inexplicable increases in your energy bills can be indicative of dampness and humidity within your home. This happens because humid air is harder for your HVAC system to process than arid air. As such, it needs to work harder to get the same result in a damp home. 

This lowers energy efficiency and will cause your bills to increase, sometimes quite dramatically. Some of these problem signs can be connected to several issues, but none of them are benign. As such, you should call in a professional when you see one or more of these red flags in your home. Acting quickly could make all the difference. 

Is a Vapor Barrier Necessary? 

Broadly speaking, a vapor barrier is not a necessity. Neither is waterproofing your crawl space. However, choosing to encapsulate your crawl space and installing a vapor barrier is a wise decision that has many different benefits. A good vapor barrier offers benefits like: 

Lower Humidity 

The main purpose of a vapor barrier is to prevent moisture from entering a space. Humidity can have implications for your home and will also make it uncomfortable and mildly unhealthy. 

Less Risk of Flooding 

Encapsulation will seriously reduce the risk of flooding and standing water in your property. In fact, if your property is well waterproofed it will remove the risk of external flooding entirely. However, it cannot prevent flooding caused by damage to your plumbing system. 

Lower Risk of Mold 

Lower humidity and dampness in a property will make your home inhospitable to mold and fungal growths. This is a huge benefit because these substances can be harmful to your home and your person. Wood rot fungi are most likely to damage the structure of your property, while mold is likely to damage your health. 

Energy Efficiency and Savings 

Humidity is damaging to your home in a number of ways, but the most subtle of issues is usually the way it affects your HVAC system. Humid air is far harder to process than arid air. As such, a home with lower humidity is more energy-efficient and generally has lower energy costs. This also lowers the rate of wear and tear on your property. 

Of course, the extent to which you see these benefits will be largely dependent on the quality of your waterproofing measures as a whole. Encapsulating your crawl space will have far more obvious benefits than simply installing a vapor barrier. 

Bad Vapor Barrier


If you do not already have waterproofing measures in place you should think seriously about encapsulating your crawl space. This is a process that has many benefits and very few, if any, drawbacks. Of course, there are some things that you should consider. 

Before Waterproofing 

Before you waterproof and encapsulate your crawl space, you need to be fully aware of its current condition. This means considering whether you have dated or damaged waterproofing measures in place to clear or work around and whether there is underlying damage in your home. Waterproofing when there is underlying damage will lead to the issues being allowed to grow unchecked and unseen. 

Secondly, consult a professional and do some research as to what the best waterproofing products might be for your property. Getting the right waterproofing measures for your home is key to getting the best possible results. If you act too quickly or do not deal with underlying issues, your waterproofing may go wrong. 

The Benefits 

Once you have dealt with any underlying issues and you have found the right waterproofing products for your home, the process of installation is quite simple. The benefits of waterproofing your crawl space are many and varied, too. Primarily, a waterproof crawl space is a safer and healthier crawl space that will protect the environment within your home. After all, your crawl space is a part of your property even if you don’t see it often. 

Another benefit to waterproofing is a general stabilization in the wider climate of your home. Properties with fully encapsulated crawl spaces tend to have better heat and cold retention, higher levels of energy efficiency, lower energy bills, and fewer fluctuations in the interior temperature and humidity rate. This makes the home a healthier and more comfortable environment to be in. And, while there are more tangible benefits, we feel that the biggest benefit is this level of comfort and safety.

While it’s easy to categorize a ‘bad’ vapor barrier, it’s harder to identify a good one quickly if you lack experience and training. However, knowing the difference between a good and bad vapor barrier is key to your home’s health, so it is best to contact a professional. 

‘Bad’ Barriers 

Arguably, there are only two ways in which a vapor barrier can be ‘bad’. Firstly, it can be damaged in some way, whether through accidental incidents or through inherent defects. Secondly, it can be unfit for its intended purposes. Under these circumstances, a vapor barrier can be classed as ‘bad’ for your property. However, there are many more cases in which a vapor barrier can be non-ideal. 

Vapor barriers can be categorized by their width and grade. Barriers as thin as 6mm can be found, for example, but we would recommend that you never stray below 8mm in thickness. Thinner barriers are more prone to tearing and puncturing when put under pressure. Vapor barriers can be found in 3 grades, too, and while they each have their benefits, we would never recommend a grade 3 as these are porous and will let water through. 

‘Good’ Barriers 

Getting a ‘good’ vapor barrier means getting a barrier that is tough enough to stand up to the job that you have in mind for it. This means protecting your home passively, but also standing up to pressure and use when needed. This is why you should have thicker barriers, where possible, and if you intend to use your crawl space for storage, we recommend a 20mm reinforced barrier for optimal tear and puncture resistance. 

As for grading, we would always recommend a grade 1 barrier for use in a Colorado crawl space. While grade 2 vapor barriers do an excellent job, they are semi-permeable and will not stand up to perimeter saturation. Grade 1 barriers, by contrast, are entirely waterproof and will not let moisture pass, whether in liquid or vapor form. This makes them the most reliable vapor barriers by far!

Yes! It is possible to simply change out a damaged vapor barrier rather than replacing the whole waterproofing system. However, in some cases, this may not be possible. It all depends on the nature of the damage. 

Repair and Replacement 

In some cases, damage to a vapor barrier and a property’s waterproofing measures will be tied directly to structural damage and decay in your home. If this is the case, it may be necessary to remove more than the damaged vapor barrier to complete proper repairs. Likewise, if the damage to your waterproofing has been ongoing and dampness has taken root, then it may have caused structural damage that requires more intensive repairs. 

In these cases, simply changing the vapor barrier will not be enough. However, if you spot damage or defects in your vapor barrier early and there is no underlying or co-occurring damage to deal with, it may be possible to simply replace the barrier and move on. In these cases, the process of repair will be relatively quick and easy.

Why Worry About a Bad Vapor Barrier? 

So, with all this in mind, what is a bad vapor barrier? Is it really that important in the grand scheme of things? Well, yes. As well as not performing as it should, a bad vapor barrier could be worse for your home than being without waterproofing measures! Why? Because the same properties that help it keep moisture out can also trap it in. 

A compromised, faulty, or damaged vapor barrier will allow some moisture to pass while preventing it from draining away or evaporating. This will cause damage and even accelerate the spread of substances like mold and mildew by creating an incubator-like environment. This has implications for your home and health. 

bad vapor barrier

Damage to Your Home 

There is a high chance that dampness and humidity in a property are the results of structural damage, but when this is not the case, prolonged dampness and humidity can cause structural issues like uneven flooring

The most expected cause of this is the formation and spread of wood rot fungus. This naturally occurring substance causes the decay of dead wood. All wood in a property is dead, making it very vulnerable to this kind of issue. 

Implications for Your Health 

If a bad vapor barrier allows moisture into your property and this allows mold to take root and spread, then your health will suffer. Of course, for those who have allergies and underlying respiratory problems, humidity and dampness can be uncomfortable enough. Mold is a different issue altogether. 

Black mold, in particular, is actively toxic and will cause issues of many diverse kinds. Exposure to black mold can cause rashes, infections, nose and throat issues, migraines, dizziness, and even seizures in healthy people. However, if you have an underlying issue like emphysema or bronchitis, it could well lead to hospitalization. 

After all, your crawl space may be a distinct part of your home, but it does have an impact on the climate in the rest of your property. A crawl space that is damp and humid with mold formations will soon cause the humidity of a whole home to increase and lead to mold spreading. 

Call Foundation Repair of Western Colorado for Crawl Space Encapsulation

If you have seen signs of vapor barrier deterioration, dampness, humidity, or other forms of damage to your crawl space and waterproofing measures, please do not wait. Call Foundation Repair of Western Colorado today! Our team has been helping homeowners to deal with issues like these since 2005. We know what it takes to dehumidify and restore even the most damaged crawl spaces. It all starts with a free inspection appointment

When you contact our team to book your free appointment, our team will help you to set a time and date that suits your needs and talk you through the process. These appointments come without obligation to book repairs through us, of course, but they do include a written estimate for our suggested repairs. This is intended to help you make a choice that is good for your wallet as well as your home. If you have questions about your technician’s suggestions, please do not hesitate to ask them. We are always here to help.

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