In our service area on almost every inspection we encounter window wells. There are several areas of concern with regards to window wells as well as maintenance items to address.
Window wells can be an ideal place for rodent nesting, vegetation growth, and moisture issues if not maintained properly. Generally a 6 inch distance from window sills to the base of the window well is ideal. I like to see the top six inches of the well to be of a naturally draining material such as gravel. Wells are often times found to be covered with leaves, this can seal the bottom of the well and allow water to accumulate creating a “bathtub effect”. Regular cleaning of the well is necessary to prevent moisture issues at the window sill. Often times, with larger wells that are used for emergency egress, drains are installed to carry excess moisture away from the well.
Well covers are sometimes installed over small wells to prevent moisture and vegetation from entering the well. I regularly find vines and other vegetation growing in theses wells as the clear plastic covers often create a greenhouse type of environment. So if you have covers on your window wells it is still a good idea to annually inspect them and clean them if necessary.
For emergency egress window wells there are other items to consider. Emergency egress window wells must be sized appropriately. They must measure a minimum of 9 square feet and measure a minimum of 36 inches from the foundation wall. While it is likey possible for adults to escape the home in a much smaller space, a fully equipped firefighter may not be able to escape in a smaller space.
Egress wells are often constructed of differing materials such as:
- Corrugated Metal
- Masonry or concrete
- Treated Wood Timbers
During your annual inspection of this type of well it is good to look for corrosion, bowing or cracking, and debris or vegetation. Excessive hydrostatic pressure can cause window well failure. The installation of covers is a good idea with these larger openings to prevent debris and vegetation. The are must also be free of obstacles so a person can escape in a timely manner.
Egress window well covers must also be constructed in a manner that occupants can lift them open without any special knowledge or tools. Interior locks are allowed but must be easily opened. The covers must also support a 30 pound per square foot load so passers by cannot fall into the well if the fall on the cover. Grates and or screens are also allowed if ventilation to the basement is desired, these types of covers must also comply with the minimum support strength however.
Standard window well covers can impede natural light to the basement, care should be taken when selecting the materials used. If ventilation to the lower level is of any importance, the elimination of the well covers may be necessary.
To Sum Up
As part of any home maintenance program care should be taken to ensure window wells are free of vegetation, debris, and rodents. Covers offer some protection from these obstructions but can create conditions that promote growth. Annual inspections are also ideal to identify any changes such as movement of the well itself, settlement of grade, or any signs of moisture intrusion. This is one of the most common areas of neglect and comes up in 80% of our inspections.
Healthy Homes are clean, dry, and safe. Having well maintained window wells and egress window wells hits all three of these categories.
As always, I hope you took some value from this post and if you have any home related questions, please let me know at the email address below.
Aaron M. Zuehlke is the owner and inspector at Zuehlke Inspection Service, LLC, a full-service home inspection company serving Southern Wisconsin. Specializing in Home inspection, Radon Testing, Mold Testing/inspection, Residential Thermal Imaging, and Manufactured Home Foundation Certifications. He also manages several rental properties through Zuehlke Properties, LLC. He can be reached by email at Aaron@Zuehlkeinspections.com or by calling the office at 608-931-7485.