Base­ment win­dows are not port­holes

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - MIKE HOLMES

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.

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