The basement currently has five small windows just at or below grade. In the new design, two will be in the unfinished basement – and we’ll just pop in some better insulated replacements, two will be in the den and they will get new deep window sills set in with the vent soffit running around the ceiling edge and then there’s the bedroom window … it needs to be expanded dramatically to allow the required amount of air ventilation, natural light and a safe way to escape the house in an emergency.
Here’s the final result (Note: ignore all the dusty handprints on the side of the house, please). Now lets go back to the beginning!
Steps one and two, we hired out. We asked The Concrete Removers to come help out and they did a marvelous job of excavating the main hole for the window well and cutting the new opening in the concrete block basement wall. They also brought us four cubic yards of gravel. A quarter went right into the bottom of the hole they dug and the rest on tarp in the front yard.
Those first two hours were very exciting. Once they’d removed the concrete block, however, they packed up and left us to finish up our project ourselves. Then we got to work. We wanted to create a fairly precise shape of hole – a trapezoid with the longest side against the house – and two distinct levels, to support two tiers of wall. We shaved down the sides of the hole, loaded the dirt in buckets and transferred it around to raise up the soil level at the other house edges (yay for better drainage)!
Once we had the right shape, we laid in landscape fabric (to keep the dirt separated from our new gravel. Then we dumped in a couple inches of rough gravel and four of smaller pea gravel to form a level drainage base for our new retaining walls. Then we stuck plywood over the window hole and called it a day.
The next morning we got to work with our railroad tie timbers (treated 4×6). The slight splay to the retaining wall means it is not as vulnerable to the sides being pushed in by soil pressure. We cut our first two rows to the design measurements and then field measured the rest of the timbers. We kept working to make the timbers level and keep the vertical walls vertical or slightly out-tipped.
We backfilled with gravel as we went along, both to brace the timbers against the house AND to break up the work of shoveling wheel barrow after wheelbarrow full of gravel, tipping them into the hole and then spreading them around. It was about four tons of gravel in total. No small task!
In the end, we filled up ALMOST to grade with gravel, then folded in the ends of the landscape cloth and made a slight slope away from the house and window well in every direction. We’ll worry about planting it back in later!
Meanwhile the inside of the basement has transitioned from a dark back corner to the brightest spot downstairs. Next step will be framing in and installing the window!