Saturday, August 7, 2010

All's Well That Ends Well

  I've been terribly lapse on keeping up with everyone's blogs (in other words, your lives) lately.  Like the rest of us I've had some things going on that detract from the fun stuff, the things that are so important to me that I never seem to have enough time for.  This post is about one of the more significant events that's been happening the past couple weeks.

  Usually my idea of digging below the surface is getting to know people better. But we’ve had an issue with occasional flooding in our basement, and I knew that we had to fix it permanently. So last weekend I traded my computer for a shovel and got to work with Sandy’s help.

  For those of you who may not know, a window well surrounds a basement window that is below grade (ground level). Its purpose is not to hold water but to allow it to drain so it doesn't enter the house. Quite simple in theory really.

  Our house is forty years old, and things are constructed differently these days. The problem we were having was that in a heavy rainfall, silt and sand would wash into the well and clog the drain. The window well backfilled with water until it seeped through the window and flooded the bathroom. This ain't supposed to happen people!  It did it twice within a week in 2008, I dug it out then and thought I had fixed the problem but it happened again a couple weeks ago.

  We were going to have the job done by someone else, but the cost would have been outrageous. Not having the money to do this or the inclination to do it even if we had, we decided to do it ourselves. We had crazy-hot weather, and although I had sweat pouring in my eyes the entire time we at least had no rain. This wasn't how I planned to spend our long holiday weekend but I definitely got a good workout out of it!

  So follow along, it's not very sexy but it will help explain my absence (click on photos to enlarge)...

The culprit.  The window well (the hole itself) is flanked by a metal surround. It should be attached to the foundation of the house; this one wasn't and dirt and sand seeped in over time.

Before excavation, full of mud amongst the stones.  All of it has to be replaced with new stones. The metal can over the drain is only temporary.

Patio stones removed, the digging begins...

..and deeper. The upright black tube is the drain, it has holes along the sides which allow water to pour into it when it rains (it's supposed to do this). I removed some rocks that were inside, drilled more holes along its length and flushed it with water to make sure all holes weren't still clogged with dirt. The day after this photo was taken I dug the right side down to where the towel is (four feet below the window, about six feet below ground level) .
   I had about two feet of impossibly heavy, bluish-gray clay to get through.  It must have been brought to earth by aliens as there's no way God would put this shit in my yard.

Yup, all of this came out of that hole.  Note the aforementioned clay.  Last time I saw anything like this was in a Star Trek movie. The prospect of hauling away a ton of dirt, clay and  rock wasn't something we wanted to think about.

Okay, here I've wrapped the drain in a landscaping fabric to prevent dirt from seeping in and clogging it.

The edges of the well are also lined with landscaping fabric to prevent dirt from getting in. I had hoped to dig right down to the weeping tile (a porous pipe which runs horizontally around the house and prevents water from seeping in) but the clay was a real obstacle and I would have had to go down at least another 12" to 18".

We had stones (3/4 inch "clear") trucked in.  The pile's higher than it looks.

The bottom is filled with stones. I drilled some holes in the foundation, coated the ends of the metal surround with a black tar-based caulk to seal it and attached it to the foundation with anchors called 'nailings'. I also caulked the edges.

The landscaping fabric is pulled up over the edge of the surround and temporarily clamped.

'Scuze the butt shot! The well is filled with stones... about six inches below the window and the excess fabric trimmed away. I backfilled all sides with more stone as I wanted to keep as much dirt and sand away from the edges as possible. 

A heavy layer of limestone gravel is added to provide a good footing underneath the patio stones, which I should be able to put back tomorrow. Here I've temporarily put the window well cover in place; after the patio is finished I'll attach it to the foundation with anchors. I also have to replace the bathroom fan since we'll now lose our ventilation through the window.

Today Sandy and I hauled away most of the pile of dirt on the patio.  A neighbour eighteen houses down the street from us tore out their in-ground swimming pool, so they let us dump our stuff there. We made dozens of wheelbarrow trips up and down the street and we still have some to do tomorrow.  But it saved us a few hundred dollars in dumping fees plus the cost of a possible truck rental.

Our contractor quoted me about $5000 for the job. Total time for us to do it ourselves: five days. Total cost: about $200 in materials, plus a little blood and a lot of sweat. 


  1. wow! i'd say awesome job, barry! you are a handy man!


  2. Way to go Barry! That is alot of hard labour, I watched our contractors do that all the way around the outisde of our country home during the begining of our reno - last year. They had huge machines and and other equipment - so I can only image how difficult it was to do it yourself.

    I know its a costly venture ... I have to address a similiar situation with our house in the city - water seems to seep into the basement every so often.The windows are above grade level - so its a weepin tile/foundation - challenge we are thinking. Not looking forward to seeing the contractor quotes on that.

    Take care my friend and enjoy the rest of the week-end. HHL

  3. Wahooo way to go and get it done. congrats!

  4. Great job Barry... the wheelbarrow trips can be an awesome work-out for you and Sandy. xoxo

  5. oh wow.
    well done to just get it done.
    good job :)

  6. I applaud your DIY spirit. I wish I had the know how or the motivation to do m own home repairs. A job well done indeed!

  7. wow good job Barry & Sandy!
    Looks like hard work!