Monday, May 7, 2012

All's Well That Ends Well (again)

Back in August of 2010 I wrote a post about a window well that I had to dig up. This past weekend I was at it again, this time on the opposite side of the house.

Our home is over forty years old and they're being built differently these days. For those of you who haven't seen one, a window well surrounds a basement window that's 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. The problem we've been having is that over time silt and dirt has been washing into the wells and threatening to clog the drains. This happened with the last one, it backfilled with water until it seeped through the window and flooded our basement bathroom. You can also see it happening here on this one, it should be filled with only stones but dirt has been washing in. If I didn't fix the problem we'd have another flooding situation (we'd also have a maple tree growing as evidenced by the leaves sprouting)...

Notice how the metal surround is at an angle. That's because when our house was built they didn't take time to secure it to the foundation. Over the years due to frost heaving (ice forming below the surface of the soil), it lifted and eventually allowed dirt and silt to seep inside. You might notice the hole I've circled in red on the right, which is meant to be used to anchor the surround to the concrete. It wasn't. This was laziness on the part of the builder...

Here I've dug down to the bottom of the window well and removed the surround, which will be replaced with a new one. The drips on the flashing around the window was from an epoxy sealer applied to the foundation. Since this window is on the side of the house not normally seen (and surrounded by plants), I chose to leave it as-is. I had enough work ahead of me...

Digging down a few feet further. The black pipe in the middle is the drain which I've capped with landscaping fabric to prevent dirt from falling in as I worked...

It's not unusual to come across old building materials that were left behind when a house was constructed. Along with a bunch of big rocks I pulled out some bricks, metal strapping, a big rusty nail (I'm surprised there was only one), and some shards of broken glass. Awesome...

We had a local landscaping company drop off a big pile of 3/4 inch clear stone, which is kinda misleading since it's neither 3/4 of an inch nor clear. Who thinks of these names anyway?...

They also dumped a pile of fine limestone screening (dark gravel on the left in the photo above) which Sandy moved over to the bird feeding station in our backyard. You should see her use a wheelbarrow! Next weekend we'll be using that gravel to level off the paving stones beneath the pole that supports the bird feeders. Meanwhile back at the window I lined the pit with landscaping fabric to keep soil from leeching through and began adding the stones...

...then attached the new surround by drilling three holes in the foundation on each side and hammering in anchors (I had to do this first before adding any more stones in order to give myself enough room to work). Time to attach the metal well surround to the foundation? About fifteen minutes. That's all it would have taken when the house was built to avoid this. C'est la vie...

And here we are, all done! I shouldn't need to do anything again apart from keeping it free from leaves and other debris.

When I was finished I went around to all three wells and used an industrial vacuum cleaner to suck out all the stones the builder put inside the drain pipes. The thinking at the time the house was built was that the stones would prevent debris from clogging the pipes, however they also decrease the efficiency of drainage. So I sucked out as much as I could and capped each one with landscaping fabric. This will allow water to get through while keeping everything else out.    

In total it took me about seven hours straight working time between Saturday and Sunday. I enjoy doing work like this around the house and find it very rewarding. How was your weekend, more relaxing I hope?


  1. My weekend was hectic but nowhere near as physical as yours. Phew, that made me tired just reading. lol

  2. It wasn't too bad. The weather was gorgeous, not too hot although I definitely have the beginning of a tan. It just feels so good to finally have fixed this, I wanted to do it last year but there were too many other things to do. This coming weekend I'll be working on the front porch and hopefully doing a bit of drywalling.

  3. Wow you are quite the handy man Barry! I think you made a great improvement here. Glad to hear that the weather was pleasant - wet weather would not have been fun at all!

  4. Thanks Amber, I got lucky with the weather on the last one I did too. Three dry sunny days on a long weekend back then and two dry sunny days last weekend. What are the chances, huh?

  5. 0.0 You are a total MACHINE.

    You never know what you're going to find when you renovate. Someone found a weird machine-thing under their porch and gave it to dad. . . Turned out it was one of only two surviving medicine misting thingies from the Spanish Flu epidemic, and Te Papa museum paid him a pretty penny for it and put it on display.

    Thank you for your comments on my recent spazzing posts. They were totally awesome and very much appreciated.