Diagnosing and Repairing Window Well Problems

Diagnosing and Repairing Window Well Problems

Window wells are the perfect way to bring light into a subterranean room. If you have a basement, chances are you may have a window well, too.

What’s a window well?

If you are unfamiliar with the term, here’s a basic description of a window well.

A window well is a hole that’s dug out around a window that is located below floor level, as in a basement. Window wells can vary in depth, depending on how deep the window is, and they are generally rectangular or semi-circular. The shape depends on the purpose of the window well.

There are two main reasons for needing a window well.

  • The first has to do with aesthetics. A window well allows you to install a window in a subterranean room that would otherwise have no natural light. That would mean it would be dark and dingy and rely only on artificial sources for any sort of light. With a window and window well, the room becomes light and welcoming and could serve as a good space for gathering together or can be suitable as a separate suite. When you’re using a window well purely for aesthetics, it’s usually small-ish and semi-circular.
  • The second reason has to do with safety and, often, zoning laws. In some municipalities, an underground room must have a visible escape route in case of emergency. The window well would suffice for this purpose. When this is an issue, window wells tend to be on the larger side and are usually rectangular in shape.

What can go wrong?

So, in short, a window well is a hole dug around your basement window that allows light to permeate the room and, in some cases, allows for escape in case of emergency. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?

But the problem with a hole in the ground is that a lot of issues can develop in regard to maintenance. Some of those issues are likely pretty obvious to you after reading this simple description.

  1. Window wells fill up with debris. Depending on the time of year, that could be anything from leaves and twigs to mowed grass, flowers, and more. One of the biggest concerns is a window well full of snow. If you don’t tend to it, a window well can collect a whole season’s worth of snow, blocking all your light and potentially turning into a huge puddle that could permeate your basement. To fix this problem, either cover your window well prior to the snowy season or make sure you remove the snow on a regular basis.
  2. They’re hard to clean. Because they’re often so deep, window wells become difficult to clean and removing the aforementioned debris can be tough, especially if you don’t have the right tools to get the job done. You’ll probably find yourself kneeling on the ground, attempting to reach in to remove the debris AND to clean the dirty windows as well. It’s a chore that certainly won’t be on your list of favourite household duties!
  3. Animals may become trapped there. Yup, creatures like squirrels, chipmunks, mice, and birds can find themselves unable to get out of a window well after entering it. That means you’ll need to find a way to remove it, which can be dangerous if you do it on your own and costly if you have to hire someone else to do it. And you certainly don’t want to ignore these animals as they may die there, creating a nasty smell that could make its way into your basement.
  4. Window wells can be a hazard for small children. An unattended child can easily fall into a window well and get stuck or injured. It takes just a second or two for an active toddler to decide the well is interesting enough to examine, and one wrong move can cause plenty of cuts and bruises…or worse.
  5. The most frequent window well problem is flooding. Yes, window wells can flood in heavy rain or, as we mentioned, when an abundance of snow melts. If a window well (or the window) is poorly installed, you could wind up with water in your basement.

Addressing window well problems

If you have a window well, or more than one, you must be sure to have a proper drainage system in place so that flooding does not become a problem. You can choose an external drainage system, which sends water to your perimeter drain, or an internal one that sends the water to a sump pump.

You should also be sure that there’s a layer of loose gravel at the bottom of each well. This helps with drainage.

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In addition, window wells should be cleaned at least twice a year, more if your property is heavily wooded or if you get a lot of snow in the winter. You can do this manually on your own or hire someone to do it for you.

At Urban Water Works, we’re experts in drainage, so we can help you make sure the problems that can result from ill-maintained window wells don’t cause damage to your property. For an assessment, call us at 604-790-8993 to schedule an in-person appointment.