Basement windows — bringing the dungeon to life

Maybe you have the luxury of living in a home in Calgary constructed on a slope with a walk-out basement meaning you have a full height exterior wall at the rear of the house which allows you to put windows or doors into it, just like upstairs. You are lucky and have way more window options.

But most homes don't have the luxury of a sloping yard. Instead, they are stuck with little basement windows that are on average 36" wide and 12" high. The result is basements that are generally dark, lacking fresh air, and in many instances simply used as scary, dark storage.

If you truly want to live in the basement, the safe and happy solution is bigger windows! It means making those small windows into wider and deeper ones. That means you are going below grade.

Going below grade is not only for light and fresh air but also for egress (the building code term for a window that allows you to escape in case of fire.) Your basement can always accommodate larger windows. The issue will be with their location. Your side yards might have a restriction for code but the rear and front of the house is usually a free for all!

Basement windows will still involve getting a development or building permit from your local authorities, but it is worthwhile, especially if you want to construct a legal suite downstairs for extra revenue.

As well, it will involve ensuring you are not affecting the structural integrity of the home, so placement is important. You will be doing some digging, concrete cutting and creating a window well (a retaining wall surrounding the window keeping the earth from collapsing into it).

The window well must be properly drained, meaning tying into a drain located at the bottom of the new deeper window.

There are two options. You can tie into existing weeping tile (a corrugated plastic tubing that has been placed at the bottom of your foundation to carry excessive water away from the basement and into the city storm sewer); or tie into a dry well (a large hole dug down to the bottom of the foundation and a few feet wider than the window then filled with washed gravel). The dry well offers your window well a temporary storage area for a surge of water that will dissipate over time. If your home wasn't constructed with weeping tile, dig real deep at least to the bottom of the foundation and few feet wider than the new window to create a dry well.

When developing your basement into extra living space or a self-contained suite, windows bring measurable value with returns in lifestyle or rent!