Renovation solutions: Beautify basement window wells

Published: Monday, Nov. 10 2008 12:19 a.m. MST

Basements are not just for storing canned peaches anymore. Finishing the basement is one of our most common renovations.

People are living, playing and sleeping in the basement. With our families spending more time below-grade, it makes sense that there is a new market for livable basement products. For one: the new and improved window well.

The same old steel corrugated well is being left behind, especially with the egress basement window codes. Any basement with a bedroom is required to have an egress window large enough for family members to escape from the basement in case of a fire and large enough for firefighters in full regalia to get in.

Safety codes require each basement bedroom have a window whose lower ledge is not more than 44 inches from the floor and has at least 5.7 square feet of clear opening space. The window well itself must be a minimum of three feet away from the foundation wall.

Adding an egress window can become an important part of a basement remodel. A window not only makes the basement safer, but it also adds natural light to make the space more comfortable and appealing.

In some cases, large window wells can be terraced away from the window to give the room even more light and a feeling of connection with the outside. An architect can help you understand further possibilities and safety requirements for basement windows and window wells.

You can find egress window wells with built-in stairs, ladders and handrails. These are required if your window well is more than 44 inches deep. You can also find these safety items sold individually that you can add to your existing window well if you wish.

Another safety feature is to cover window wells to prevent children or pets from falling into an open well. Such a cover needs to be sturdy enough to hold the weight of a person, but light enough for a child to lift in the event it is necessary to escape from the basement. If you want natural light and ventilation, metal grilles can be used. Domed window-well covers are often made of a polycarbonate material.

Some covers are made with a metal (typically aluminum) framework and clear polycarbonate to let in natural light. Window well covers can also come vented for air circulation and sloped for drainage.

In addition to safety and function, window wells are becoming more of a focus for design. Manufacturers are coming out with more options for decorative window wells. You can find window wells that look and feel like real stone in almost every variety and color.

There are also options to enhance your existing window well with decorative liners and scene setters. Decorative window-well liners are most commonly nonstructural, semiflexible manufactured plastics molded to look like rock. We have found other liners of landscape paintings. It gives the basement a view to a faux vista of the woods, lakes, mountains or waterfalls.

Though you need to use some design discretion here, there are window-well liners for any look you can imagine.

There are even some window wells that incorporate both beauty and safety. Some structural decorative window wells have steps built from the manufactured stones.

The right window well can be the final touch to a beautiful basement remodel. But now, where to put the peaches?


Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founders of Renovation Design Group, www.renovationdesigngroup.com, a local design firm specializing in home remodels.

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