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How to Make Space Great For Storage

Updated on July 22, 2011

It is a well-known fact that over the course of our lives we will acquire ridiculous amounts of stuff. And the bigger the houses we own, the more stuff we collect. Luckily, most of us have basements and storage rooms in which we can pack away all of the junk that we can't get rid of (because one day it will surely come in handy). Some of us, however, feel cheated because we only have only one option for storage: a crawl space. And how in the world can we be expected to put all of our precious items in a wet, dirty hole? This is exactly how I felt when I bought an older home in a Chicago suburb. I had no idea how I was going to fit all of the stuff I had into that dinky and dirty crawl space. But I learned the secret of how to effectively use acrawl space in Chicago and from that day forward, I never worried or complained about not having enough space again. With some preparation and planning, you too will appreciate the benefits of a crawl space. Let me share my knowledge with you.

The first thing you need to do is determine the exact size of your crawl space. If you have access to the house's blueprints, you can check there for an easy answer. If you don't, you'll have to take the measurements the old-fashioned way. If nothing else, make sure you know precisely how deep the crawl space is so that you can buy storage containers that will fit. Next, take a look at the condition of your crawl space. Do you have a dirt floor that will get muddy when it rains? Or maybe sand has been laid down. Or stone. Are there leaks from the floor above? Once you've assessed the situation, you can make a plan to keep your items safe. No matter what kind of flooring, it's a good idea to lay down a tarp or sheet of plastic. If there are leaks, fix them.

If the crawl space is excessively humid or damp--and even if it isn't--you'll probably want to invest a small amount of time and money in removing the moisture from the air. Mold and mildew, results of a damp environment, can damage your belongings and even seep into your home. Most crawl spaces, especially in older homes, are vented--designed on the mistaken idea that ventilation allows moisture to escape when in reality it facilitates a greater degree of humidity. As the air rises, it makes its way to the living space in your home. In fact, up to forty-five percent of the air in your house likely originated in the crawl space. This is especially bad news since allergens and mold spores can be easily transferred to your breathing air, not to mention that rot can form and subsequently eat away at your foundation.

To transform your crawl space into the dry, cool storage area it has the potential to be and to protect your home's structural integrity and your own health, begin by checking for spots exposed to the outside. Patch the holes and cracks you discover; then, insulate the entire crawl space. Spray foam is an easy option--you don't have to measure or cut a thing--but any kind of insulation is fine. Once your crawl space is insulated, you'll need to remove the moisture from the air. One way to do that is to put a dehumidifier near the entrance. Another option is to buy a foundation ventilator, which you can find at home improvement stores or online. Not only will the ventilator remove moisture, it will also get rid of dangerous gases. To determine how much air you need to ventilate, multiply the crawl space's square footage by its height to find the total cubic feet of the space. Divide that number (the total cubic feet) by 15 in order to get the number of cubic feet per minute (CFM) the crawl space requires for effective ventilation. Set up a humidity sensor in tandem with the ventilator so that the system will turn off and on as necessary.

When your crawl space is in a suitable condition, you can prepare your containers for storage. If you have cardboard boxes, line the insides with plastic sheeting. Otherwise, use plastic bins that can be properly sealed. Find containers that are the right height for stacking at least two on top of each other. As you place items in the bins and transport them to the crawl space, keep a record of what goes in each box and where the box is placed. You may find it helpful to write numbers on every box and to stack them in order; that way they're easy to find. You should also put labels on the outside of the boxes that detail what's inside so that you have a back-up record as well as a quick point of reference. Find a record-keeping system that works for you.

Finally, don't just forget about all of the important items you've stored away. Check on the crawl space at regular intervals to make sure everything is still in a good condition. When you do remove something from a box, put the rest back in an organized fashion. The trick is to keep everything tidy and in order; otherwise, it will quickly turn into a big mess.

The secret, then, is not about having lots and lots of space in which to store your piles of junk; it's about organization and planning. Your crawl space can become an optimal storage site if you dedicate some time to cleaning it up, weather proofing it, and removing the humidity. And, if you pack your items carefully and systematically, it will be just as easy to find them again as it would be if you were using an actual storage room. In fact, it may even be easier. My experience in Chicago taught me to view crawl spaces in a new light. Hopefully, now you do too.


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