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All About Window Wells for Your Home

A window
You might think of a well primarily as a place to get water, but the term is also widely used for home and landscaping features that draw water away. Window wells are a good example because these structures are designed to keep water away from windows installed below the surface of the surrounding soil.

Adding windows to a sunken first story or basement introduces valuable natural light, and these windows should always be paired with windows wells. Find out why these structures are essential and how to match them to the windows you've chosen.

Why Are Window Wells Used?

Window wells are designed to hold soil back and create a few feet of open space in front of below-ground windows. This offers multiple benefits, including:
  • More light traveling through the window, especially in basements that are completely below the soil level
  • Better drainage around the window, as long as the base of the window well is designed properly and maintained
  • Access to the window for repairs and for egress in emergencies, a requirement if there are any bedrooms on that floor
  • Space for installing windows that slide or swing open, allowing for natural ventilation.
Where Are Wells Installed?

Window wells are generally only installed on windows below the surface of the ground. If a particular window is within a foot or two of the soil level, installing a short window well can prevent dirt and water from splashing back up onto the glass. Many homeowners prefer to install these wells over excavating and sloping the ground around the windows because excavating is expensive and has a chance of damaging the foundation.

Since window wells only require minimal digging and little disturbance of the foundation, you can easily install them along with any new windows you're adding to a basement. Sloped grades around a below-ground window can also send water towards it, while window wells generally slope away from the window.

How Are Window Wells Maintained?

A quality corrugated window well with a proper drain only needs a little attention twice a year. Bottom drains are usually capped with a layer of gravel, so you should clear away any fallen leaves or other debris in the spring and fall. Check the liner for signs of pulling away from the foundation wall and apply a thin line of painter's caulk to reattach it if necessary.

What Happens When Window Wells Fail?

Clogged windows wells tend to send water in through the window they're designed to protect. If you notice any signs of moisture coming through the window or water marks on the wall below, clean the window well and test the drain. Digging out and repairing a compacted window well drain is far less expensive than replacing a damaged window and basement wall.

When the seal between the foundation and the well liner fails, dirt may start to push in from one side or the other. Digging out the collapsing area promptly and resealing the liner is essential to prevent both a total collapse of the well and serious damage to the window from the weight of the shifting soil.

When Do Window Wells Need Replacement?

Window wells that keep clogging, won't stay sealed to the foundation, or bow and bulge visibly at any point need replacement. Trying to keep repairing an older well that can't handle the weight of wet soil will cost far more than just replacing it with a new and stronger design, especially if you only recently installed new windows and don't want to replace them again so soon.

Whether you have window wells or only need windows for exposed walls, we have plenty of options for basements and first floors here at Nor Cal Window & Door Inc. Check out our casement window options or consider a custom project.