Basement windows are not portholes
SOME houses are raised and can easily have basements with windows above grade. Other houses have basements entirely below grade, so having a window is more complicated; the soil needs to be held back and a window well created to allow natural light and airflow into the basement. Usually, soil is held back by a curved corrugated steel insert or treated wood or decorative stone.
Window wells often allow water and snowmelt — as well as leaves and debris — to collect. Cleaning the leaves is no big deal, but if the well fills with water, it has no place to go but into your basement. A basement window isn’t a porthole.
The window well needs to make sure any water that gets into it is able to drain easily and quickly. Ideally, a window well should have six to eight inches of gravel at its base, and there needs to be several inches of clearance between the bottom of the window and the gravel.
A window well usually has a length of drainage tile placed vertically inside, leading down to the weeping tile at the footings. This allows any water that collects to be drained away through the storm sewer or sump pump.
There are a few reasons your window well might have water collecting in it. It might be that your gutters are clogged and overflowing, or maybe your downspouts aren’t directed away from the house or they discharge too near the foundation. If your property is poorly graded, groundwater might be flowing toward your home — and, of course, it will easily flood the window well. The first thing to do is check grading and make sure your downspouts are directed away from any window wells.
Normally, the only water that should end up in the well is precipitation that sheets off the window or falls past your house’s eaves. That’s not a lot. If you have a great deal of water getting in, or if it’s getting in faster than the window well drain can take it away, probably you’ve got a bigger grading problem to deal with.
There might be no drain at all. Or, the drain might be clogged. Or the weeping tile at the base of your foundation might be old and broken down, or clogged with tree roots or debris or soil heaving over time.
If you have water leaking into your basement from the window well, you need to create drainage. If your grade allows it, create a French drain and lay weeping tile from the window well base, with the other end a distance away from your home, emptying to daylight. Odds are you are too close to the neighbours, and your lot is level, so there’s no way to do that.
You have two other choices to get water out of your window wells: The first way — the best way, in my opinion — is to have your contractor excavate at the window well, right down to the weeping tile at the footings. Check the weeping tile to make sure it’s in good shape and draining properly out to the storm sewer. If the weeping tile is clogged or broken, you’ll need to deal with that. If you don’t, other problems will be caused, no question. (While you’re at it, check the foundation wall to make sure water isn’t getting in there somehow, as well.)
Place a piece of drain tile (covered with a sock to make sure it stays clear) vertically in the window well, to a few inches below the bottom of the window. Back-fill the hole with soil and then top with landscape fabric and several inches of gravel.
If, for some reason, you can’t excavate outside, there are interior solutions. I don’t prefer them; I like to make sure the water doesn’t get in at all, instead of thinking of ways to get it back out once it’s inside.
Basically, a hole is drilled through the foundation wall, under the level of the window. A piece of drainpipe is installed through the hole, leading from the window well, inside along the foundation wall to an interior sump pump. The window well is finished with grav- el and the foundation is sealed around the hole. Any water that builds up in the window well drains into the pipe, then gets pumped back out to wherever your sump pump discharges.
If your weeping tile is a mess — or is non-existent, as it might be in an older home, or, if you just don’t want the cost of an exterior repair — this will work. You’ll need an interior sump pump/ weeping tile system. And if your sump pump fails, so does the system.
People never like to hear that they have to excavate the exterior of their foundation to allow the window well drain to connect to weeping tile. Who would? But that’s the best way to do it. And, once the foundation is exposed, you have a good opportunity to examine what shape it’s in and possibly do necessary repairs.
If your house is older, it’s probable that the only waterproofing that was done on your foundation was what was standard code in those days: a layer of damp proofing or sealant painted on. We’ve come a long way in the building industry since those days, and the materials you can install now are far superior — they don’t even compare! So, look at the bright side: It’s your chance to make it right.
— Canwest News Service
Proper treatment of a window well includes a protected drain pipe connected to weeping tile, a barrier to hold soil away from
the foundation and a pit of gravel. Proper waterproofing of the foundation is also imperative.