Do you notice dirt splashed up on your siding? "Waterfalls" overflowing your gutters during a downpour? Or a stubborn puddle that never used to be there, but now appears with every rain? That could be your gutters calling for help!
Clogged, overflowing gutters are worse than no gutters at all. They can lead to wet basements, rot and leaks at your roof's edge, and damaged siding – all of which can mean big repair bills. And in the colder parts of our region, they encourage formation of ice dams along gutters, where trapped snowmelt pools and eventually seeps into wall cavities.
Twice a year (spring and fall), you'll want to check to see if your gutters are full of debris, even if they have leaf deflectors, and clean them out.
New to gutter maintenance? These six tips can help:
- DO buy a good-quality ladder with a standoff stabilizer bracket. You'll also need thick rubber gloves, a gutter scooper, and a debris-collection bucket to hang from the ladder.
- DON'T lean your ladder against gutters or downspouts (they can break or bend easily). Keep your body inside ladder rails with one hand always on the ladder. Never hold a gutter or downspout for support and, to avoid slipping, don't clean gutters in the rain.
- DO scoop out loose leaves and other debris. Avoid temptation to use a leaf blower. They're unwieldy and can throw you off balance atop the ladder.
- DO stuff a cloth in the top of downspouts to prevent debris from washing down, then use the hose to wet and loosen caked-on dirt, decayed leaves, and shingle sand stuck in the bottom of the gutter. Remove the cloth you stuffed in the downspout and watch to make sure the water drains.
- DON'T just blast away with water if the downspout is plugged. You'll get a face full of muck, and downspouts can't take the same kind of pressure as other pipes. Instead, stick the hose down and try to break the clog with gentle water pressure. (If you have a home where the gutter goes directly into the ground, get a screen to place on top.)
- DO try a plumber's snake if you encounter a stubborn clog. If it's still stuck, the problem's likely in the elbow. Disconnect it by removing the retaining screws and clean it. If your downspout flows into an underground pipe, you may want to disconnect it before cleaning, anyway, so you don't inadvertently clog the pipe or dry well to which it drains.
If climbing ladders isn't a safe or comfortable choice for you, call a professional. Your homeowners association (if you have one) can likely offer a referral, and many window washers provide gutter cleaning, too.
Planning to have your home reroofed anytime soon? Make sure your contractor carefully blocks off the downspouts before removing the old roof. Wood splinters, nails, staples, and tar paper bits can quickly clog downspouts, or worse, be carried to the dry wells where they drain. (See tips No. 4 and 6 above.) If your dry wells get clogged, you may have to dig up and replace them.