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Community and Q&A

Stair Access to Walkout Basement / Concrete or Pavers for Egress Window Well

casabian | Posted in General Questions on

Hi all,

Got some great advice about perimeter drainage and now I’m on to the next phase of my new foundation.

It was important to me to have a door and not a bulkhead as we’ll be utilizing the basement space and would like to rent it out on occasion as a completely separate space.

The lot is not sloped so the plan is to pour a retaining wall and have steps going down the side of the house, a landing and then a couple more steps before entering the basement (see picture). I believe the steps will be pressure treated wood and we will put a drain at the bottom of the stairwell.

My question for GBA is if this is a sound approach with the right materials and if there’s anything to do for minimizing water challenges.

Separately, we have two 30×48 windows next to each other to let sunlight into the bedroom in the basement from southern exposure. Do you prefer pouring cement for the window well and adding something on the outside to make it look nicer? Or should I go with pavers? It’s an egress window so people need to be able to get out.
I found this writeup about the topic

I’m new to this if you can’t tell, appreciate the wonderful advice.


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  1. Expert Member


    I think you forgot to attach the picture.

    1. casabian | | #2

      Thanks, Malcolm. Just attached.

      GBA doesn't allow files larger than 3MB which seems a bit crazy in this day and age. Would be great to include compression in their upload workflow.

      1. Expert Member
        MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #3


        The consequences of the drain getting plugged in a basement door-well is usually a flooded basement, so I'd do one of two things:
        - Don't just put a regular floor drain outside the door. Use a catch-basin directly connected to the 4" perimeter drains. Something similar to this:
        - Even better is to put roof over the door and landing - although I know that may be difficult for other reasons.

        My own preference is to use something other that concrete for the retaining walls for window wells. Either a pre-fabricated one, or PT timbers. That affords some flexibility for future repairs, and changes to landscaping.

        Remember that lowering the grade for the access means the depth necessary for frost protection is measured from the landing. That may mean some rigid insulation on top of the footings is necessary.

        1. casabian | | #7

          Hi Malcolm + others,

          I'm back with another question about the walkout basement. The work still hasn't started though the house is finally back on its foundation.

          I'm having serious second thoughts about the outside stairs (have attached the lower level plans). I'm concerned about water / drainage and the aesthetics of it — there will be a lot of stairs because the basement is 9'8". I had hoped to have the stairs to make it easy for guests to come and go and have their own space + potentially rent it from time to time — its in an area where there are lots of weddings. Entering through a bulkhead isn't great for either of those things. I did find the Clamshell bulkhead which looks nicer than a standard

          So what do people recommend? Stairs and worry about the water or ugly bulkhead in the backyard? Input greatly appreciated!


  2. casabian | | #4

    Thank you, Malcolm. Will definitely get the larger drain.

    Can you explain the frost protection? The rigid insulation would go on top of the footings in that area, or necessary for the whole perimeter?

    Do you think concrete makes sense for the stairs or you prefer PT for that as well?

    1. Expert Member
      MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #5


      From the photos it looks like your footings will be about three feet below grade at the door. If your frost depth is deeper than that you need to insulate under the landing - and maybe a couple of feet each side of the retaining walls. The rest is fine.

      I'm always wary of extending permeant structures, like concrete walls, out into the landscaping. Wood or interlocking blocks would be my choice. Depending what the room inside is used for, you might want to extend the landing out so it becomes a sunken patio. Concrete makes future changes harder.

  3. maine_tyler | | #6

    In terms of water management for a foundation well, I would think of it as you would the foundation itself (though it's missing the crucial component of the roof).

    That means minimizing it's watershed, using properly graded slopes away from all 3 sides of the wells, and having no roof run-off above.

    It also means treating the perimeter of the well the same as the foundation in terms of drainage (have the french drains and free-draining fill—or whatever method you're using— wrap around the well). Slope the landing away from door opening/foundation, with drain at low point, or multiple/dispersed points (crush bed?).

    I can see Malcolm's point about future repairs using concrete. As the owner of a 1910's bungalow with a concrete porch and sizable concrete 'wings' extending out along the stairs, I have a project on my hands. They look interesting, with nice field stone embedded in the above grade portion, but it has separated away from the porch/foundation and moving it back into place will be a bear.

  4. walta100 | | #8

    I say make the stairs concrete. How are you going to clean up leafs and other stuff that is bound to end up under the stairs.

    If you can’t drain the stairwell too daylight you need to build a roof over it. The risk of flooding the finished basement is too great.


  5. Expert Member
    AKOS TOTH | | #9

    I working on a place that has a basement staircase on the outside. Originally it had corrugated plastic roof over it to keep water out. I'm guessing it was built 40 years ago and eventually flooded thus the roof.

    This looked quite bad, so what I did is extend the floor of the 2nd floor addition out to crate an overhang above the staircase. Besides keeping water out, it is now an architectural feature on the house. With a bit of careful design it is easy to integrate something similar into most houses.

    As for the staircase layout, the only ones that did not feel like a dungeon are the ones that are terraced, this is a bit fancy but something like:

    If you have the space it is definitely worth it. A nice bonus with a stepped design like that is that you'll only need railings on one side.

  6. casabian | | #10

    Would you mind sending a picture of what you did? Thanks!

    1. Expert Member
      AKOS TOTH | | #11

      The place is in currently at tyvek stage but this will be about what it will look like.

      The overhang is part of the balcony on the 2nd floor and extends out to the edge of the staircase.

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