Window wells are small retaining walls made of a variety of materials built around basement windows to hold earth away from the windows. Current building codes require that basement windows in new homes be built with a means of egress (door or window). Any living space in a basement, such as a bedroom, must also have a means of egress in case of emergency. The code also requires that the addition of a bedroom to an older home must include at a minimum a window well egress.
Homeowners like them for a number of reasons:
A window well lets natural daylight into an otherwise dark basement. This can brighten up your basement and make it more pleasant especially if you have a finished basement where family members can relax.
Safety is also a big factor. In the event of an emergency, a window well egress will provide an emergency escape for family members and an entry for fire and rescue personnel. Basement windows open into a small space with stairs built into the retaining wall.
Most older homes have retaining walls built from galvanized steel and are open at the top and bottom. Today, we use high-strength plastic, masonry or stone. The new window well system is fully enclosed including the bottom to prevent weed growth and to keep small animals from burrowing their way under the window well and into the foundation. In many cases we use a high-strength polycarbonate clear cover to keep leaves and other debris from filling the well and to keep children from falling in.
You'll want a qualified professional to install a window well egress system. It needs to be installed properly to keep moisture from rain and snow out of your basement. If you're looking for a local solution: