Gutters, along with downspouts, play a vital role in protecting the home from water and, consequently, any moisture-related damage. Having leaky or clogged gutters means that the rainwater is spilling out and gathers around the foundations of the home, leading to major problems, such as:
- Damaged insulation
- Cracked foundations
- Bulging of basement walls (or cracking)
- Termite infestation
- Settling or sinking of foundation walls, driveways, sidewalks, and porches.
- Mildew/rot/mold on ceilings, walls, exterior trim, sheathing, and wood structures.
- Vegetation growth where the gutters are clogged, and many more.
Some of these problems – that could have been prevented with little maintenance – are more costly to fix because they are significantly more extensive than others.
How to prevent clogging
Clogging is the most common problem with gutters. Debris, leaves, buds, seedlings, nests, balls and a myriad other materials find their way into them. Over time, they build up filling the gutters and blocking the free flow of water. When that happens, water is forced to find another way to continue its flow and goes over the edges of the gutters, eventually causing damage to the exterior as well as the interior, which may require hiring a professional to fix.
So, keeping them debris-free is critical. Cleaning the gutters twice a year, say in the spring and fall (right after the buds and leaves respectively have fallen from the trees) can prove life-saving and is a relatively easy 2-hour task.
1. Clean gutters
To clean your gutters, you will need a ladder. According to The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) more than 164,000 people have been rushed to the country’s emergency rooms with injuries related to ladders so far. Therefore, make sure you feel safe and comfortable on a ladder before you do anything else with it. Otherwise, it’s best to let a professional gutter cleaner take on the job.
That said, access the gutter and manually clean out sticks, leaves, seeds, needles or any other type of accumulated debris, always using gloves to keep your hands protected from injury. Any debris should best be scooped out with a garden trowel (have a plastic bucket nearby for disposal).
- Remove any pastry sediment (in some cases, dirt and water mixes with small particles of asphalt roofing shingles).
- Flush the gutter with water using your garden hose’s spray nozzle. NOTE: Don’t remove debris using a hose because you may clog the downspouts.
- Once the inside of the gutter is clean, thread your hose into the opening of the downspout and turn the hose on full blast.
- Place the hose at the far end of the gutter and as far away from the downspout as possible. Turn on the water (low pressure) and see if the water is carried (unobstructed and not forced) to the downspout. If it is pooling somewhere along the gutter or leaking, you will need to have it repaired. Maybe, it needs something as simple as adjusting the gutters so that they are sloped an inch (vertical) per 20 feet (horizontal). Otherwise, see the Repair section below. If you see no leaks and the water flows as supposed, your system is functioning properly.
- Slightly wet the debris before you try to remove it. If it is slightly pliable, rather than dried, encrusted or soggy, cleanup is significantly minimized and made easier.
- You may need to use a stiff scrub brush to remove encrusted debris. This is your last resort, though, after washing out each length of your gutters hasn’t given you the results you wanted.
- If you notice that the water doesn’t drain freely down the pipes, flush the debris down with a garden hose. If that also fails, use a snake (plumber’s auger) and either push the debris through from the top or pull it out from the bottom, depending on the case.
2. Repair Gutters
You may need to install new hangers to secure your gutters. This is because, sometimes, instead of adding new spikes or re-nailing old ones or even replace straps – all of which are attached to gutters to hold them in place – using gutter hangers (they come with self-tapping screws) is a better option that doesn’t require you to pry up roofing materials.
Replace spikes that need to be changed with gutter screws that have more holding power and then spikes and ferrules that match.
Now, if you find a leak, use silicone sealer to fix it. Finally, if your steel gutters have rust holes, you can try to repair them with patch kits. However, this is only a temporary solution, and you will need to consider hire a professional gutter replacement contractor.
3. Replace gutters
Depending on where you live, you may have to use steel over vinyl or aluminum gutters. If, for example, you live in a climate that delivers abundant rainfall, steel gutters will perform better. Also, in such climates, you may also want to make your downspouts run into a well (a punctured with holes 55-gallon drum with its ends removed and filled with rocks or a hole 3 feet deep and 2-4-feet wide). In this case, prevent the water from damaging your house’s foundation by installing underground drainage pipes, making sure they slope to the dry well. But, before you go ahead with such a project, first check the building codes in your area.
Having said that, weather-related contraction and expansion will also have you tightening your vinyl or aluminum gutters more frequently. Plus, there are lots of seams that you will have to seal if you use vinyl gutters that come in 10-foot lengths.
Additional Gutter Maintenance Tips:
- Adjust the slope of the gutters frequently to ensure water is moving freely toward and through your downspouts.
- If you notice they drain slowly, try changing the slope toward the downspouts. Repositioning them at a rate of ¼ an inch per 10 feet is usually effective.
- In case the downspouts don’t carry the water away from the house as you would like them to, add extenders or use plastic or concrete splash blocks to extend away from the house and expel water at, at least, 4 feet.