If you have a below-grade basement, your home most likely has window wells. Window wells are the recessed area in front of your basement windows. They’re dug a few feet down and sometimes across to allow sunlight into your basement windows, as well as provide an exit in case of emergency. Window wells do their work throughout the year, usually with little interference or upkeep performed by the homeowner. But if you want those wells to continue to work, inspect them now and then. Here’s how to choose the best window wells for your home and the equipment necessary for them to work properly.
Window Well Elements
To begin, here’s a breakdown of the various parts of the window well system. The hole itself is the window well proper, although the window, wall, drains, gravel, and any liners could also be said to be part of the window well. Each part of the window well serves a purpose. Your window well wall may be poured concrete and part of the foundation, or it might be a vinyl, corrugated steel, or a fiberglass insert. The base of the well is usually filled with gravel or a similar material to allow water to seep through to the drain beneath. The window, of course, is a standard window, set several inches above the ground and sealed around the frame to prevent water from seeping inside. Those are the basic parts of your window well, but you can add other parts to help the window well do its job.
If you have a cement or concrete window well wall, consider yourself lucky. Both substances are durable and long-lasting and won’t break down for decades. Regardless, keep an eye on them for potential cracks and chips and the like. They may be purely cosmetic damage, but patching them up with ready-made concrete might be a good idea.
If you have a plastic or fiberglass wall, they’re likely to last a long time as well, but they will also eventually crack and break. If they do, replace them immediately before the soil they’re holding back has a chance to encroach on the window well space. If your wall is in good shape, consider painting or adding a liner to it for a better view down below.
However, you should dump the old wall and install a new one if any part becomes rusted, corroded, broken down, chipped, or otherwise decrepit. If you have the choice between a concrete wall and a plastic or fiberglass one, opt for the concrete. Not only will it last longer, but it’s also stronger and able to support more weight, which is important when considering the purchase of a window well cover.
Keep It Covered
While a concrete wall is the first best investment you can make in a window well, a cover is your second priority. Widow wells can be left exposed to the elements, but it’s not a good idea. An exposed window well is more apt to break down, crack, lose its caulk and other sealants, and allow water, vermin, or soil, into the well—and eventually, your home. Letting a window well remain coverless also permits snow to build up in the well, which can melt and find its way into your basement. It also allows leaves to gather, rot and prevent the drain from working, or plants to grow and block the sunlight, and then eventually the drain when they die and break down.
Several models of window well covers are available, from cheap plastic covers you can pick up at the hardware store to custom-made models composed of polycarbonates and other durable materials. Again, investing in a custom-made cover is the better purchase since it’s durable, sturdy, and capable of supporting weight. In fact, window wells carry the danger of being hard to see since they’re dug flush with the ground and can sometimes be obscured by plants, landscaping materials, and other things. As such, it’s not uncommon for children or pets to fall in.
Custom window well covers can also be equipped with latches and other security features that can keep prowlers out while allowing you access, or even better, a means of rapid escape through your metal egress window well in the case of an emergency. Of course, the size of the cover is decided by the size of the window well. Interestingly, the shape of the cover can be determined by whether the window extends above the rim of the well. Bubble shapes are common with temporary plastic covers, though a custom-made cover can be designed as either flat or slanted above the top of the windows casement and frame.
Whichever window well cover you select, make sure it’s made of rust-proof materials like stainless steel, polycarbonate, or aluminum, and that the cover lies flat and fits snugly over the opening. If you go with custom-made window well covers, make sure you get a warranty on the work.
Window Well Ideas and Alternatives
Think you’d like an upgrade or expansion of your window wells? When considering how to choose the best window wells for your home, remember that you and your home are subject to the previously mentioned building codes. While window wells can be turned into wider and more useful spaces, your home and the soil around it may not be suitable for grander plans.
Consult a contractor about turning your utilitarian and shallow window wells into broader and deeper lounging areas or a system of tiers for planter and windowsill box gardening. The new and wider well will have to be equipped with a ladder or similar means of escape, and the window well area will need a cleared path between the window and ladder. If you have the means, the bland concrete, plastic, and corrugated metal wall designs can be exchanged for wood and timber designs. These can be weather-treated and may even be designed to match your home’s siding. Other options you can consider include faux rock finishes and other patterns and materials that emulate natural formations.
Expanding a window well is no small expense, but if possible, it’s an incredible use of otherwise neglected and overlooked space that will raise the value of your home.