A property’s basement is an often-overlooked space, but in recent years, it has become more and more common for people to attempt to utilize every part of their property to maximum effect. This has made basement finishing more common than ever before as people seek to turn their basements into livable spaces. Unfortunately, this is often when most structural problems and cosmetic damage is picked up for the first time.
Basement window wells perform a very important function. Without window wells, there would be no way to effectively install windows below ground level. They allow for windows that let in natural light and fresh air, and they should prevent water buildup by offering drainage solutions. Unfortunately, when they are damaged, window wells can start to leak and cause havoc in a basement.
How to Spot a Leaking Window Well
Most homes in Missouri that have a basement with older windows and window wells will have experienced leaks at some point. This is because older basement windows and window wells are often made using wood. While treated wood is a tough building material, of course, it is also reactive to moisture and dampness. Over time, it will become compromised and could easily begin to rot. This is why up-to-date window and window wells tend to be made of waterproof materials like industrial-grade PVC.
Differentiate Between Active vs. Historic Damage
When assessing your basement, it is important to know the difference between cosmetic signs of historic damage that is no longer an issue and active, ongoing problems that need to be dealt with immediately. Staining, for example, is a common sign of a leaking window well and will outlast active damage if it is not corrected.
The good news is, there’s an easy way to tell the difference between signs of previous damage that has been dealt with and damage that is actively causing issues within your basement. You just need to monitor the window in question during a storm. Even a very small leak is likely to become noticeable during a heavy rainstorm, which can be fairly common in Missouri, especially in the fall and winter.
So if you have concerns about a particular window well in your basement, try to observe it during a rainstorm. This is when some of the signs will be most visible.
Leaking Window Wells
If you want to protect your property from leaks, dampness, and water damage there are a few things that you can do to keep your window wells healthy and in good working order. They are:
Prevent Perimeter Saturation
Perimeter saturation is one of the things that is highly likely to damage your property in one way or another. Whether it causes excessive hydrostatic pressure and leads to bowing walls in your basement, or it damages your basement window wells, foundation and perimeter saturation is something to worry about. Thankfully, it is also easy to avoid.
All you need to do is invest in decent drainage systems. Keeping your roof gutters and downspouts free from debris (and angled toward the street), for example, can have a huge impact on the amount of water pooling by your home. Investing in high-quality perimeter drains can further protect your home by gathering water that escapes your gutters and whisking it away.
Invest in a Window Well Cover
Basement windows need window wells to ensure that natural light can get into windows set below ground level. Of course, window wells are vulnerable to flooding, especially if they have minimal drainage and no protection from the climate. This can lead to many different kinds of damage, from worn or damaged sealant to a damaged window frame.
Whatever the nature of the damage, the most likely outcome is that water will start to leak into your basement. This can cause a huge number of problems inside your property, from mold and mildew formation to wood rot and pest infestation. In fact, leaking window wells can even cause floors to sag by damaging the joists that support them.
If you notice a sweet and slightly musty smell in your basement, it is very likely that you have issues with dampness (and probably mold). The underlying cause of this dampness, however, could be found in many different areas.
Internal sources of dampness include plumbing leaks and appliance breakdown, as well as failures in your foundation’s drainage systems. The size of the internal leak can vary widely, too. Plumbing leaks, for example, can be incredibly small, like those that occur when the joint between two pipes is weak, or very severe, like when a pipe bursts. Of course, larger leaks are easy to spot quickly, while small leaks may seem less destructive at first, but can cause more damage over time because they remain undetected.
Likewise, appliance breakdown can cause increased humidity and dampness in your property, while producing very little visible moisture or water. A sump pump that is draining slowly, for example, may never cause flooding (if you are lucky), but it could allow water to stand in your property for long enough to impact the relative humidity inside. Likewise, a slight leak in your water heater could produce very little standing water, but a lot of condensation.
External water sources are those sources that let moisture into your home from outside the property, either as a result of damage or design oversight. Seepage, for example, is an external source of moisture that sees water seep through concrete walls or floors because of the porous nature of concrete as a material. Leaking window wells can also let water into your home.
Leaking window wells can be caused by many different things and can take a number of forms. It can range from a barely-there seep of water that is only noticeable because of staining to a full-on trickle of water that forms puddles on the floor during a heavy storm. Once this happens, you will need to address the leak formally (which is why it is best to prevent damage in the first place, where possible).
If you suspect that you have damage to your basement window wells or you have noticed an active leak in your basement, there is no time to lose. The quicker you act, the more straightforward and affordable repairs will be (as is often the case with structural repairs).
Call a Professional
First and foremost, you need to contact a professional if you think you have damage like this in your basement. It can be tempting to try a DIY fix, we know, but we urge you not to do this because it can go wrong incredibly quickly! This is partly because you could misdiagnose the actual causes of the damage to your window and partly because you could install a solution that is unsuitable.
This can either cause further damage to your window and window well or cover up the damage without addressing the cause, thereby allowing the damage to spread or reoccur at a later date. This will increase your overall repair costs and could have serious repercussions for your home as a whole. Persistent dampness can cause structural damage, for example, and can lead to things like sagging floors.
Repair or Replacement?
A professional will perform a full inspection of your basement to assess the extent, severity, and causes of the damage to your window and window well. Once they have a good idea of what has caused the window well to start leaking, they will give you their suggestions for the best possible solution. Depending on the damage, this could be repair or full replacement of the damaged window and window well.
It is important to remember that you have the final say in these matters. Most professionals will suggest replacement when it will be easier and more effective than repairs or when the windows and window wells are so old that they are at the end of their lifespan. Repairs, by contrast, will be suggested when the damage is relatively mild, or when it is more cost-effective to repair the current window and window well rather than to replace it.
Warning Signs to Look For
There are a number of signs you should be aware of when it comes to spotting damage to your basement windows before it gets out of control. They are:
Generally high levels of humidity inside your property are a warning sign you should not ignore. First and foremost, high humidity can lead to many other problems and cause real damage, but it is also an indicator that there is already damage at work in your home. High levels of humidity that are focused in your basement indicate that there is a persistent leak or some other source of water in the room, even if it is too small to be immediately noticeable.
As we noted, staining is a common issue that can be indicative of past damage or active damage. As such, you should investigate any stains that you see thoroughly. Stains that are dry to the touch and entirely static (meaning ones that do not spread) are most likely to be left over from previous leaks and damage. A stain that seems to be growing in size or strength of color over time and that is damp to the touch is most likely to be a sign of active damage.
Damaged Wallpaper or Drywall
If you have previously finished your basement, you should be at less risk of leaks and issues with dampness. However, it is also easier to spot new damage in finished spaces. For example, bubbling wallpaper is a strong sign of issues in a space as are damp spots in paint. Likewise, if your drywall looks shiny, feels damp to the touch, or is slightly springier than usual under pressure, you should investigate the area.
Mold and Mildew
Mold and mildew formation is almost guaranteed in basements that have window well leaks because of the increased levels of humidity that the leak will cause. The types of mold you might find in your home depend on the spores in your area. This can change from place to place, even in a town the size of Springfield, MO. Mold and mildew can contribute to and cause a huge number of issues in a property.
Bad smells and musty odors are common in basements that have issues with dampness and mold formation. Of course, leaking window wells are just one of the potential causes of these odors, so it pays to investigate further.
Most of these problem signs are indicative of a general issue with dampness and humidity in your property. As such, it is best to get a professional to assess your home if you see these signs of dampness and damage in your home.
What Causes Basement Window Wells to Leak?
Your basement windows and window wells are in the firing line when it comes to ground-level issues around your property. Perimeter saturation, for example, is a real problem for your foundation and basement walls, of course, but it can also be a real problem for your basement windows and window wells. The most common causes of leaking window wells are:
Soil Saturation/Expansive Soil
If the soil around your property is heavily saturated or expansive, this can cause damage to your basement window wells (and your property as a whole). Soil that is heavily saturated, either as a result of bad weather or underground water sources, will apply pressure to your window wells. The age of the window well and the material it is made of will have a huge impact on whether it is able to withstand this pressure and level of moisture. Older window wells can be made of materials like corrugated iron or even wood. This makes older wells susceptible to bowing or even corrosion/rot where there is too much moisture. Over time, this will have an impact on the basement windows themselves.
Expansive soils that are heavily clay or peat-based will react to moisture, or a lack of moisture, quite dramatically. The pressure of these soils expanding during wet seasons, or the lack of support provided when they shrink during droughts, can lead to the window well becoming deformed and water leaking into it from the soil. This will lead to progressively worse issues over time and could even impact the structural integrity of the window and window frame.
Poor Drainage Systems
Poor drainage in the soil around your property and in your basement window wells specifically is a huge contributor to the formation of leaks in your basement. As we have discussed, soil saturation can impact the stability of your window wells and lead to them taking on more water. This will also allow dirt and silt into your window wells that will impact their drainage capabilities.
All window wells should have drainage options, though some older wells may have less comprehensive or durable drainage systems in place. These drains and outlets allow water that gathers in the well to escape. If your window wells have improper drainage options or have no drainage whatsoever, water will build up inside the well and could very well lead to leaks. This can happen because of pressure on the glass (if there is a large amount of water in the well) or because consistent dampness allows water to seep under the seals.
Blockages and Clogs
Blockages and clogs in your window wells drains can lead to serious issues with dampness and leaking surprisingly quickly. Depending on the kind of drains that you have, these blockages can be caused by the buildup of sediment inside the drains or large amounts of debris in the well itself. This can lead to damage in one of two ways.
Firstly, the buildup of sediment or debris can cause slow drainage that allows for a consistently damp environment in your basement window well. When this happens, it is more likely that water will cause deterioration in the sealant around your windows and begin to seep into your home. Secondly, a snap freeze can cause the water that is stuck in the window well or its drains to expand and damage the window well drainage system or the window.
Improper Sprinkler Placement
One of the most dangerous things to your property’s basement windows and window wells is low-level, consistent moisture and dampness. This is because persistent dampness and moisture are more likely to damage the windows seals than a single, heavy deluge. Having your sprinklers placed in such a way that they continually drench your basement windows will not only lead to more water building up in your basement window well. It will contribute to faster rates of deterioration for your window and window frame.
Poorly placed sprinklers will also compound any drainage issues you may have in the soil around your home. As such, it is best to make sure that your sprinklers are optimally placed. This will help you to manage the moisture levels in the soil around your property and protect your basement window wells.
The winters in Kansas City, Moberly, St. Louis, and Springfield can be harsh and changeable. Despite what you may think, it is the fluctuations in temperature and weather that pose the most danger to your basement window wells. The heavy snow or flooding can be damaging, of course, but it is the process of thawing that is most dangerous of all for your basement windows. As such, winters and springs that see repeated snowfall or freezes and thaws can cause far more damage than a single storm.
This is because of the way that consistent, running water can damage window seals, as we discussed. It’s also because of the way that water expands when frozen. However, it really is the repetitive nature of this that can be most damaging, so be sure to keep an eye on your basement windows during periods of irregular weather and climate.
It can be hard to protect your home from these pressures without replacing the basement windows and wells altogether, especially if the windows and window wells are particularly old. The best way to prevent leaking window wells in your home is to:
- Maintain healthy perimeter drainage systems
- Keep the window wells free from debris
- Perform yearly maintenance checks to nip damage in the bud before it snowballs
You could also invest in a window well cover to prevent larger pieces of debris from falling into your window wells. In fact, you can even get clear plastic covers that allow light into the well while preventing rain and snow from falling in. All of this will severely reduce the likelihood of there being a leaking window well in your home. If you do see a leak, however, it is time to contact a professional!
How Foundation Recovery Systems Can Help
Here at Foundation Recovery Systems, we have been helping homeowners across Missouri protect and repair their basement windows and window wells. With over two decades of experience and a portfolio of high-quality solutions on offer, we know our team can make your home secure and healthy once more.
All you have to do is call us directly or book a free inspection appointment online. Our inspection appointments come with a same-day, written quote and entirely without obligation to book repairs through us. Of course, if the situation gets worse while you are making up your mind, do not hesitate to contact us for emergency assistance. We are always on hand to help!