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crawlspace excavation

Hi. I have a 1930's era home that needs the crawlspace to be dug out in some areas. (it ranges from almost no clearance to only about 12" or so) my question is: what are some easier ways of going about it? Or should i look forward to spending some quality time with the shovel and wheelbarrow. P.S. we are completely gutting the house, and replacing the floors (some joists and all subflooring) so access shouldn't be a problem. Thanks!
Geoff S.

Re: crawlspace excavation

Why do you want/need to excavate the crawlspace? It is all about the access to the space and getting equipment in and dirt out. How far down do you need to go, inches or feet?


A. Spruce
Re: crawlspace excavation

Since you're doing a total gut, the easiest access will be through the floor, then use large restaurant sized dishpans to haul the dirt from the perimeter to the access point. Stay at least a foot away from support footings until you get the level where you want it and resupport the structural members. Then you can remove the existing supports, excavate, install new appropriate footing and support member. After that you can remove your temporary supports. This would also be a good time to do any leveling of the floors if need be.

I've done this a few times and it's not that much fun being on your belly all day under a house and digging. Things that will easy your job:

  1. A camp shovel - it doesn't have to be folding, but you know the ones, they're about 2' long with a D handle.
  2. A roto hammer with a spade and a chisel point to break up hard pan. No sense working harder than necessary.
  3. Hire temp labor to help with the digging and hauling of the material. If there's a neighbor kid or two that would like a few bucks, that will be your best bet. If you'd rather not go there, then a temp labor agency will cost you about $12 to $15 per hour for a grunt.
  4. Ramps - build adequate and sturdy ramps so that wheelbarrows can be trucked in and out of the house and surrounding area to dispose of the material. Sure, it will cost you a few bucks, but the time and effort saved, plus the added safety is well worth the time to do them.
  5. [*]Get a pair of overalls and save your clothes. you can get mechanics overalls that will last a long time, or a disposable Tyvek overall that will shred by the time you've completed the job. Either way, it's nice to be able to pull off the overalls at the end of the day and leave most of the dirt and debris behind. Next day, pull them back on for another exciting excursion under the house.

Hope some of these ideas help.:)

Re: crawlspace excavation

Ramps and wheelbarrows are no fun if it were me I would go to the locale tool rental and rent a conveyor and a dump trailer. Park the trailer out side the window of the room your working on and run the conveyor through the window. That will also cut down on the number of times you have to handle the dirt. You can almost always find someone needing fill so disposal should not be a problem.

Re: crawlspace excavation


Joe & Spruce make excellent points & give good tips.

Could you provide more into as to A) how many cubic yards you intend to excavate; B) what the foundation walls are made of, & do they extend down to the 6' or 7' you will need to get clearance; C) is there adequate room to put a dumpster or dump truck next to the building to load the soil directly into it; D) can you knock out part of a wall to get a rented portable backhoe & skid loader in to remove the dirt.

I did this project 10 years ago, removing 70 cu. yds. of soil.

Since there was restricted room, we used a rented electric conveyer belt feeding directly into a 15 yd dumpster to get the soil out.

The 1st 3' was nice soft soil, the next 4' was solid hardpan that required a demo elec. jackhammer with a shovel blade fitting to loosen the hardpan then shovel it onto the conveyer.

The compacted soil expands ~30% when it is dug up, so it was more like 87 cu.yds.

Several large 8' granite boulders were encountered that complicated the excavation.

It took well over a solid month with a crew of 5 helpers working in shifts to get the job done.

The town wouldn't give a permit until an engineer had drawn up a plan, visited the site & made sure we SHORED UP THE WALLS with concrete step footings as we excavated near the walls, to prevent wall collapse.

The Nemmer site below illustrates the technique that is followed when digging down below the present foundation; click onto "structural problems page 1", then onto "leveling basement floors (diagram 0230)" and "underpinning timing of concrete pours (diagram 0232)".

There is a REAL DANGER OF WALL COLLAPSE if the procedure isn't followed.

Only a small amount (an 8' stretch) of soil is allowed to be removed from a foundation wall at a time before a step footing must be installed.

Even though rentals are expensive, the more MECHANIZED earth-moving equipment you can get in there, the easier, faster, and safer will be the excavation.


Re: crawlspace excavation

You didn't mention what type of foundation you have, concrete or block or fieldstone, or ??. Have you looked into raising the house and adding a couple courses of block rather than digging out?

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