Improving Your Inspection Skills in Pest Management: Basements, Crawl Spaces, and Concealed Subareas

Photo of a basement

Old basements like this 1920\’s vintage in Milwaukee can be full of pest surprises.

What is Under that Floor, Anyway?

When you walk into a house, or for that matter, when you walk into any building, commercial or residential, do you think about what lies beneath your feet?

For instance, if you were to come into my house, you could easily see that it is a two-story house plus basement, and I’d expect that any technician worth his title would see that, and, at the very least, consider inspecting the basement. But, I would be disappointed if the technician just left it at that and didn’t realize that there is more to my house than just those three levels.

The back of my house is actually a porch that was converted into a room. Based upon the layout, it has two separate crawl spaces, neither of which is accessible from the basement or the exterior. The porch on the front of my house has siding around it, which hides the crawl space underneath it. And, of course, there’s the attic, but that’s something we’ll talk about another day.

Are you sure about what’s beneath your feet as you walk around the entire main floor in an account?

There’s basically four different possibilities.

  1. Slab. Some people think that they don’t need to give any more thought to what’s beneath their feet when they realize that they have a slab foundation, but that’s not true. Termites (of course) can tunnel through openings in the slab, mice can enter through quarter inch gaps, and small cracks can let ants or other pests gain entry.
  2. Crawl space. This is probably one of the most under-considered sub-floor areas. After all, who wants to get down into there, especially if it has a dirt floor and is filled with black widows? Fortunately for me, in Wisconsin, we often have crawl spaces with concrete floors (I’m originally from California where crawl spaces are dirt, so when I have to go into a crawl space with a concrete floor, part of me wants to cry out “I’m a king! I’m a king!” because I feel so pampered by the client). If you don’t go into the crawl space, you at least need to consider what pests may be living there, and think about if you actually do need to get down into there. Hopefully you brought along some coveralls.
  3. Basement. It’s like the upstairs, only it’s underground (or semi-underground). What more can I say? Just hope that they didn’t drywall over the basement walls and ceiling. In Wisconsin, I see so much of that. Since I come from a family of termite inspectors, it always makes me cringe, because I think to myself, what’s between the drywall and the basement wall? What’s the joists look like? Fortunately for Wisconsinites, termites are a rara avis.
  4. Joists on dirt. The few times I’ve seen this construction method, what comes to mind is, “what were they thinking?” I saw this type of construction in Haiti and India, but in this country? I don’t think that I need to tell you about why this is such a bad idea.

When you go into your accounts, don’t take what lies beneath your feet for granted. Whether it is accessible or inaccessible, ask yourself, what’s likely to be down there, and will it impact my control program? Rarely if ever do you inspect all the areas of a structure, but a professional needs to be aware of all the areas of a structure and what may lie within them.

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