Rather than simply being a functional yet conspicuous hole adjacent to your home’s foundation, you can add a touch of beauty to an egress window well in addition to increasing its usefulness. By terracing the walls adjacent and opposite to the windows into sloped planes shaped into receding successive steps, you can create several surfaces or planes into which flowers and plants may be added. Not only that but doing so fulfills the code requirements of providing stairs or a ladder in wells deeper than 44 inches. Digging out the well and terracing it will take a good amount of time and work, so be prepared. The result, however, will have been worth it, for it increases light through the basement egress window and creates a nice view when looking out.
Step 1: Dig Hole
The bulk of this job will be in the digging. The minimum dimensions of an egress well are 36 inches long by 36 inches deep. It will likely be at least 44 inches deep, but you will have to dig down to the base of the foundation in order to create the proper drainage. Because you will terrace the well, it will need to be even longer and wider, for the 36x36 inches applies to bottom dimensions. Thus, you plan on digging out a space approximately 6 feet wide by 5 feet long by 4 feet deep. You can either dig a trench 1 foot wide down to the foundation drain and pour in gravel, or you can stop 12 inches below the bottom of the egress window.
Step 2: Shape Hole
After the dirt has been removed, your next step is to shape the hole. Most importantly, be sure to slope the dirt away from the foundation 12 inches below the window. About 2½ feet from the foundation and parallel to it, dig a shallow trench 1 foot wide. At the far edge of that trench, begin the terracing. In addition to the bottom layer, there should be 2 3-sided terraces. Measure the depth from the bottom of the trench adjacent to the foundation up to the ground level. That depth minus 6 inches (for gravel) you will divide into roughly 3 equal sections supported by 3 terrace walls.
Step 3: Lay Fabric
With the terraces shaped, next roll out landscape fabric and cover the entire area. All terraces and the bottom trench should have a layer of fabric overlaid.
Step 4: Bottom Layer and First Terrace Wall
Pour a level layer of 3/4-inch gravel over the entire bottom of the trench including the 1-foot wide shallow trench away from and parallel to the foundation (there it will be about 6 inches deep). Atop the first layer of gravel pour a second 3-inch layer of pea gravel. Construct the first 3-sided wall with pressure-treated 2x4 lumber stacked 3 high and overlapped at the edges. Secure them with 10-inch spikes spaced 2-3 feet apart. Make sure the bottom layer, with the first wall in place, has an area of at least 36x36 inches.
Step 5: Second and Third Walls
Behind the first wall pour in 3/4-inch gravel up to 3 inches from the top. Pour in pea gravel up to the top of the first wall. Build the second wall in the same manner as the first set approximately 6 inches back from the first on all 3 sides. Each side will consequently be longer. Again, pour in both kinds of gravel behind the second wall and build the third wall up to the level of the ground.
The 3-sided walls will get progressively bigger and provide 2 3-sided terraces in which to place potted plants or flowers. Not only will this arrangement allow you to decorate the well, but it will also provide built-in stairs should the final depth be greater than 44 inches.