Windows well Landscaping IDEAS
A terraced window well dramatically increases natural lighting in a lower level or basement. These egress windows satisfy Building Code rules.
The primary rules for designing a window well are the code requirements for an egress window. The bottom of the well must be at least 3 x 3 ft., the well can’t interfere with opening the window, and you have to provide a permanent ladder if the walls are more than 44 in. high. Terracing our well eliminates the ladder requirement.
Otherwise, you’re only limited by safety and drainage issues. Any window well is inherently dangerous because of the potential for falls. Covered window wells are safest, but you can’t let the cover hinder the window operation and it must be easily removable (without tools) to provide easy egress and emergency escape.
Terracing minimizes the danger of a fall. We recommend that you construct the widest terraces and lowest steps that your site will allow. You could also put a railing around the well, a feature we recommend if you have a walk nearby. The window well we’re building opens onto a spacious yard, away from walkways.
Still, we took the extra precaution of adding a curb about 8 in. above grade plus flower beds and low bushes to keep folks from stepping into it. We constructed our terraced well with 4×6 treated wood timbers because they’re long lasting, easy to cut and level, and economical. To dress up the timbers, we stained all sides before installation with an oil-based semi-transparent redwood stain.
Decorative concrete wall block is another good choice for terracing. This block will last forever, but it’s about twice as expensive as wood and harder to cut and assemble. Another option is to buy a manufactured well. These range from the corrugated steel culvert style (available in most home centers) to manufactured terraced wells.
Good drainage is critical
If your basement hasn’t suffered any moisture or flooding problems, digging a window well or expanding an existing well is unlikely to create water problems, as long as you follow the instructions in the photos. The two sizes of gravel we show provide a path for water to easily flow down into the soil without filling up the well. The landscape fabric acts as a filter to prevent soil from clogging the gravel drain field.
Soil with a high clay content, however, poses another problem. This soil tends to trap water instead of letting it drain away. For yards with clay soil or poor drainage, or for damp basements, consult a professional before undertaking the project. (Check the Yellow Pages under “Waterproofing Contractors.”)
One option to ensure good drainage is to tie the well’s drain field into the existing drainage system around the footing of your basement (Fig. A). If you don’t know if you have foundation drains, you’ll have to call the builder or the city department of inspections, or dig down to the footing at the bottom of the wall and look for a gravel bed with a plastic or other type of pipe. If you find the pipe, simply fill the hole with 3/4-in. gravel to connect the two drain fields.