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Wet Basement in Chicago? Check your Window Wells!

Jun 24, 2013 • By Matthew Stock.

Window Well

Sometimes, finding the source of a wet basement in Chicago is a little bit like a detective story.   The homeowner discovers the scene of the crime – a puddle on the floor or a soaked carpet – and calls in the expert, in this case the basement waterproofing contractor.

The expert then begins hunting for clues – searching for cracks in the walls, tracking down seepage between the wall and the floor and seeking out signs that water may have come in over the top of the foundation.  The expert may even try to recreate the crime by running a hose test outside the foundation to find the seepage.

Sometimes, though, the usual suspects all have alibis and the search has to broaden.  Sometimes it snags a culprit nobody thought to suspect – the window well.

How Window Well Problems can Cause a Wet Basement in Chicago

OK, enough with the detective metaphors. 

Window wells are an indispensible part of the design of most homes with basements.  They let light into an otherwise dark space and can be opened to allow fresh air to flow through the basement.  For homes that use the basement for living space, a properly sized and equipped window well can provide an emergency exit, required when bedrooms are present.

Like any opening in a foundation wall, however, window wells can be a source of seepage.  A properly designed and constructed window well will have a drain that is usually connected to exterior or interior drain tile, although it can also be tied to a storm sewer where permitted or flow to daylight.  These drains cannot perform properly if they are clogged with debris – grass clippings, leaves, blowing trash, weeds, etc.

If the drain does clog, the window well can fill with water that can seep in through an open basement window or around the edges of one that is poorly fitted or improperly installed.

Window well liners, typically a semi-circular piece of corrugated galvanized steel, can separate from the foundation wall due to soil shrinkage or improper installation and create a path for ground water to enter the window well.

Finally, a broken or missing window well cover can increase the chances of a clogged drain because there is nothing to prevent debris, soil or small animals from entering the window well.

So, how can window well seepage be repaired or prevented? 

Clogged drains, the primary source of trouble, are difficult to clean out and usually must be replaced.  Also, the lines they tie into often clog from the debris, creating a bigger problem.  If there is no drain, one can be installed.

A window well liner that has separated from the foundation can be reattached if it is otherwise in good condition; if not, it too can be replaced.

Of course, window well covers can be replaced (or installed for the first time) and broken or poorly fitting windows can also be replaced.

As for prevention, the best thing a homeowner can do is to make sure that all window wells have properly fitting covers.  Window well covers aren’t intended to keep rain out of the window well; they’re meant to prevent leaves, grass and other debris from clogging the drain.  Plastic “bubble” covers from the big box store usually don’t fit and always deteriorate quickly, which leads to cracks and breaks.  Custom-fitted, steel-reinforced polycarbonate covers offer a great combination of protection, durability and cost-effectiveness.

A Chicago homeowner with a wet basement due to window well problems obviously doesn’t need a detective; he or she needs a basement waterproofing contractor who understands the role played by window wells and can repair or replace them quickly and cost-effectively.  At U.S. Waterproofing, we have repaired or replaced thousands of window wells in our 56 years of helping Chicago homeowners keep their basements dry so why not ask for our free advice?

Tags: wet basement chicago, chicago wet basement, window wells, window well covers

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