New to this website. I wanted to ask a question regarding our new home that is being built. There is a large chunk of foundation in one corner of the house that is exposed, along with a very tall egress well (see picture below of one of us standing next to it - it's over 6 feet tall).

I've never seen such a large amount of foundation exposed and such a large window well exposed before. When we brought it up with our builders and asked about adding additional soil or slope to that corner they just said they built it based on the grading map that was pre-designed and they just have to stick with what they're told - there will only be approx 6-8 inches of topsoil remaining to be added. However, not only is it an eyesore, but we are worried about safety - the basement window is supposed to be a second escape instead of emergency, but in a house with elderly members and kids, this egress well and window over 6 feet tall seems like a real safety concern (they would climb up and be unable to get down easily in case of emergency).

I was wondering whether anyone has experienced this before, and whether there's any regulations regarding the maximum height this egress well can be for all these safety reasons? If they're refusing to add any additional soil "because of the grading map", are they any additional ideas or advice to deal with this?

Thanks in advance!

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  • 1
    Where is the window relative to the outside top of the metal contraption? Are there any sleeping areas planned in the basement level? Jul 8, 2021 at 17:06
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    Even if you graded up to within 6" of the top of the well on the outside, you still have to deal with getting up the 6' on the inside. You might consider a small emergency ladder that could be thrown up and over - climb up one side, down the other.
    – FreeMan
    Jul 8, 2021 at 17:37
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    Also, why in the world did they install such a tall metal contraption (only word for it!) when the outside grade is so low if there isn't a plan to grade up to near the top of it? Ask if they can just cut it down. If it exposes glass behind it, hang curtains!
    – FreeMan
    Jul 8, 2021 at 17:39
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    Thanks for the suggestions. The window is basically near the base of that metal well. We are unsure for now what we are going to use the basement for but sleeping in the future is not out of the question. The ladder idea is interesting but in the case of an emergency (fire for example) is it really expected for an elderly person or a child to find a emergency ladder both to climb up and then to climb down? Usually they climb up a fixed ladder and once they're over they're immediately on flat ground on the other side.
    – Lamps
    Jul 8, 2021 at 18:13
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    Did you look at any renders / rear yard elevation view before you started building? Have you talked to your building department about this egress. My guess is, there has been a misunderstanding about the final grade. Jul 8, 2021 at 20:30

3 Answers 3


Something does not add up, here.

If the grade is 6" up, the window-well should be a few inches above grade, not several feet above grade.

"Large amount of exposed foundation" is not that unusual, though you'd be well advised to have it insulated and stuccoed rather than leave it as exposed bare concrete, uninsulated.

And if you are having the house built both of these things should have been addressed/discussed at design time, not when the building is nearly completed.

  • Thanks for the comments. Agree that this should have been discussed at design time, but we are relatively new to this and so we didn't realize it would like like this afterwards. We're just running into a tight spot b/c they're telling us the grade and well are exactly as designed and dismissive of our concerns, so we were seeing if there are any other regulations/rules we can cite to support us or any other ideas. Thanks for understanding our concern.
    – Lamps
    Jul 8, 2021 at 20:08

I don't think this window exit can be classified as "egress" except for the emergency exit.

The building code (IBC) defines an egress as "an unobstructed path to leave buildings, structures, and spaces. A means of egress is comprised of exit access, exit, and exit discharge." You can read this article to find out the code specified requirements on egress.

However, please keep in mind that, whether the builder has violated the code or not depending on whether this egress is required by the code or not. For instance, if there is egress other than the main entrance, and is located within a certain distance to the main entrance without obstruction, then this window exit can only be considered for emergency escape purposes only.

Since the builder must have a permit for the construction, and the construction drawing with egress information on it must be furnished for approval, so it is rather a simple matter to find out, either from the architect or the local building department.

  • Thanks. This window is the only exit out of the basement under than the main stairs to the 1st floor. We can definitely ask the local building department to see what they say.
    – Lamps
    Jul 8, 2021 at 20:17
  • You may lose the case because the basement usually is not considered a "living space". But you shall ask no matter the outcomes. Good luck.
    – r13
    Jul 8, 2021 at 20:49

It need not be a permanent eyesore because you can plant tall shrubs around the base of the foundation. You could paint the metal well to match the foundation.

Alternatively, you could fill to raise the grade next to the foundation. To limit the total amount of fill you could construct a strong retaining wall of Keystone or Versa-Lok perhaps 6' to 10' from the foundation. Of course, if you would place fill next to the foundation then you would have to waterproof the foundation first.

I would leave that metal well as is because it's height would allow filling next to the foundation if desired. If people actually had to use that well to egress in a fire, the 6 ft drop to the ground would be slight hindrance.

  • Thanks for the advice and if we can't get any other solutions we would definitely probably plant some shrubs. The question about raising the grade - we were declined in terms of raising the grade b/c the builders told us they cannot raise the grade beyond what was originally drawn by the civil engineers for the lot and for the community - if we were to raise the grade ourselves wouldn't that be another violation too? As you can probably tell we also don't have much experience with this, much less insulating, filling a grade ourselves heh.
    – Lamps
    Jul 8, 2021 at 20:13
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    Having houses close by, you need to be careful on raising the grade to much, might not be allowed. Should have someone check the plans in case a boo boo was made, 6ft instead of 6in.
    – crip659
    Jul 8, 2021 at 21:53
  • Who would we get to check the plans? Sorry, entirely new to this - another civil engineer, or another builder?
    – Lamps
    Jul 9, 2021 at 1:04
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    Engineer or maybe architect - on your dollar. Or the city/county permitting people if you can get them out there. You're not going to get another builder to look at it - no way they'll get involved in another builder's business like that. Jul 9, 2021 at 1:35

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