crawl space bots

Are Crawl Bots Effective for Crawl Space Foundation Repair Estimates?

You’ve got foundation issues with your pier and beam home and you need a bid for repairs. So, you are having a house leveling contractor look at your crawl space to get a quote. You know that getting under your home is a tight squeeze and think a crawl space inspection robot would be best or easier to use. 

Anchor Foundation Repair Bryan College Station

At Anchor Foundation Repair, we have inspected and repaired thousands of crawl space homes in the Brazos Valley since 1985. We’ve spent a lot of time in tight unpleasant crawl spaces diagnosing problems and can tell you what we think in a fair manner about whether crawl bots are helpful to the estimation process. 

This article will describe the crawl space inspection robot and what it can be good for. We will also discuss their shortcomings when using crawl bots to estimate house leveling repair pricing.

What Is a Crawl Space Inspection Robot?

A crawl space inspection robot is a low-profile remote control tech device. It is designed to traverse the space underneath your home, fitting in and navigating through tighter spaces that a human can’t easily manage. 

The bot will typically have lights and can gather images and video to document the condition of your crawl space foundation. The inspector comfortably operates the device from outside the crawl space, keeping them away from dirt, bugs, critters, and various nastiness typically found under elevated homes.

crawl space inspection robot
Awwww . . . ain’t he cute . . .

One generic term to describe this remote control vehicle is “crawl space inspection robot” but you might also hear names like:

  • Crawlers
  • Crawl bots
  • Crawling robots
  • Inspection robots
  • Inspection crawlers
  • Inspection remote control car

How Crawl Bots Are Helpful to Home and Foundation Inspectors

crawl space work
Can you see us back there?

Having spent a ridiculous amount of my life rolling around in hot, damp, and let’s say *less than ideal* crawl space conditions, I’ve always thought there must be a better way to do this. 

Many home and foundation inspectors appreciate the benefits that crawl bots have to offer, by keeping them:

  • Cleaner,
  • Out of the dirt and mess,
  • In more comfortable temperatures, and
  • Away from bugs, beasts, and other bad stuff.

Crawling under homes is a slow, difficult process, even for the slim and spry. You have to be careful of snakes, mold, toxins, etc, all while also avoiding injury from untold debris. You can’t see well, but you’ve got to measure stuff and take pictures. You can’t miss anything either because a homeowner is depending on you to give them an accurate report or price. 

Inspectors favor the crawl space inspection robot as a tool that potentially:

  • Allows access to low clearance areas humans can’t reach,
  • Increases their productivity,
  • Keeps them safer, 
  • Boosts efficiency, and
  • Generally makes it easier for them to do their job.

It really sounds like a remote control robot is the perfect solution for inspecting crawl space foundations, doesn’t it?

orderly crawl space, easy for a robot to traverse
If only every crawl space were this neat and orderly . . .

Shortcomings of Remote Control Crawl Space Inspection Robots

Even though contractors like we would love nothing more than a new gadget to make our glamorous foundation repair life easier, the crawl space inspection robot is not without its downsides. 

messy crawl space bot can't go everywhere
Look at all those plumbing lines at different levels and the dirt piles . . .

Difficulty Navigating Obstacles

The practical use of crawlers *in real life* does not always live up to the theoretical hype. First, crawl spaces have obstacles these robots are designed to navigate, yet often fail. You’ve got all kinds of stuff under there to try and avoid, like:

  • Plumbing drain and supply lines – some elevated and some on the ground
  • Gas and propane lines at various levels
  • Abandoned electrical lines
  • Trash, debris, and general junk
  • Low spots, holes, and uneven terrain
junky crawl space for a bot to navigate
A robot could easily get caught up in that insulation. And did anyone lose a basketball??

The robot can get caught up on any of these things and you can’t exactly reach your hands in to help him out (yes, I’ve decided it’s a boy). Some pipe circumferences and holes could be just the right size or shape to trap one of these remote vehicles. Then what do you do?

Also, going forward is easier, but backing up is difficult. Your robot might not have a 360-degree rotating camera which means you can only see if you’re going forward. Navigating in reverse when you have to steer your bot out is a challenge no matter what, even if you can see where you’re going.

rough terrain in crawl space
Rough terrain for a crawl space . . .

Sight Only, Lack of Tactile Ability, and Input

With a remote control inspection robot, all you can do is look. Only one of the 5 senses is employed here and that’s sight. You can’t feel, touch, or move anything around with a bot.  Your bot can’t smell anything and hearing is likely limited or unclear.

The ability to touch and feel things is really important when you’re trying to figure out what is damaged and if it needs to be replaced. Wood appearance in crawl space conditions can be deceiving and it’s easy to get things wrong if you’re only using your eyes. I’ve run into:

  • Wood that looks just fine but is so brittle you can snap it with your hands.
  • Termite damage that looks terrible but is only superficial surface imperfection.
  • Wood that has some kind of growth on it that looks bad yet it’s solid and intact.
  • Dirt that looks okay but when you crawl over it you sink in and it’s too wet.
damaged wood a robot can't poke things
This wood looked okay until I poked it . . .

Some wood will say *I’m fine* and other wood will say *replace me* but if you’re only basing it on looks, you could be very, very wrong. What, wood doesn’t talk to you? Just me? Ok then . . . I guess that’s why I’m the crawl space repair guy . . .

But it’s that whole *don’t judge a book by its cover thing* here. You can only have visual input with an inspection robot. You have no ability to get past the visual and use other senses or get essential tactile input and information. It’s the wood condition at the heart of things that matters, and using only your eyes leaves a lot of important info out of the picture.

Also, if anything at all is in your way you can’t grab it or push it aside because the robot has no hands or fingers.

Why Inspection Robots Aren’t Good For Repair Quotes

That last section leads right into why robots aren’t good for actual repair quotes. You have to be accurate and thorough in determining everything that is damaged and what wood really needs to be replaced.

A crawler bot could be just fine for a home inspector. Inspectors are mostly reporting on what is visible and documenting the current condition of the home (including crawl spaces). They don’t have to tell you how much anything will cost to repair.

(Though it still seems that their other senses should also be used in evaluating conditions in my opinion. But maybe it’s just me . . . )

really messy crawl space
This crawl space is a total trainwreck. Also, another lost ball . . . poor kids . . .

If the bot gets stuck, can’t see well, or can’t reach all the areas under the home, your repair quote might not be complete or include all the necessary materials. 

If you are unable to touch the wood and tactically VERIFY its condition, then your estimate could be too high or too low. An inaccurate low or high repair bid doesn’t create a positive relationship of trust and confidence between a house leveling contractor and a homeowner

If the price I quote is too high, customers might decide to go elsewhere. If the bid is too low, having to adjust the price later to compensate for more material and work needed doesn’t make homeowners happy and erodes trust. 

To provide the most accurate house leveling estimates that include all problem areas and materials, inspecting a crawl space in person has proven more effective in my business.

What to Expect from a House Leveling Estimate with Anchor

house leveling inspection

We would certainly love to find a more efficient, safe, clean, and easy way to do the work of estimating repair costs and have thoughtfully and seriously considered the option of using crawl bots. Unfortunately, we’ve decided that inspection robots have too many shortcomings for us to feel good about using them for estimation purposes.

After 35+ years in business, we at Anchor Foundation Repair know that there’s no better way to provide accurate estimates than just getting after it, getting dirty in the name of service to you – the homeowner – and making Mike Rowe proud in the process. 

For more detail on what happens at a house leveling inspection when we do it, check out What to Expect from a Pier and Beam Foundation Inspection from Anchor.