window well in Toronto basementIs your window well causing your basement to leak?

Window wells are a common cause of a leaking basement.  Over the years, we’ve responded to thousands of leaky basement calls in Toronto and many of them had the window well to blame.  From poor drainage, to lack of maintenance, a window well needs to to properly installed and cared for if you want it to perform properly.

Basements are usually built below ground level, unless the home is built on a slope with a walkout basement, then only part of it may be underground. This can make them dark, depressing places where no light penetrates and fresh air cannot enter. The solution is to dig downwards and expose sufficient space to install a window that connects the basement to the outside world.

Architects call these holes “window wells”. Perhaps that’s because they look a little like water-wells from a distance. The similarity should end there. Unfortunately, window wells are also perfect receptacles for rainwater, and have been known to fill completely until overflowing. When this happens, water pressure explores cracks and crevices under hydrostatic pressure, until it finds a way into the basement.

Things to Do About the Problem of a Leaking Window Well

Window wells provide a classic approach-avoidance dilemma. On the one hand, you want your basement open to light and air. On the other, you want it to stay dry when it rains. There are several things that you can do about this, starting with one that’s theoretically simple, but may be difficult to achieve.

Creating a window well as a means of egress

Install a Drain at the Bottom of the Window Well

Don’t be tempted to simply lay a gravel floor at the bottom of the hole, as some builders may advise. This may be adequate in a drizzle and could even work in steady rain (at least until the gravel gets blocked with leaves). Eventually, you’ll have a cloudburst that causes the window well to fill up. You know what happens next!

There’s only one correct solution, and that’s a decent drain that discharges water from the window well, and away from your foundation.  This can be accomplished using gravity or an electric pump.

Fit a Cover Over the Window Well

It can be more practical to roof over the window well, although this does restrict the amount of light and air filtering through. Many firms supply covers made of glass with opening window panes. Some work extremely well, although they do require regular maintenance.

This care ranges from the obvious like cleaning the glass panes regularly; to the important task of making sure the seals on glass panes are intact. The design is “borrowed” from traditional vertical sashes and is almost made to fail. You could also fit a solid glass dome although that largely defeats the object of the exercise.

creating a decorative garden in window well

Window wells are imperfect solutions to an almost unavoidable problem. When properly designed and maintained properly, they can work extremely well. However when they start causing basement leaks, neglect and improper drainage can result in very expensive repairs down the road.

Do you have problems with your window well?  Is it leaking or causing cracks in your foundation?  Nusite Group provides to free inspection and estimate to homeowners in Toronto and across the GTA.  You can contact us here.