Anyone who lives with the wet British weather will know how much it can impact on your roof gutters – and how important it is to keep these gutters clean, along with the downspouts and drainpipes that form part of the same system for draining water away from the roofs of a house. The efficiency of this drainage protects the windows, doors, siding and even foundations from water damage due to rain and storms – and can also help prevent flooding in any basements.
The dangers of blocked roof gutters
How can you ensure that roof gutters are draining water away efficiently? By making sure that they are clear of any debris such as fallen leaves. If they are blocked or the drain outlets dammed up in any way, the rainwater will overflow in the gutters and eventually even pull the gutters loose. In addition, any water pooling in the troughs will cause rot in wood gutters and rust in sheet metal ones.
Roof gutters need to be cleaned at least twice a year – and more frequently if your house sits directly underneath trees or you live in an area that is often hit by storms. There are professional services that can come to clean your roof gutters for you but you can save some money by cleaning them yourself. However, it would be wise to only take this on if you have a suitable ladder that enables you to reach the roof gutters and work safely. If not – or if your roof is higher than one storey – then it is best to hire a professional.
Staying safe when cleaning roof gutters
One the most important things to do when cleaning roof gutters yourself is to make sure that you have a sturdy ladder for use – and that you are able to place it on a firm, level base. In many cases, a tall step ladder is better and easier to use than an extension ladder. If you must use the latter, lean it against the gutter but try to protect the gutter; make sure your hips are well within the rails when you’re standing on the runs and don’t lean out over the sides. Additionally, never stand on the top two runs.
In some cases, if your roof has a very low pitch, it might be easier just climbing onto the roof itself. But be very careful and only do this under safe weather conditions – if it is at all wet, windy or icy outdoors, don’t risk it. Always wear shoes with non-slip soles and don’t lean over the edges when working. Also make sure that you’re not working near power lines.
To protect your hands, make sure you wear thick work gloves – gutters will often have sharp metal parts or screws sticking out. It can also be a good idea to wear safety glasses or goggles. Having a bucket ready to collect debris and a dropcloth to protect the areas underneath the gutter can also be very helpful.
Simple steps to follow
Cleaning roof gutters can be divided into 3 main steps:
First – scoop out as much of the loose debris as possible. Try to pick a day when the debris is slightly damp and therefore pliable – but not completely waterlogged and soggy – or completely dried out and encrusted to the sides of the gutter. Start at the drain outlet end of the gutter and work away from that, using your gloved hands or a narrow garden trowel to scoop out the debris.
Second – Wash out the gutters using a hose, ideally one with an on-off, high-pressure nozzle. This time, start at the other end of the drain outlet and work towards it. Be aware that this is a very messy job – you’re very likely to splatter mud all over your house, the surroundings and yourself. If there is very stubborn encrusted dirt, you may have to use a stiff brush to help remove it.
Third – If the water won’t flow freely through the drainpipes, there is an obstruction which you will need to clear. First try using the hose directed down the drainpipe to flush out any clogged debris. If this doesn’t work, try using a ‘plumber’s auger’ inserted into the drainpipes to loosen and pull or push out the debris.
In many cases, before starting the cleaning process, some professionals will use a leaf blower to try and blow out dry debris from gutters first. This usually works best on low-sloped roofs and will require you to wear goggles and a dust mask for protection.
Leaf-catching gutter systems – an alternative?
Leaf-catching gutter systems are often advertised as the answer to your roof gutter problems. They can be very helpful but they are certainly not a complete alternative. Even with the best leaf-catching gutter systems, the debris will eventually settle through them – which means that you will then need to remove the screens to clean out the gutters. So make sure that any systems you invest in can be easily removed for cleaning.