Improving Drainage by Window Wells

This past winter and spring during times of frozen ground and rain, we had a problem with water entering the basement under windows. Those two cute waterfalls and the long river to the floor drain meant that we couldn’t use that corner of our basement. It also meant that our basement could develop mold with all the moisture. We hoped to find a natural way to prevent water from getting in.

We had heard from some companies that specialize in basement water problems that digging the window wells deeper and adding medium-sized rocks would help prevent water build-up next to the windows. Given that rocks are cheap and we have a shovel, we decided to try implementing this solution.

The window well on the southwest corner of our house.

The window well on the southwest corner of our house.

First, we needed to purchase rocks. The Bruce Company sells 1 1/2 inch washed rock by either the shovel, bushel, or yard. They agreed to sell us a quarter yard for $8.50 and were very helpful making sure we got what we paid for. I brought our car to the garden center with five Menard’s buckets (each 5-gallon size) and we managed to fill them with half of the quarter yard. A second car trip brought home the second half of the load, another five buckets full. I was happy with the price. It turned out that a quarter yard was 70 shovels, which if we had paid by the shovel would have been $27.30 instead of the $8.50 for the quarter yard. It was worth it to buy in bulk and load up with all that we would need from the start.

The window well on the southeast corner of our house.

The window well on the southeast corner of our house.

Next, my husband did the real work. Over the course of two days, he dug the window wells down about 2 1/2 feet. Our normal shovels were too large and awkward for the cramped space, so he ended up using one of our kid’s miniature plastic shovels. He angled the hole away from the house about 1 foot. We weren’t quite sure what to do with the dirt that was removed: the first six inches was mixed with rocks and below that was mostly clay. We ended up piling it up on a tarp in hopes that we will find time to sift out the rocks. Then, we plan to mix that dirt with some healthier soil later when we regrade that side of the house. The window well also contained some black landscape fabric (a sheet about an inch down – now removed), small pieces of concrete (thrown away), and some large tree roots that had to be hacked out with a pruning shears and a saw. All in all, I am grateful to my husband for taking on this part of the project, digging upside-down in a small dark hole.

A yard stick shows the new depth of the window wells.

A yard stick shows the new depth of the window wells.

As it turned out, we will need to pick up a couple more buckets of rocks. We picked up about 6.75 cubic feet (a quarter yard), but we need about 2 more buckets (about 1.25 cubic feet) to finish filling the second window well up to the window level.

This project is part of a larger project to improve drainage and move water away from our house. Depending on the weather in the next few winters, we will see if this project turns out to be a success.

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