Keeping gutters clean and unclogged by leaves and debris can prevent serious water damage to your home as clogged gutters and downspouts lead to dam-ups in the drain outlets with rainwater filling up and then overflowing. This leads to gutters pulling loose from their mountings while the water itself pooling for long periods of time will rot wood gutters and rust metal ones. But more dangerously, the over-flowing water runs down building walls and saturates all materials, seeping inside and causing more damage to windows, walls, doors, foundations, sidings – and even flooding basements.
A regular routine of cleaning can easily prevent any problems, as well as maintaining an attractive appearance for your house. This task can be done yourself but only if the roof is easily accessible and you can work safely from a ladder. If your house is higher than single story or access is difficult, it is far better to hire a professional.
Checking Your Gutters
In general, gutters should be checked and cleaned twice a year, in spring and autumn, although if your roof is directly beneath many trees, you may need to do this more often. If you live in cold climates, it is essential to make sure that your gutters are clean before winter arrives as any water pooling in gutters will freeze and turn into a heavy block of ice. This in turn inhibits any further flow of water as well as putting massive downward pressure on the gutter, forcing it away from its mountings. Any water coming off the roof will therefore pour down between the roof and gutter, saturating the building walls and sidings on its way down. The signs of a clogged gutter to watch out for are:
- Mounds of leaves and debris visible and spilling over the gutter.
- Gutters with black streaks down the sides
- Gutters pulling away from their mountings
- Splashes of soil on the building walls.
- Deep holes in the soil directly beneath a downspout.
- Rotting wood, especially in the corners, under a gutter by a downspout.
Cleaning Your Gutters
Make sure your gutters are easily accessible and always use a sturdy ladder, leaned securely against the building walls. Do not lean the ladder against the gutter or downspouts as these can easily bend or break – NEVER grip or hold on to the gutter or downspout for support as they are not designed to support your weight. Watch out for power lines overhead. It may be best to ask a friend or family member to help hold the ladder for added security and as a general rule, it is best to angle the ladder one foot away from the building for every foot of height. Never stand on the top two rungs of the ladder and always wear non-slip shoes.
Using your hands, a large spoon, a small garden trowel or a special gutter scoop, remove any leaves, twigs and other debris. If you are using your hands, wear rubber gloves as this will prevent wet, dirty debris from staining your hands and nails. It will also protect your hands as you wrestle with the debris within the tight space inside the gutter trough. Many gutters have sharp metal parts or screw points sticking out so take care to avoid cutting yourself. You might also want to consider wearing safety goggles.
If the debris is all dry, you can also try using a leaf-blower but bear in mind that manoeuvring a heavy machine high off the ground, when you are balanced precariously, requires great care. Watch out also for the leaves and dust blown up which can blind you and cause a fall. If there is any mud or dirt caked into the gutter, wet it and then use the trowel or gutter scoop to gently scrape it out. Put all the removed debris into a bucket or rubbish bag placed on the roof and then replace when it is full.
Check the downspouts and if they are clogged, use a garden hose to force water into the opening and unclog it. However, be careful and do not use too much pressure at first because downspouts are not designed to withstand the same water pressure as a household drain. If water from a hose doesn’t do the trick, try using a plumber’s auger (snake) or an unbent clothes hanger but again, be very gentle as downspouts and gutters are not as strong as household pipes.
Once you have cleaned all the gutters, use the garden hose again to flush everything with water. This will also help you find out if there are any leaks in the system. Use a hammer to bank back any gutter nails that have come loose from the roof. Once your gutters are clean, you could consider covering them with wire or plastic mesh as this will protect them from a large proportion of falling debris.