Gutters 101: keep them clean to avoid disaster
By L McK ee
Why do I need clean gutters?
A clean gutter functions properly by allowing water to flow from the roof, through downspouts, and away from the foundation of a home. Over time, gutters collect debris. Thisdebris clogs both the gutters and their downspouts—the vertical channels at either end of the gutters that usher water down and out, away from the home.
If either piece is clogged by debris, the flow of water may be impossible and can produce disastrous results in the form of various moisture problems. Excess water must flow somewhere, so rather
than following the suggested path away from the house, it can overflow to various parts of the home’s foundation, causing wet crawl spaces or basements. Excess standing water can also disturb the fascia—the boards onto which the gutters are mounted—and can eventually cause them to rot.
Rotten fascia can then lead to moisture damage in the attic space or other places in the home. In short, gutters should be free of water and debris to avoid a host of moisture-related problems.
How often should I clean the gutters?
Gutter maintenance isn’t on a one-sizefits- all schedule like other home chores. “It depends on the trees around the house,” says Richie Kahlich of Sentry Exteriors, an exterior home maintenance
company with locations in Lynchburg, Roanoke and Charlottesville. “On average, most people tend to clean between two and four times a year. A lot of times people do it in the spring when the buds
start falling, and then in the fall when the leaves are falling,” he explains. As the number of trees on every piece of property differs, so does the influx of water and debris to gutters. A homeowner with only a few trees would need to clean the gutters less often than a homeowner living on a wooded lot.
Should I clean the gutters or hire a professional?
The real question is: what is your comfort level climbing on a ladder to the top of your home? Wrestling debris out of the gutters while perched many feet off the ground can be challenging to say the least. If this seems daunting, the best choice for completing routine gutter care would be to consult a professional. However, some homeowners feelcomfortable using and working from a ladder, and will choose the do-it-yourself option. If you take on this task, consider these materials and basic steps.
- Sturdy ladder
- Work gloves
- Safety goggles
- Bucket for collecting debris
- Water hose
Steps to Ta ke—With Caution
- Set up a sturdy ladder that rests on or just below the gutters.
- Wearing gloves and goggles, climb the ladder while carrying the bucket to collect debris.
- Starting at one end of the structure by a downspout, and focusing on the section of gutter within reach, carefully collect the debris into the bucket.
- Repeat this process as needed around remaining perimeter of the home.
- Starting away from the downspout, use a hose to spray remaining debris toward the downspout. Finally, spray through downspout to rid the pipe of any clogs.
Should I repair or replace?
Though there is no specific lifespan for gutters, damage or agerelated problems will help you decide to repair or replace the system. Over time, a common problem is that gutters pull away from the home. According to Kahlich, “A lot of gutters pull away due to the spikes and ferrells that work themselves out over the years. To fix this, we use a hidden hanger that goes inside the gutter with wood screws.” In addition, water leaks may begin to surface over time due to aged gutters. Though the cause of any given leak can often be identified and fixed, a homeowner may decide that extensive leakage warrants investigation of an entirely new gutter system. You can choose from traditional gutters, as well as maintenance-free gutter systems.
Kahlich gives this advice: “There are gutters available that really do work. Do good research and find them.” On average, prices start around $800 to $1,000 to replace a traditional gutter system. Prices are based on linear footage and therefore vary from home to home.
Gutter care is only one small aspect of being a homeowner, but can lead to significant problems if neglected. With a little planning and assessment, routine gutter maintenance can keep your home in top shape for years to come.