By Mary Boone
When gutters work, they’re the last thing on your mind. Conversely, when they leak or clog, gutters can quickly become home feature non grata.
Failing gutters don’t allow water to properly drain and move away from your home. In the short term this can cause ceiling leaks or flooding in your basement. Long term, overflowing gutters can cause structural damage to your home’s woodwork, walls, shingles and foundation.
In order for gutters to do their job, they have to be kept in shape and free of clogs, holes, and sags. Most of these problems can be remedied by homeowners themselves. That said, it’s important to remember that working from ladders can be extremely dangerous. If you’re inexperienced or uncomfortable with heights, consider hiring a pro to inspect and care for your gutters. Professional help may also be necessary to handle more complicated issues, such as improperly pitched gutters or missing gutters.
Untended gutters and downspouts will get clogged – it’s a fact of life. It’s essential to clean your gutters at least once a year – or, more often if you have a lot of trees nearby.
Clearing clogs is a simple but dirty job. When possible, use a step ladder to tackle this task. If you still can’t reach, use an extension ladder but be careful not to lean it against the gutter or downspout.
You’ll want to wear gloves and use a small garden trowel to scoop the offending leaves, twigs, needles and dirt out of the gutters. Once most of the goo is gone, use a garden hose to flush gutters and downspouts. Then, while the water is running, climb down the ladder to see that water is flowing through the end of the downspout.
If you’d rather avoid the mess and height, there are companies that specialize in such chores; expect to pay between $100 and $500 for a professional gutter cleaning, depending upon your location and the size of your home.
Some homeowners use mesh screens or clip-on grates to help keep gunk out of their gutters. Be aware, though, that these add-ons can be spendy and also need regular maintenance.
Conduct regular inspections to check for damaged hangers or brackets that allow your gutters to sag. Hangers may have deteriorated over time, the fasteners may have backed out of the siding, or they may simply be spaced so far apart that they’re unable to support the weight of full gutters.
The cost to fix a sag yourself is cheap; depending upon style, a gutter hanger generally costs $10 or less, and the fasteners run about $1 each.
Gutter leaks most often occur at joints – those spots in your drainage system where two sections of gutters are connected or where a gutter connects to a downspout. Years of wear and subjection to rain, snow, ice, dirt and grime will often cause these connection points to rust or corrode.
To repair a leak, clean both the interior and exterior of the gutter using soapy water and a brush or steel wool. Once clean, make certain the surface is completely dry before making your repair.
Experts recommend using a special rubberized sealant (available from a roofing supply company or hardware store) to seal the leak. Squirt a generous amount of sealant out of the tube, and spread it around with the tip of the tube.
Some do-it-yourselfers use caulk to address gutter leaks but special gutter sealant will far outlast even silicone caulk.