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What Is a Window Well?

Last modified: 2022-06-17 | Approximate reading time 4 mins

Cynthia Pigeon

It all comes down to this: Water is a house’s number one enemy, so when a basement window sill is even to or slightly higher than the grass, said proximity to the ground risks exposing it, along with its components, to soil moisture.  

As a matter of fact, basement windows require a bit more protection against premature deterioration. Therefore, it is strongly recommended to have window wells installed should your windows be below or ground level.

What is a window well, and what are the specifics of this type of installation? Keep reading to find out more!

What Is a Window Well?

A window well is a recess made of steel, stone, concrete, or wood that is secured to the foundation of a home, and will serve to support the surrounding earth. This feature acts as a source of light designed to allow for the ground level directly in front of a window to be lowered without affecting the nearby earth outside the confined space.

Adding a window well will prevent water from seeping through the window, hence the importance of leaving at least an 8-inch clearance between the ground and the underside of the window. You can add a wire mesh cover to your window well to prevent people and animals from falling in. This also minimizes the accumulation of leaves and debris found in said cavity.

The window well is essential in making sure water or humidity does not accumulate around a window located at ground level or lower than ground level. Thus, it creates a sort of barrier between the elements that could lead to a build-up of humidity and in turn, damage the home’s materials and/or structure. Water seepage opens up the structure to moisture, such as spores, which are often the cause of respiratory problems for the home’s inhabitants. 

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Photo: Jean-Éric Sergerie

Window Well Drainage

When installing your window well, take into consideration that it is most likely comprised of the same material as your embankment. Should the embankment not be made of a gravelly substance, the bottom of the window well will need to be drained adequately.  

To do so, a vertical conduit of at least 6 inches in diameter will need to travel underground from the window well all the way to the foundation drain pipe, which is level with the footing. Suppose the bottom of the well is too close to the foundation footing (meaning less than 6 inches), then it is preferable to inquire with a professional to avoid any damages that may be caused during periods of freezing fronts. 

Guidelines to Follow

In accordance with the changes made to the Construction Code of Quebec back in 2015, it has now been specified that all bedroom windows opening up onto a well must be located at least 760 mm from the ground line (as opposed to the 550 mm instilled beforehand). Note that this guideline must be applied to all windows opening outwardly. 

However, do keep in mind that certain municipalities might warrant the space to be larger, therefore it is always advisable to inquire first to avoid any unforeseen predicaments. These guidelines have been set to ensure a sufficient clearing to allow medium-sized individuals a crawl space in case of emergencies. 

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Photo credit: Construction K2 Inc.

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Installing a Window Well

On top of the requirements established by the Construction Code of Quebec, additional guidelines must be followed should you wish to dig the window well yourself. Here is a list of tools you will need to effectively complete this task: 

  • Shovel and drill;
  • Concrete bits;
  • Ratchet wrench;
  • Lag bolts; 
  • Washers and anchors;
  • Expendable solid drain pipe;
  • Window well;
  • Crushed stones.

The first step, and probably the easiest, is to dig 10 to 14 inches deep around the base of the window. However, take into consideration the width and length of the window to determine the exact depth that will need to be dug.

An 8-inch gap should be accounted for on either side of the window. Should the earth surrounding the area not be gravelly or if it does not facilitate water drainage, you will then need to dig a hole to drain water before setting the drain pipe. 

It is imperative that the well be installed above ground level. Similarly, the well must be perfectly aligned and levelled with the window sill. Then, lean the well against the foundation wall and mark the eventual drill holes. 

Once the drill holes in the concrete are sufficiently deep, you can then push in anchors and screw the well to the walls of the foundation. The last step will consist of backfilling the base with roughly 6 inches of crushed stones. Add dirt to the outside of the well to build a drainage slope. 

Afterwards, make sure that the inside of the well is level and that the edges do not protrude. This will avoid any unwanted obstacle over which one could trip. Lastly, note that your window well needs to be maintained; regularly remove any leaves or debris found at the base. 

Looking for more information regarding doors and windows? Check out our Door and Window Renovation Guide

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