Crawlspace Tools and Safety


When it comes to home inspections, most clients are happy to follow me around to nearly all areas of the home with the exception of crawlspaces and attics. There is a list of good reason why clients avoid these areas such as:

  • There may be spiders
  • The areas are often minimally or completely unlit
  • It is dirty
  • It is cramped
  • The air quality is unknown
  • Possible animal activity
  • There may be spiders (did I say that already?)

Now, in all honesty, the reasons above, and many more not listed, are enough of a reason why I don't want to go into crawlspaces either, however, I'm being paid by the client to inspect this area of the home and it is up to me as the professional to know how to do this safely and with the right tools.

Crawlspace Safety

First, every home inspector and client need to know that inspector safety comes first. Even the professional standards spell out that inspections of crawl spaces are subject to a satisfactory evaluation by the home inspector that it is safe to do a full or partial inspection. Here are some things home inspectors need to consider:

  • Access Size - It is one thing to twist your body into an awkward space and 'just fit' into a crawlspace and a whole other issue for a fireman to try and pull you out in the event of an emergency (e.g. accidental electrocution or the inspector gets knocked out by fumes from stored chemicals). While there are no rules to this access, we tell our inspectors to look for a minimum 24" by 24" access for safety.
  • Crawlspace Clearance - Similar to access size, it may be possible to belly crawl to the far corners of the crawlspace but if a fireman with a respirator on could not reach you in an emergency, that is big trouble. We recommend our inspectors look for at least 36" of clearance to fully access a crawl space. Often drain pipes and air vents can restrict space and this may limit an inspectors ability to fully access the crawlspace.
  • Standing Water - Standing water is a big safety issue for inspectors. First, standing water may have all sorts of nasty contaminants from biological to chemical. Second, standing water could also conduct electricity. Inspectors should never crawl or stand in water in a crawlspace
  • Animal activity - According to the CDC, rats alone can carry 35 different human diseases that can be passed from contact with urine, feces,  and saliva or from the ticks, mites and fleas carried by rats. If there are signs of animal activity, this needs to be be reported in the inspection report and the area should be avoided by inspectors until review by a pest company is completed.
  • Improper wiring - With so little clearance already, if there is improper or unsafe wiring visible in a crawlspace, it is safest for the home inspector to avoid these areas to avoid accidental electrocution.

A good home inspection report should articulate if and how the crawlspace was accessed and if there were any safety limitations which prevented the inspector from fully accessing the crawlspace.

Crawlspace Tools

Home inspectors following the standards of practice require very few tools to complete a visual home inspection. In the crawlspace, this is no really any different however there are a few specially items that make inspecting a crawlspace safer and more comfortable for the inspector.

  • Coveralls - Dirt crawlspaces are dirty and concrete crawls spaces are notoriously dusty. A good pair of coveralls (washable or disposable) can keep your clothes clean and you looking presentable for current and next clients of the day.
  • Knee pads - A comfortable set of knee pads can make a crawlspace inspection much more pleasant for a home inspector. This is particularly helpful on concrete crawl spaces as the floors are usually quite rough.
  • Gloves - A pair of even disposable gloves combined with the coveralls and/or kneepads can give an inspector confidence to 'get dirty' and simply remove the gloves when done. As inspectors are typically on hands-and-knees in a crawlspace, gloves are an excellent part of the crawlspace kit.
  • Mask - Masks and full face respirators come with different ratings for different filtration values. In a short visual inspection, we should not be disturbing much possible asbestos or other contaminants but it is better to be safe than sorry. Using a good quality disposable mask saves inspectors from the time and hassle of changing cartridges and carrying extra bulky tools.
  • Lighting - A flashlight or headlamp are essential to aid in the visual inspection of the crawlspace
  • Ladder - Some crawlspaces are deep enough to require some steps for safe access. Home inspectors should already have a ladder in their kit for accessing attics and other spaces.
  • Shoes - Good shoes should be part of the inspectors gear. Shoes with wrap around rubber to the sides of the shoe helps keep the shoes cleaner and lasting longer when dragging on the edges in the crawlspace.

My Preferences and Procedure

My crawlspace kit

My crawlspace kit

In my work truck I have a section in my storage box I call my 'crawlspace kit'. It includes disposable masks, rubber gloves, coveralls, and kneepads. I buy my shoes with crawlspaces and roofs in mind and my attic ladder doubles for crawlspace access. I also typically use my flashlight from my main inspection kit. I keep this kit well stocked and I charge a crawlspace fee for use of the disposable materials which clients never argue about (probably as I'm facing the spiders they don't want to face).

My usual procedure is to look at the crawlspace access when it is first discovered in the home inspection and to determine what tools I might want to bring back when it is time to do the crawlspace inspection (I don't always wear the coveralls). I typically save the crawlspace then attic to near the end of the inspection as I want to minimize tracking dirt, dust, and insulation around from these areas.

Crawlspace inspections always start from an exterior observation for basic safety. Then I usually remove my tool pouch (I wear a tool belt) and I leave everything but my flashlight at the access entry for ease of movement. Lastly, I'll put on my crawlspace 'kit' and proceed with the inspection below. At the completion of the inspection, I remove my disposable mask and gloves and make sure not to shake much dirt or dust around as I take of my kneepads or coveralls. I try to quickly take all this gear back out of the house both to keep the work site tidy but also as I don't want to have armfuls of stuff to take from the house when I'm done reviewing with the client.

Final Thoughts

With the correct safety equipment, some comfort equipment, and inspection tools, inspecting crawlspaces is not as filthy as jt seems to the uninitiated. As for those pesky spiders, I've learned it is the spiderwebs that are often a worse part of the crawlspace experience than the spiders themselves and waving a stick (or extended magnetic pickup tool) around in front of you can clear a 'safe' path through.

By James Bell - Owner/Chief Inspector of Solid State Inspections Inc.