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The Ins and Outs of Window Well Maintenance

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Basement egress window wells let a lot of good things in — fresh air, natural light, and (if necessary) lifesaving emergency personnel. However, if improperly installed or maintained, a window well could let in things you’d rather keep out.

The most undesirable of these guests? H2O. While water damage represents a threat to any basement, it can be especially detrimental to finished basements. Without proper basement window well drainage, water can pool up and seep into the home, ruining property and weakening your foundation.

However, even if a window well drainage system is set up correctly, debris can create blockages and inhibit its ability to perform. The wet weather conditions of winter and spring place additional responsibility on homeowners to keep up with window well maintenance, ensuring their basements stay warm and dry.

About basement window well drainage

A well-installed window well is an asset, not a liability. However, its proper function is contingent on both the installer (set-up) and the homeowner (maintenance).

Waterproofing window wells begins with ensuring a proper drainage system is in place. There are two basic configurations to make note of.

Exterior drains

Exterior basement window well drains connect to an existing weeping tile system (aka French drains or drain tiles). Despite the name, modern weeping tile systems are not composed of tiles at all — but rather plastic piping (the term is based on the terracotta that was originally used).

A trench is dug underground around the perimeter of the home, angled away from the foundation. In this trench sits the weeping “tile” — plastic piping dotted with tiny perforations to allow groundwater to “weep” into it from above. That water is whisked away through the pipe to the nearest storm sewer (or another community-approved drainage point).

Interior drains

Interior basement window well drains similarly — except that they connect to weeping tile installed along the inside perimeter of the home, in a trench under the basement floor. Excess water is directed to a sump pump, a device that discharges it away from the property to a predetermined drainage area.

Don’t forget the window well cover!

A sturdy polycarbonate egress window well cover will deflect most moisture and debris away from the well and make the work of window well maintenance so much easier. For optimum results, pair with a quality window well grate, which allows for ventilation while the cover is open without sacrificing safety and security.

The Importance of Proper Window Well Gravel Depth

When it comes to ensuring the longevity and effectiveness of your basement window wells, one of the most crucial aspects to consider is the gravel depth within them. Gravel plays a significant role in drainage and preventing water from pooling, which can lead to a host of issues, including water damage to your home’s foundation and basement. 

Gravel serves as a permeable layer that allows water to drain away from your window wells. Without adequate gravel, water can accumulate and exert pressure against the windows and walls, potentially leading to leaks and structural damage. Moreover, improper gravel depth can result in the growth of mold and mildew due to damp conditions, which can affect indoor air quality and pose health risks.

Tips for Maintaining Proper Gravel Depth

The recommended depth of gravel in a window well should be at least 4 to 6 inches. This depth allows for sufficient drainage while also providing a stable base to support the weight of the window well cover if one is installed. It’s essential to use clean, crushed stone or gravel that is free of fines or dust, as these can clog the drainage system over time. You’ll also want to follow the following tips:  

– Check Depth Regularly: Over time, gravel can settle or become displaced. It’s a good idea to check the depth of your window well gravel annually and add more if necessary.

– Keep It Clean: Remove any debris, leaves, or other materials that may have accumulated in the window well. These can block water flow and reduce the effectiveness of the gravel layer.

– Consider a Drain: In areas with heavy rainfall or snowmelt, consider installing a drain at the bottom of the window well that leads to a sump pump or away from the house to further improve drainage.

– Level the Gravel: Ensure that the gravel is evenly distributed across the bottom of the window well. This helps prevent water from pooling in low spots.

– Inspect for Erosion: If you notice signs of erosion around the window well, it may be necessary to add a retaining structure or additional gravel to prevent further soil displacement.

By maintaining the correct gravel depth in your window wells, you can protect your home from water damage, extend the life of your window wells, and ensure that they continue to function as intended. Regular maintenance and attention to detail will go a long way in preserving the integrity of your basement windows and the overall health of your home.

How to clean window wells

Shovel away snow and ice

If your climate makes a habit of snow and ice, you should make clearance part of your winter window well maintenance routine. Heavy accumulations can overwhelm and clog window well drains, and may even inhibit your ability to escape your basement in the event of an emergency.

Even if you do have a window well cover (and you absolutely should), it’s a good idea to clear away snow and ice — not only for ease of exit but to allow that surely needed natural light through.

Remove leaves and debris

If enough leaves or debris do make it into your window well, they can form clogs and compromise proper egress window drainage. Depending on how significant the buildup is, you can remove it by hand or with a shop vacuum.

Clean or replace gravel

Over time, gravel can get gummed up as well. Usually, it is enough to shovel the gravel out of the well and rinse it off before reusing it. However, it can be replaced entirely.

Consider roof drainage

Inadequate roof drainage can impact basement window well drainage. Overflowing gutters and downspouts can quickly saturate the surrounding soil and overwhelm the system.

Recaulk liners

Window well liners will naturally start to separate from a home’s foundation over time, creating a gap where moisture can breach. If you’re up for some DIY window well maintenance, wipe away any dirt or mud from the area, and once dry, apply caulk to seal the window well anew.

Window well covers from Egress Solutions

Window well maintenance is important — but if you’ve been paying attention, there is a simple remedy to most egress window drainage and waterproofing headaches. Egress Solutions offers dependable egress window well covers from Boman Kemp and Rockwell to contractors and homeowners in New Jersey, Central and Eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Eastern New York. Get in touch with us and save your energy for a different rainy-day activity.

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