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When answering this question, code references are great (IIRC) if there are any applicable, but I am asking specific to northern midwestern climates in the United States (up near Canada) and best engineering principles since the code likely doesn't get so specific.

Background: Clay surrounds my foundation. We have heavy spring rains that saturate the ground and well-below freezing winter temperatures. I recently had a basement egress window installed where there was previously just a small glass block window. I was expecting the installers to fasten the window well to the house and use caulking around the edges to prevent water from seeping into the well, but there is a noticeable gap between the well and the house/foundation all the way down to the bottom when viewed from the inside. The installers did not add any drains from the bottom of the well to the storm sewers because they saw that I just had a sump pump system installed on the interior of my home. My concern is that if the water table rises high enough with spring rains that water may start to pool in the well and come in through the seams around the window.

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The installers said that they intentionally did not fasten the well to the wall because of the differences in expansion and contraction of the metal well with respect to the cinder block foundation--over time, it would cause the fasteners to pop out of the cinderblock. In which case, the well would potentially damage the cinderblock and still be detached from the house (leaving room for the same problems as not attaching it in the first place).

  • You are right to be concerned of this flooding into your basement without a drain. That being said, fastening the window well and caulking it offers really no protection - the rain will fill it up via the top. Often wells are made of block and not metal and these are not fastened to the house. – Steven Oct 28 '15 at 19:45
  • @Steven I was planning on getting a cover for the top as well to reduce direct rain entry and as a safety precaution to keep people and other creatures from falling in: I can easily imagine the neighbor's cat howling outside my new window because it jumped into the well and can't get out. – statueuphemism Oct 28 '15 at 19:49
  • If you put a top on it, will it still function as an egress? Either way, a bit of caulk isn't going to keep all of the ground water out. – Steven Oct 28 '15 at 19:50
  • @Steven They make tops that are specifically designed to be opened from the inside to allow egress. You're right about the caulk though, it would be almost impossible to maintain a water-tight seal for years to come the more I think about it. – statueuphemism Oct 28 '15 at 19:51
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According to 2012 International Residential Code (IRC), there should be adequate drainage in the bottom of the well. So if it's installed to meet this code, then you shouldn't have any problems with the well flooding. The 2009 version of IRC didn't seem to have this bit of code (at least not that I found), so if your area hasn't adopted 2012 IRC you might have a problem.

International Residential Code 2012

Chapter 3 Building and Planning

Section 310 Emergency Escape and Rescue Openings

R310.2 Window wells.

R310.2.2 Drainage. Window wells shall be designed for proper drainage by connecting to the building’s foundation drainage system required by Section R405.1 or by an approved alternative method.

If they didn't install proper drainage, I'm not sure how it passed inspection (other than not being inspected). I might contact the company that installed the wells, and try to get them to install proper drainage, or figure out if they installed an alternative drainage method.

Aside from that, you could install drainage yourself, or keep a submersible pump on hand and at the ready.

  • Thank you, the 2012 IRC reference is useful information to have. It doesn't appear that my state's residential code (which my locality enforces) has adopted this section yet. This partially addresses one of the concerns of my question, but does not provide an answer to the question about best practices concerning securing the window well to the structure or to leaving it unattached. Or, are you saying "It shouldn't matter so long as you have adequate drainage for the well."? – statueuphemism Oct 28 '15 at 19:04
  • It shouldn't really matter. The ground should be graded away from the house, so you shouldn't get much water in the well through that seam. Most of the water will come from the falling rain, unless there's other drainage issues in this area. – Tester101 Oct 28 '15 at 21:05

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