Window wells—frequently forgotten, but deeply important to your home. Also called egress windows, these are those below ground-level windows that let a little bit of sunlight into your basement. They do more than that though; they also provide a way out of your basement in case of emergency, while letting emergency personnel inside if needed. The wells are also set up to let the sunshine in while keeping water, soil, and various furry and insect pests out. But for all the good they do, we sometimes forget to look after, much less think about, our homes’ window wells. Too bad, because when they’re neglected, they can become useless, unsightly, and unsafe.
Fortunately, with a little care and maintenance, you can keep your window wells working and intact, and maybe even add a touch of beauty to that limited basement view. Here’s how to keep your window wells protected and looking good so they’ll provide better service in the years to come.
Keep It Clean
Cleaning a window well is easy, unless it’s been ignored for years and allowed to fill with plant growth, leaves, dirt, droppings, and more—in which case, you have our sympathies. Either way, it’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it. But as far as jobs go, it’s simple. First, assess if anything is already living in your window well before sticking your hands down there. A few pokes with a stick or long-handled tool should encourage any varmints to “git”. Insects and spiders might be present, but they’ll make ways once you begin cleaning. Watch for bees, hornets, and wasps, though, which may take issue with being evicted.
Wearing tough work gloves and a dust mask, lay on your stomach and begin cleaning out any leaves, twigs, plants, or other organic material. You may encounter resistance, especially with plants that have woven their roots around the gravel at the bottom. In older homes, you might find surprises in the form of old discarded trash, including bottles, jars, bricks, and more. Use a garden trowel to pry things loose, and once things are sufficiently loosened, run a shop vac down there. If the gravel has settled and become pack together by decades of dirt, you might want to consider digging it out and either rinsing it clean and putting it back or replacing it with new stones. Afterward, get a bucket of warm, soapy water with dish soap, and a scrub brush, and scrub the sides from top to bottom. Remove any screens, let them soak in soapy solution, rinse them out, and dry them off and replace them. Get window cleaner and with a few squirts and wipes, make the glass sparkle, front and rear: a tough job, but well worth it.
Note: If your window well wall is made of steel, plastic, fiberglass, or other material and appears to be breaking up, rusting, or otherwise disintegrating, don’t waste time cleaning, painting, or resealing it. It’s time for a new one.
Keep It Covered
After cleaning out a window well, you’ll pretty much never want to do that again, right? Youn might not have to if you arrange for a window well cover. Covers come in cheap, stiff plastic versions you can just lay over the well, or fancier acrylic and polycarbonate hinged models you can have installed that provide greater strength and more protection. Whatever you use, covers help keep your well clean and mostly free from water when the rain falls or the snow melts.
Seal It Up
As mentioned above, one of the things window wells do best is to keep out water. However, window well covers help in that regard too. But after you clean out your well, check to see if there are any cracks in the wall, foundation, or around the window. If you notice anything cracking or flaking or falling away around the window’s edge—that’s old caulk, and it needs to be replaced. Use a screwdriver or putty knife to scrape out crumbling caulk, then use sandpaper to sand away anything sticking to the window’s edge. Apply a new larding of caulk to the space and allow it to cure. If you have a concrete window well wall, fill in cracks with a waterproof epoxy. Check inside as well, cleaning out the old caulk and replacing it with fresh new caulk. By the way, you’re not just stopping water and bugs from getting in—you’re keeping heat and air conditioning from getting out.
Just because window well is utilitarian doesn’t mean it has to be ugly. Consider multiple ways to decorate the well, so long as you keep the exit clear and the windows unblocked. People often create miniature rock gardens in their window wells, accompanied by shells, statuary, potted plants. Don’t add vined plants, which can overtake and dominate the well or cover the windows, and it’s a no-go on cacti as well. Consider adding a lovely scene to your basement view with decorative window well liners. Decorative window well liners come in several styles featuring outdoor scenes of forests, waterfalls, the ocean, and beach settings or more rugged and rustic images of brick or stone walls, evoking the steady, calming sensation of being in a cabin in the woods. Printed on durable, heavy-gauge, UV-protected vinyl, decorative liners resist warping and fading in direct sunlight or under heavy rains and are easily washed clean of dirt, leaves, and other marks.
Now that everything is straightened out and shipshape, it’s time to protect your window wells, and by extension, your home. When considering how to keep your window wells protected and looking good, add a layer of security by not surrounding the well with bushes or other things that can provide cover to prowlers. For that same reason, train lights (preferably those that turn on when they detect motion) on the wells and other entryways so invaders can potentially be seen by neighbors and law enforcement personnel. Hopefully, and as mentioned earlier, you’ve replaced any broken screens or glass, and you’ve added or replaced the window locks on the inside. Finally, if you have a burglar alarm, basement windows should be attached and set up to activate during a break-in, and security cameras should be trained on them. As mentioned before, the only thing that should be entering your basement windows is sunlight!