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When, Why and How to Clean Your Gutters and Downspouts Safely and Properly

When to clean your gutters. How to clean your gutters. Safely cleaning your gutters. How to prevent Ice dams.

About this time of year I get a few calls from people saying that they have trees growing out of their gutters. Many times during a gutter cleaning estimate I'll jokingly ask if I can keep any tomatoes I find up in the gutters. All joking aside, Cleaning of the gutters is often the most overlooked maintenance issue on a home. 

Why? Well it's pretty simple really. Most of the time when it's raining people are rushing into the home to keep from getting wet and are not really scoping out the functionality of their gutters. When it's not raining, if there is nothing growing out of them, how would one know if they were plugged? They Wouldn't. Simply put however, if your gutters are full of debris they are not going to work and they could actually cause more harm than good to your home and family. 

let's examine the reasons for cleaning.

  1. First there is the most obvious reason. If the gutters are full and the drains are plugged they defeat the purpose of having gutters in the first place. Water will just overflow and cause damage to your landscaping and to the gutter system itself. The weight of the water in the gutter will cause it to pull away from the home and eventually fall off.
  2. Wood rot: If the drains are plugged, water could sit in the gutters for weeks. If you have wooden gutters or fascia, these areas will rot first. Secondly, wherever your gutters are overflowing, the splash-back effect will cause doorways, garage doors, and low to the ground siding and decks to rot.
  3. Mosquito infestation. Mosquitoes love stagnant water. If your gutters are plugged they can be an oasis for mosquito larvae to grow and hatch. This can be detrimental to the health and well being of your family and pets as mosquitoes are known carriers of many diseases.
  4. Ice-dams: Lastly, If your gutters are plugged up when winter sets in, you could be risking thousands of dollars of damage to your home. Ice will fill up the gutters first and then begin to creep up your roof. Once it gets past the ice shield beneath your roof (assuming you have one) the ice will begin to melt from the rising heat in your home. Once it begins to melt it will come through your ceilings and walls and it will destroy any finishing you may have on them. If left un-attended this water could destroy your floors and cause considerable mold within the home.

When should you clean your gutters?The average home should be cleaned at least twice a year May / June in the spring after all the little seedlings fall or November / December as winter approaches.Most people like to wait until every last leaf falls before they clean their gutters and this could spell trouble if you should get a sudden cold snap or snowstorm. Wait until the leaves are about 80% down and then clean unless prolonged warmer weather is expected. If you live in the southern states however you may want to clean your gutters up to four or five times a year. Pine trees shed year round and can be a particular nuisance when it comes to keeping your gutters clean. I recommend keeping them away from your home if at all possible.

Should you consider gutter guards? I personally do not recommend gutter guards of any kind in the northern states. Most guards facilitate ice buildup and create nice niches for birds and squirrels.  Most guards don't work anyways. Stuff gets in the gutters and then they complicate the cleaning process. You have to remove the guards to clean what they are supposed to keep out in the first place and then you have to re-install them. Many times they will be misshapen or damaged when you remove them and will not re-install properly. This just amounts to more money out of your pocket.

If you live in the southern states however I would recommend Gutter Helmet. http://www.gutterhelmet.com/ while these guards are pricey, they do work in warmer climates.Still, regular cleaning will keep you in touch with the rest of your homes exterior as well. When you are cleaning your gutters you will notice the condition of your roof, paint, siding, chimney, venting and landscaping.

How do you clean your gutters? This can be very simple or it could be very, very dangerous. If you do not have or are not willing to invest in the proper equipment or if you are over 60 years of age I recommend that you hire a professional. I cannot stress this point enough. I once received a gutter cleaning contract because a gentleman who could not reach the gutter above his porch roof chose to stack two milk crates on top of one another and stand on top of them. He fell to his death on the sidewalk below. When his widow found out that I would have cleaned them for about $200 she broke down in tears.

These are the things you will need to clean the gutters on your home.: If your home is two or three stories high you will need an extension ladder with a stabilizer. If it is a single story home you will need a heavy duty height appropriate stepladder. Remember, the heavier duty your ladder, while maybe cumbersome, the safer you will be. You will also need, a five gallon pail with a painters hook, a 3" putty knife, some tight fitting work gloves, a gas handheld leafblower (The lighter the better.) a cordless screw gun and some trash bags.

From here it's pretty simple. You set your ladder up so that it is stable. If you are using a stepladder never ever stand on the top step or the one below it. I have fallen about five times doing this and still haven't learned my lesson. Climb the ladder with your bucket and putty knife, scrape out whatever debris is in the gutter, place it into your bucket and move on to the next spot. As you fill each bucket empty it into one of your trash bags.Sometimes gutters will be filled with nothing more than the grit from the asphalt shingles. If this is the case use the blower and blow out as much as you can. It is important to remove this sediment as it builds up considerable weight over time.

Once you get to the drains you can be sure they are clean by dropping a stone down the drain and watching to see if it comes out below. If it does not then there is probably a blockage in the elbows at the top or near the bottom of the drain. You will have to use your cordless drill to dis-assemble the drain to clean it properly. Remember the drains are the most important part of your gutter system. Without them the water has nowhere to go. Once you have cleaned your gutters entirely it's good to blow out any residual dust with the blower if the debris is dry. If the debris in your gutters is wet you may not want to do this as you could blow mud and disgusting debris all over the place. If you have wooden gutters it is important to treat them with linseed or val oil at least once a year. You can brush these products on or mix them with paint thinner to run them through a pump sprayer. Once you are done be sure to check all the bottoms of your drains to be sure they are clear. If your drains go into an underground drainage system tap on each pipe and listen for a hollow sound. If it sounds hollow you're good. If it sounds full than you will have to abandon the underground system and possibly replace the drain. For more info, watch this video.

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Comments (1)
gutters

Very good information. As a new home owner, cleaning gutters will be a challenge this fall but with this guide, I believe it will be a step in the right direction.

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