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Window Well Covers and Grates: Don’t Buy Before Reading this…12 min read

Window Well Covers and Grates: Don’t Buy Before Reading this…12 min read

It always put smiles on peoples faces, lights up the basement and a lower utilities bill – that is, if you have the basement at grade level.  At least a couple of walls at grade, if not the whole basement.  What if yours is a below-grade one. Window wells are going to help do that, but it opens up more problems. Window well covers help solve most of those issues.

In the absence of a walkout basement, you wish to at least have a few windows that shine daylight into the basement.

While you’re excited about basement finishing project there are some mundane sub-projects you must address before starting the aesthetic ones.  Window wells and covers are definitely on the list.

So, this post is more about protecting your investment, not so much about utilization or beautification.  But, it is more important than other look-good projects, so don’t skip this.

What is a window well?

Some basement walls (sometimes all of them) can’t have an opening in the wall, because the side of the basement is below grade.  That is the basement wall has soil on the other side.

A trench is then dug in the soil to match the height of the window being installed, to work around this issue.

To keep the dirt from falling off and sliding into the trench a protective structure is placed around the perimeter of the trench – usually with a galvanized ribbed metal well.   And almost always it’s a U-shaped well.

All this to shine the daylight into the basement.

Issues with Egress Window Wells

Do you think a well solves the issue?  If you assume so, just think again.

You just opened a can of worms. There a lot of issues, the major one is water intrusion.

Unless when it was built, the builder had put in polymer modified asphalt (a.k.a elastomeric waterproofing) you will likely have a known or unknown water drainage issue.

Not only that.  Your builder should have installed a proper drain tile, outside and below the footing and move the water away.

Window well drainage solution

Now, with or without the proper installation, we can do something cheap, easy and effective to drain the rainwater away from the window well

How?  Good question.

Covers for Window wells.

Even if your trusty builder had put in good practices for the stormwater drainage from the window wells, you may still run a risk.

Why?

Because if your house is 20 years or older, I am pretty sure, your builder used nothing but Tar to paint the outside of the basement wall.  Well, tar is not expandable, and it breaks down after a few years.

That would leave the concrete wall in the basement under the window weeping water.  Check my post on the humidity related issues and the correct level that must be maintained.  Weeping window wells is going to make your indoor humidity a big issue.

Note: Make your own dehumidifier home following this simple setup.

If you see water under the window sills or near the basement flooring where the window is, this is the potential cause.

Solution?

Well, a simple cover that acts as a roof and diverts the water outside of the window well is a good one.

Are covers necessary for window well?

Water intrusion and animal and bird infestation problem without window well covers

Like we discussed before, the Purpose of a window well cover is a quick and easy solution to minimize or stop water intrusion from the window well.

Don’t think this is THE solution – far from it.  It is, however, a great additional step from protecting your basement from water issue.

There are other issues to deal with. Pets, using it as a house, leaves, twigs and debris dumped by nature to name a few.

While you enjoy seeing your toddler run, it takes a fraction of a second for your toddler to trip and fall into the window well.

Just creating a potentially hazardous situation and liability for you. Make sure you got a good umbrella policy.

Is an egress window required in a basement?

Short answer – Yes.

This is assuming you are going to use your basement space – or part of it – as a habitable space.

By that, we mean specifically a bedroom or a livable space.

Don’t have one and want to break the ground to put one in. Check the post on lowering the basement floor for ideas.

It’s wise to check your local code authority or municipality to see what’s legal in your jurisdiction.

As a general rule, I am going to refer to standards set by the International Code Council (ICC).  According to InterNACHI, great than 90% of all the local authorities use the 2006 International Residential Code (IRC) set by ICC.

Based on IRC any habitable space in the basement – specifically sleeping rooms – must have an emergency exit, egress or otherwise a rescue opening.

Do covers help your home insurance?

From my experience insurance agents are not so knowledgeable, even though a window well cover minimizes their risk.

However, if you have had a claim, the insurance company is going to dig into the problem and the cause.

Having any kind of protection to your window wells is probably your defence to say you took enough measures to minimize the risk.  And it minimizes your chance of a claim. So, in my opinion, it’s not a direct reduction in the premium but has an indirect effect.

What to buy – Custom or standard ones?

simple window well cover to protect from rain waterIt comes down to your preference and budget. And one other thing. The make of the window well itself.

You need to first assess whether or not your window wells is a standard size off the shelf one.  If that is the case, you may be able to pick one up from Home Depot, Lowes or Menards.

However, if your contractor built it using cinder blocks, then you might be out of luck.  Unless you don’t care about an oversize one.

Custom window well covers are, in my opinion, the best option. It will be tailor-made, and so it’s going to look better.  You don’t have to settle with the standard, you will get an exact kind of cover for your liking and you can get it matched with your exterior décor.

DIY window well covers or buy it from a Custom Shop?

If you go the custom route, then you have a couple of options.  There are speciality window well cover vendors in your local area that you have to reach out to.

The advantage of using a custom shop to provide the cover is they will use the state-of-the-art window equipment such as a CNC machine to make precision cuts.

The finish would be much better than what you would do.  But a DIY solution isn’t bad either.

Caveat: Know this before you install the covers

Check with your local authorities to see if it’s per code to install a cover.

In any case, the Egress exit is there for a reason.  In an emergency, someone should be able to get out quickly. Keep this in mind while planning and installing the cover.

You should be able to come out of the window and out of the well.  If you find a version that gets fastened and not able to open from inside, that will fail your inspection.

My take on covers from Home Depot, Lowes and Menards

Well, this is more of a speciality item and I don’t think they carry a good variety of products to choose from.  Since you are going to retrofit a cover over the available steel dam, it’s probably going to be a fit issue for most of you out there.

The ones that are available in stock are the standard size 19 inches by 15 inches polyethylene ones.  You need to wiggle around to fit.

It will get the job done.

Pros: Cheap and quick installation

Cons: Many.  Cheap plastic.  Not sturdy. Not custom. You must drill holes and install clips to fit.

Basement Egress Window well cover ideas

I am going to list down several different varieties of covers that you should know.  I am providing this, so you will be able to choose the one that matches your exterior.

Main variations are:

  1. U Shaped covers – Also called Circular window well covers
  2. L shaped covers – also called rectangle window well covers

Metal window well Grate ideasPowdercoated metal grade for window well covers

You can either get it done using steel or Aluminum.

If you are in a rough neighborhood and want to protect from intrusion and stop vandals, then I suggest using a metal grate window well covers.

In any case, you have to be mindful of one thing though.  It should keep the intruders away, but your family should be able to open from inside and quickly get out in an emergency evacuation event.  Your design should accommodate that.

Wooden cover ideas

This is just like the metal grade well covers but made with lumber. It’s the cheapest DIY cover that I can think of.

However, it has its limitations. First, just the crate is not great to protect from water intrusion.  But, this is a great solution if you end up having pets residing in wells and don’t have a way to stop them.

Remember that a grate cover is only going to protect from animals going in or someone falling in.

It has very little protection with falling leave and debris. And most importantly it is not going to stop the overflowing downspout and rainwater gathering in the wells.

Plexiglass based ideas

It is an acrylic sheeting – a glass-like plastic that you see in several applications.  The chemical name is polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA).  You must also have heard different names -polycarbonate, acrylic, plexiglass etc.  They all mean the same.  There is a special registered trademark name which sounds the same called Plexiglas.

Just Plexiglass

You could just get the plexiglass cut to measurement and place it on the window well.  It will surely fly off with any wind, so you must anchor the sheet somehow.

The best is to get make a metal or plastic frame and fasten the plexiglass cover on top of it.  If you buy one of the window well cover products, such as MacCourt, it comes with all the necessary accessories to install it fully.

It is not going to be strong when someone steps over it, though.

Plexiglass on Wood or Metal

The ideal way I would suggest is to make a grate and lay the acrylic sheet over it.  Grate, where the metal forms not only a good base for the plastic sheet to layover but a solid structural soundness too.

This is the best setup because It is going to be strong when someone steps over it.  It is going to have a clear plastic over it, so it will shine light through and your basement room will get all the natural light.

It will also give you enough protection from overflown gutters and pouring rain.  And, you wouldn’t have to worry about leaves gathering or animals building nests.

Once in a while cleaning the cover is all you need.  Just spray some soapy water and spray the garden hose and everything will wash out.

Bubble window well cover ideas

I am not a huge fan of it.  It’s again the same clear plastic – polycarbonate material that forms a shape.  Nothing fancy, it just a small bubble kind of a finish, instead of a flat finish.

Some like the look of the non-flat, curvy looking covers.  The only serious advantage I see over the flat counterparts, are you get a little extra vertical space inside the window wells.

If you want your little cat to stay outside, and enjoy the sun, then this is a cool one.  Or if you want to leave your indoor plants to get a few hours of sun, then you can open the window, slide the plants in and out.

For those two uses, you have might need some extra vertical clearance and the bubble window well cover is just a good option.

But it is also pricey compared to the other one.  Just weight cost and benefits before buying one.

Components – What to look for

Cover Clips

You should always choose the cover that uses a clip to stay the window well in place.  Clips come in basically 2 varieties.  Plastic and metal.

I don’t see a need to use plastic.  The metal ones are strong enough that it’s doesn’t fly out in wind.

Since the clips are exposed to elements the plastic clips deteriorate and become brittle.  Metal clips are better-suited ones, in my opinion.

Window Well Ladder

If the well is deeper than 44”, by IRC code you must have ladder or steps to climb out.

You need the ladder bolted and secured properly.  It’s wise to buy a ladder that can hold up to 300 pounds.

Last, but if you end up with the big box cover option, here is a quick rundown of how to install a store-bought cover

How to install the plastic covers bought from Home Depot, Lowes and Menards?

  1. Measure the well’s width and length
  2. Purchase one that is closest to the dimension you measured.
    • Note: You should buy the cover bigger than the well itself.
  3. Place the cover over the well, and fix any bent metal well issues
  4. Make some markings on the cover where you want the clips to go
  5. Drill holes to fasten the clips – Usually, it’s a 3/16” hole, or as directed by the manufacturer
  6. Mount clips using the bolts provided.
  7. Snap the cover over the well – Job Done!

If you want to do-it-yourself, then here are a couple of relevant videos that will show you how.  When I work on my next window well cover project, I will put a very detailed instructional post with videos.

In Conclusion:

I believe in getting a perfect custom look to your window well covers. However, if your budget doesn’t allow for one, feel free to do it yourself.

You will indeed get a better functioning well cover for a fraction of the cost of buying one.  If you are not handy and budget is an issue, go to amazon.com and get MacCourt’s.  After all, MacCourt is a not an expensive product and solves the purpose.

But, a window well cover is a necessary precaution.  It saves you from a lot of headaches.  Fall cleaning will be a breeze around your window wells.  Most importantly you can relax be rest assured that no animals can get in and also assues of a plenty of light below-grade.

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