It’s easy to overlook window wells—those holes in the ground around the perimeter of your house, dug in front of your basement windows. But you should never forget about them because they’re designed to let in light, keep out soil, water, and pests, and provide a way to escape in case of disaster. If you keep them clean, repaired, and free from pests, they’ll serve you and your home well. Here’s how to keep your window wells working properly with some basic upkeep and maintenance.
Check for Damage
First, assess the state of the window well, wall, and window. Look for signs of damage, like rust holes, fragmenting plastic, crumbling concrete, broken glass, gaps made by disintegrated insulation material, and cracks in the foundation. Note if the window well wall is pulling away from the house and needs to be re-caulked. If the wall is severely damaged, don’t bother cleaning or repainting it—it will have to be replaced.
Remove the old wall and pick up a plastic, steel, or fiberglass replacement at the hardware store or call a professional and arrange an upgrade to longer-lasting concrete. Clear away old caulk from the spaces around the windows and apply a new seal.
Note: Wait until all surfaces are dry before applying caulk or other sealants. Otherwise, they will not adhere and fail down the line.
Clean It Up
If nothing needs to be replaced, the next step is obvious. Check the cleanliness of your window wells. Are the windows dirty? Is the well filled with leaves, twigs, and other organic matter? Do the walls of the well look shabby, mossy, or otherwise weather-beaten? Get out the shovel and cleaning supplies! Letting these things build up in the window well is a sure way to incur rot and rust around the windows, which can allow water and vermin into your home. It also clogs the drain buried beneath the gravel, or whatever stone you have resting at the bottom, which again risks backing up and leaking into your basement. Clean it out with a shovel and shop vac, and clear away any similar trash around the well’s lip and the surrounding landscape. Trim bushes and plants that might be dropping leaves and branches in the well, too.
Afterward, give the window well wall a good scrubbing with soap and water and wash the windows on both sides with glass cleaner. As for the gravel at the bottom, it needs to be cleaned as well, otherwise the gradual buildup of soil and sad can clog the space between the stones and prevent water from trickling through. Now, you could remove and replace it with new, clean gravel. Save yourself some money by removing the old gravel, placing it on a porous surface (like a heavy grate or wire screen), and sifting it while hosing it off. Let it dry in the sun before shoveling it back into the well. While the gravel is drying, inspect the drain at the bottom of the well to see if its unblocked or requires replacement. If something seems off, call a professional water proofer of drainage expert to inspect it. After the gravel dries, pour it back into the well, but make sure it’s fairly loose, to allow water to wash through and reach the drain below. When you’re all done, do a test with a garden hose to ensure the water is draining out of the well.
Keep It Covered
Once you’ve completed the above, replace the window well cover. If you don’t have a window well cover, or the original cover is damaged, get a new one immediately. Window well covers are another line of defense against precipitation, flooding, and pests. You can purchase a cheap and basic bubble style cover at the hardware store, but for extra security and resistance to water and small animals purchase a custom-made clear, polycarbonate cover. The best type is made of rust-free aluminum and can support up to 400 pounds of weight, preventing you and others from falling in. The cover should be removable or easily opened, of course, since the basement window is a port of escape in case of a fire or other disaster. If the widow well cover is undamaged, simply give it a good cleaning like every other part of the well and replace it when you’re done.
Miscellaneous Things To Think About
Don’t think that maintenance is just a once-a-year event when it comes to your window wells. During winter, shovel snow at least five feet from your home’s perimeter and don’t allow it to collect in the well. Likewise, autumn leaves may be pretty, but they have no place in your well or even on your well cover. Water may be kept out, but so is sunlight to your basement. Check how water drains around your home’s perimeter and note whether your downspouts are bringing water far enough away from both your window wells and the foundation. You’re dealing with water coming down as well as the water seeping through the surrounding soil. Keep it far away from all points of entry.
These are the basics regarding how to keep your window wells working properly, but that’s not all you can do with them. If you think your window wells are looking a little drab, let your imagination run wild. Paint the wall and window in complementary colors. Your basement windows may be for sunlight and a means of egress, but that doesn’t mean you can’t jazz them up with window well decorative liners that provide lovely outdoor scenes and other designs.
Finally, consider adding some life to your window well with potted plants that can be seen both inside and outside. You should never block the windows, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring a touch of green to your view with a few plants and decorations. It’s a wonderful way to bring life to an often overlooked and neglected space.