My basement window keeps filling up with water. What can I do?

A: Legally, you might be able to seal the window because the requirement for basement exit windows didn’t show up until the 1997 code cycle, said Greg Dennison, Gaithersburg planning and code management approval coordinator. “Depending on when the basement was completed or whether the room is used as a bedroom or was designed as a bedroom (with a closet, door and smoke detector), this is neither permitted nor recommended,” he said in an email.

The big question is whether the building code required a window when your townhouse was built – or when the basement was ready if it was later. Dennison is working from home these days because of the pandemic and has no access to older codes to see what was needed in 1980. But he suspects that if your townhouse was built with an unfinished basement the window was only meant for ventilation, light, not vent. “If the basement were completed in 1997, this code would take precedence and the window would be required,” Dennison wrote. If the basement was completed without a permit, you may be able to determine the date by examining the materials used, such as wire, drywall, or fittings. “Most building materials are out of date,” Dennison said.

Gaithersburg uses the International Residential Code 2018. It requires an exit window in each basement bedroom unless the apartment has sprinkler systems and another part of the basement has a door or exit window to the outside. To fulfill the code, the exit windows will have to be considerably larger and more elaborate than what you have now, as someone rushing to escape a house fire is unlikely to crouch out through a window as thin as yours. Exit windows that meet today’s requirements must have an opening of 9 square feet – large enough for a firefighter carrying safety equipment in a backpack. The window must be able to be opened without tools, its base must not be more than 30 cm from the floor, and there must be a ladder or other means of allowing someone to get safely out of the window.

Decades ago, when builders installed window fountains, they normally looked after the groundwater. “Typically, window fountains have a drain that is plugged into the foundation’s drainage system or natural light drains off somewhere in the yard,” Dennison said. “Over time, this drain could become clogged and possibly cleaned up.”

Suspected a clogged drain, especially if your window well hasn’t filled with water like it does now. However, it is not always easy to find out where the drain is connected. Check to see if your townhouse association has plans showing this detail. If not, and if there is a slope, check to see if a downhill area gets wet from a pipe when it rains and it could drain there. Otherwise, trying to find a clogged drain may mean digging the window to the bottom of the foundation where the drain tile for your building should be.

Brandon Thompson, sales director for JDS Home Improvement (240-388-8275;, a Gaithersburg construction company that specializes in exit windows, said digging a window well and making repairs involve collecting water prevent $ 4,500 could cost $ 5,500. “We’d be fine to remove the existing window,” he said. “We’d bring in an excavator and dig to the footer.” There is no other way to approach the problem, he said. “We have to go down to the source to see what’s wrong with the drainage.”

If you wanted to upgrade your window to a window that qualifies as an exit, Thompson estimates the cost would be anywhere from $ 6,500 to $ 7,000. Given how much it would cost to renew your current window, the upcharge may be worth it as you – or future owners – have more options to use the basement.

David Arias, owner of Drainage & Erosion Solutions at Falls Church (703-534-1949; said the images you sent appear to show the window well has sunk and the nearby soil is sloping towards the house , probably due to soil deposition and erosion. He inspected to be sure and then sent a crew to dig out the window well and reposition it, possibly requiring the addition of another section. They would also re-evaluate to have the water drain. Those steps and tight coverage should fix the problem for about $ 3,000-5,000, he estimated.

According to Arias, adding a drain pipe is usually not an option as most lots don’t have a good place to drain the water other than getting it routed around the house, which is not ideal. But as a last resort, he and Thompson said the company could install a sump pump in the window well. That would keep you from having to manually save the water. But it would only protect your basement as long as the electricity is on.

You may also want to improve the drainage problems near your home and then see if that is enough to keep the window well dry. The code requires at least six inches of drops in the first 10 feet of a foundation, Dennison noted. But he said he had seen numerous cases where the material used to backfill a foundation gradually settled and the surface sloped towards the house rather than away from it. Filling the recess with mulch won’t change the way the water moves. The filling should be a bottom with low porosity, such as. B. Sound. If you use containers as water deflectors, water will still flow through the gaps. Find out how to prevent water from flowing there, for example by extending the gutter downspouts or building a swallow to divert the surface flow.

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