You probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about window wells — they’re just there on your house like shingles or doorknobs. If you’re like most people, you slapped on some plastic window well covers from Home Depot years ago and figured you were set for life.
Basement window wells’ main purpose, of course, is to complement the windows in your basement to allow sunlight and ventilation into what can be a dark space. They also become an integral part of any basement waterproofing system by preventing those windows from becoming a source of water infiltration.
Because basement windows are installed below grade, they require a retaining wall to hold back the surrounding soil. Typically, this is a corrugated steel window well liner, although the “well” is sometimes constructed of concrete or masonry. Even a well-made window well can fail over time, leaving your basement susceptible to water seepage.
What can go wrong with window wells?
Poor Drainage Can Cause Seepage or Flooding through the Window
If a window well is not properly drained, it can fill with water, either from direct rainfall or infiltrating ground water. If the drain is missing, clogged or collapsed, your basement window may begin to resemble an aquarium every time it rains. It won’t be long before the window itself or the seal around it fails and there’s water in your basement.
If there’s no drain at all in your window wells, you’re asking for trouble. A heavy rain can easily fill the well and exert enough pressure on the window to collapse it and flood the basement.
More likely, there is a drain in the widow well but it is covered with leaves and debris, clogged or damaged or not connected to anything. Cleaning off a covered drain is a pretty easy solution but, if the drain is clogged below the surface, it may be best to replace it because rodding such a drain to clear a clog may do extensive collateral damage to the exterior drain tile system and offers no guarantee that the clog won’t recur. If your home has an interior sump system it is fairly easy to run a new drain into the basement and connect it to the sump basin.
Window Well Liners That Separate from the House Can Allow Seepage
Additional problems can occur when the well liner separates from the building. Not all liners are properly secured and can pull away from the foundation wall, allowing a path for water to drain into the well and further burden the drainage system.
If the liner is attached to the basement windows, rather than properly secured to the foundation wall, other problems arise. Basement windows are not designed to withstand the pressure of soil and water against the liner and may cause the liner to collapse inward. Also, water will find its way to the metal window frame, causing it to rust and ultimately fail.
Broken or Missing Window Well Covers Can Cause Clogged Drains
Window well covers do not stop window wells from filling with water; they keep debris from getting into the window well and clogging the drain. A properly sized and secured window well cover will prevent leaves, grass clippings and other landscape waste from filling the window well and clogging its drain. Covers will also keep birds and animals out of the window wells where they can become trapped or enter your basement.
Plastic “bubble” covers from the big box home improvement store rarely fit window wells properly and are usually so flimsy that they crack and break within one season of severe weather. A custom-fitted polycarbonate cover will promote drainage, let in natural light, keep out animals and debris and is much more durable than anything from the big box store.
Basement waterproofing isn’t just a product or a process, it’s a system that includes components like drain tile, sump pumps and, yes, window wells. U.S. Waterproofing knows the entire basement waterproofing system and has installed and maintained them in more than 300,000 homes since 1957. If you think your window wells might be the weak link in your system, ask for our free advice.