Wet Basements condensation on basement window

Published on June 8th, 2018 | by Henri


Water in basement from window wells

Q.  We remodeled a 60-year-old ranch style home four years ago. We enjoy the house immensely except for water issues in the basement.

After installing a sump pump and redirecting downspouts we thought the issues were resolved. They were until we opened one of the windows to remove the plant material in the window well. We have covers on all the basement window wells.

We then discovered the previous owner had caulked the windows shut. This was difficult to undo, and when we removed the material in that one, we decided not to open the second window that also had plant material, and re-caulked the other first one. There is a step from the kitchen leading to the back yard covering it. We have had no problems on the two windows on the north side.

We did not realize that our problem was caused by the plant material until further research after the second window leaked after we re-caulked the first one.

The information I found said that there can be no plant material in the wells. Digging down 6 inches and adding crushed stone is what should be done. That makes sense as we know understand that the leaves act like a pool liner and prevents drainage. This will not be easy for us to do, even to find someone who would do it.

Also if we could have it done, if the weeds grow again, we will be back to getting the windows open to clean to get them out.

I spoke to a neighbor who owns a home her grandfather built around the time ours was built. She said that he got so tired of the window well issue that he enclosed the windows on the East side of the house with cement, which is the same side as ours.

My question, do you think cementing the windows is wise even though it seems easier? Do you have any other suggestion?

I love your book and I always look forward to reading your column and blog posts. I have never written to you because I always found what I needed from your columns. I save many that I think I might need because “you’ll never know.”

Thank you for all the help you have given us through the years. My friends think we are personal friends as I always help them with what “Henri says” when they have a problem.

A.  Thank you for your kind words; I am glad that I was able to help.

How did water get into the window wells is the question, if you have covers over them. My first thought is that there is a grading problem on that side of the house. Please look at it carefully. You may have to raise the grade and slope it gently away, making sure that the soil is packed around the window wells in order to prevent any water from leaking into the wells at the joints with the foundation walls.

If the tops of the window wells are at grade level now and the grade is flat or negative (sloping toward the foundation), you will need to add a section of matching metal or add bricks, soldier course, by burying half of each brick in the soil. This will allow you to raise the grade 4 inches. All vegetation should be removed from the wells and whatever soil was brought in by water must also be removed to discourage plant growth.

Any stones previously laid in the wells are probably mixed with soil and should be removed to a depth of 12 inches below the window sills. Add 6 inches of new stones and be sure to leave a clearance of 6 inches between the stones and the sills.

Caulking the windows is not the best practice to prevent leakage. If the windows are made of ferrous material, they are at risk of rusting, unless they are aluminum, and if they are wood, it is likely that 60-year-old windows are not rot-resistant. Consider removing the caulking and return the windows to their original condition.

Hopefully, you can take care of these issues in spite of the kitchen steps covering one of the wells. Removing the windows and closing the openings with masonry is best kept as an absolute necessity if nothing else has worked.

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