Window Wells

I came across a window well on new construction where the installation was unprofessionally done. Window wells were not secured to house, only dirt at bottom of windows, drain pipe at one window well is likely completely covered with dirt while a drain pipe at a different window well is partially covered up with dirt.

I know that window well has to be properly secured to foundation, but I cannot find any information in the code books informing me about any requirements on window wells. Can anyone direct me to this information. I’m going to keep looking but any help would be great!



Are you talking about something around these lines?

Marcel :slight_smile:

Yes about the window well but no about the cover. Drain pipe going to drain tile is required but I cannot find that in the code books. I cannot find in the code books that I have if gravel is required at the base of the window well, and if so, what’s the minimal amount of gravel needed. At this time, the drain pipe (perforated pipe is covered with dirt) which is not good for drainage. It’s not a good practice and I would think that this would not be allowed in new construction.

This is how I installed a window well (for an egress window) for my child’s bedroom in the basement. It has a place to step for easy escape. Cement on the bottom that directs water to the drain. Drain cover is the raised type so the drain doesn’t get plugged with debris. Drain goes to drain tile to sump pit. This is what I think is a good installation and unlikely to result in problems.

The picture above shows a sloppy job that can result is pooling of water which is never a good thing. I just cannot find any information in the code books that informs me of the minimal requirements.





In my area, typical window well drainage is not required. A window well is basically installed to keep the grading and moisture away from the basement windows. Even though most galvanized window well shells contain the holes for hardware, It’s not mandatory to attach the window well shell to the foundation. I’ve never heard of this requirement.

What you have there at your home (lower pic) is a mandatory egress window well. This type of well is required due to your basement being allowed (code) as a living area. It’s a standard installation for a basement egress. Like this one…

Your first pic is a basic window well which keeps dirt and moisture away from the window area. It’s not an egress.

Drainage pipes can be installed in these shallow type window wells if water build-up becomes an issue in this window area, but it’s not required, as far as I know. If drainage was to be installed into a problematic water filled window well, it’s basically installed with a pipe filled with stone that carries the water to the perimeter drainage pipes. Then stone is poured over this piping arrangement.

“Click to Enlarge”


By house-building standards, most window wells are poorly designed for drainage and maintenance, and unattractive to boot. But the design lingers as the only way to cope with a more fundamental flaw: installing windows in the foundation at, and sometimes even below, ground level.
To keep away dirt and let in more light, semicircular wells are excavated and a form installed to hold back the yard. But the name itself is a tip-off to potential problems. That’s because a water-collecting well is the last thing you want next to the foundation, and worse yet next to an opening in the foundation.

**Basic wells

**The most common product – like a chunk of Quonset hut – is corrugated, galvanized steel formed in half circles and other shapes. After excavating, set the shell against the foundation, bolt through the flanges into the building and backfill.

There are many sizes, but a typical unit is 22-gauge or thicker with a rolled edge for safety against cuts, 36 inches long (projecting 18 inches from the wall) and 24 inches deep. Some suppliers sell wells like this in packs of five for about $90. Thicker, plastic versions are more expensive.

Building departments typically do not have special codes about standard window wells. If you can handle the digging, building or enlarging one is a project you can tackle without a permit. All that changes if the well has to qualify as an escape route in case of fire.

Hope this helps.

Marcel :slight_smile:

I am surprised about that. I guess that if somebody runs into a problem with water build up in the window well, a window well cover will normally be the solution.

I don’t know about your area, but here, the best solution is to not have any windows below grade. JMO :slight_smile:

Marcel :slight_smile:

Most window wells (in my area) do not retain water. They are simply there to keep the grading away from the window and trim. Termite activity and rot is imminent with wood trim too close to grading.

If someone has a window well which retains water, it definitely needs drainage.

I was expecting to see a code that reads the window well needs to be properly secured to house per manufacturer’s design, and have 4 inches of gravel at the bottom of window well with a 6 inch clearance from the soil to the bottom of the window.

Of course this would be the minimal standard.

Around here, I do see some pooling of water in the window wells with moisture damage to window. Once in a while, moisture at the basement foundation wall under the window.

Building codes are minimum standards for construction, and are not intended to be manuals of good practice. Good practice would be a window well that does not create holes in the foundation, and therefore ought not to be fsatened to it. Depending on the soil conditions, a drain may not be necessary. If the soil is well-draining, just a gravel bed over filter fabric may be sufficient. The next step up would be a small yard drain connected to a drywell. Only in poorly-draining soil would a piping system be indicated, and connecting any kind of storm drainage to the foundation drain tiles is never a good idea. If the window wells need to be piped, they should be piped to dayklight or to a drywell in separate independent piping.

Building codes can be written so manufacturer’s installation needs to be followed. If that is putting a hole in the foundation wall and properly sealing it to prevent water seepage, then so be it.


Agree, this would be a good addition to the code which I plan on submittng to the State of Indiana.

This is where you and I disagree some. There are a lot of areas around here where we have flat land and clay soil. Running a pipe so water drains by gravity is not likely in this area (I wish we could). Adding a dry well is another option but why if you have a drain tile and a sump pit (especially if the sump pit is installed on the exterior of the house) which then can pump the water (either with a standard sump pump or a battery back up pump when power goes out) to a safe location away from the house. This would be considered good practice and as you mentioned above, is nice to see as in a manual. With that said, I would let the homeowner determine if a cover needs to be installed over the window well to prevent water collection.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen window wells installed around crawlspace vents where the soil is flush with the bottom of the window and there are water stains on the inside of the foundation wall, and other houses where moisture damage was caused by improper clearance from the soil.

I don’t see anything wrong with making the builders install 4 inches of gravel at the base of the window well, secure the window well to the house and require a minimum clearance of 6 inches from any openings at the foundation wall (such as a crawlspace vent or window).

I guess it bugs me that when somebody is going to buy a newly constructed house, that a window well can be installed poorly and there is nothing anyone can do. I can only call it out as an improvement, and there is nothing that can be done besides the buyer making the improvements themselves.

What type of inspections are any of you doing on window well drains?
Are you just doing a visual, or are you sticking a garden hose down the drain and checking that the drain does drain properly? We got a call a year later that the drain pipe was plugged with mud and that the window well filled up with water and came into the finished basement. The home owner thought that since its a drain, we should be making sure it is working and open. The drain had nothing in it and was open from what we could see.
We where told that right before they closed, that the previous owner had the same issue and supposedly fixed it.
In our report we did recommend covers to help keep debris out, which they haven’t done yet.

You treat it like a laundry or a floor drain. You do not check it. If they did not install covers then it is definitely their own fault.

Gary, here is a good article on window wells.
Whether there is a drain or not, if constructed properly and graded right, it should not be much of a problem.
Something caused the water level to go up higher than the standard 6" below the window.
Standard rain fall should not flood that area of the window well.

I recently inspected a home in Winnipeg that has two very large window wells manufactured from concrete. They are about 8x3 feet in measurement. I discovered that they are supported by only two 3/4 pieces of rebar from the top end of the window well. The re bar had been drilled directly through the foundation wall with and washer and bolt securing the rebar to the interior side of the foundation wall. The concrete window well basically hangs off the rebar. There was no caulking of any kind injected into the foundation wall where the rebar passes through. No wonder water was entering into the basement through these protrusions.

Is anyone aware of any building code that would speak about such penetrations through foundation walls below grade? I cannot seem to find anything. Handing such a large concrete form off a foundation wall and not sealing the penetrations also seems bizarre. How did this even pass city inspection?


Agree w/Marcel… ‘best solution is NOT to have windows below grade’.
If one has ‘em, its best to have ALL GRAVEL from the footing all the way up inside any window well, NOT 1-2’ of gravel and some vertical drain tile.

Kerri, can’t help w/code but, whatever any code may say imo its not a good idea to drill, ‘tie in’, rebar through basement walls. See it here pretty often.

Some do it, drill/tie into basement wall in hopes it’ll hold up driveway/patio slabs etc. Then we often see that the added weight caused 1+ cracks in foundation wall (and leak in basement).

Walls have a hard enough time trying to hold back lateral soil pressure, let alone added weight of this crap.
This particular window well was in pretty good shape, see photos 3–7
Told homeowner he could/may leak through the part of basement wall where the WW is, he did not want them taken out.

Pretty much all foundation walls were NOT ‘waterproofed’ when built and backfilled with same crappy az excavated soil and other garbage.

Ran a few estimates that had 6–8 deep brick/block WW’s around the homes, most were about 10’ long and 4-6’ deep, ALL had problems… cracks, pulling away, settling, and basements leaked were these WW were put in.

WW’s… ofen there are gaps/crevices under sill etc so all these need to be sealed

Dead link Marcel.