It’s dirty work, but everybody has to do it. Your gutters need to be kept clean and free of dead leaves, birds’ nests, and other debris. It’s just a fact of life when it comes to owning a home.
And it’s especially true here on Long Island, where summers are short and fall, winter, and spring are so wet. So why write a blog on gutters? Because we tend to forget about them until it’s way too late.
Dry leaves, tree branches, and other material can accumulate in your gutters during the summer and long fall season and you won’t notice until your gutters start overflowing during the first big rain of the season. Or worse, you won’t notice at all.
Today I’ll answer a few questions many homeowners have about cleaning their gutters, including why it’s necessary, how often it’s necessary, and most importantly how to clean your gutters.
It sounds like a simple question, but the reality is that unclean gutters can lead to many complex and costly problems. Let’s look at a few of them:
Leaky Gutters & Mold
If you don’t clean your gutters, the first problem to pop up will be clogged gutters and downspouts leading to standing water collecting in your gutters and overflowing. As dead leaves decompose, the water in your gutters will become filthy and mold will start growing.
In our wet climate, mold is common and can cause a host of health problems if it gets inside your house. And it’s tricky (and expensive) to thoroughly clean, so it’s best to stop mold before it starts.
If you put off cleaning your gutters, your roof can and will leak. Water that doesn’t drain to the ground can accumulate on the roof, soaking through shingles and causing significant damage.
The same goes for your basement. If your gutter’s downspouts are clogged and don’t drain far enough away from the house (at least 6-10 feet is recommended ), or are disconnected from your gutters, water can seep into your basement.
This can cause damage to anything you have stored in your basement, as well as to your foundation itself. You might also damage your furnace, circuit breakers, and other utilities in your basement.
Yes, a cracked foundation can be caused by your gutters. This is a major headache for any homeowner. Repairs can be very costly. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. By extending your downspouts away from your home (and making sure water is flowing through them), you’ll protect your foundation from cracks. Foundation cracks are caused by water damage and by expanding ice during the coldest part of the winter.
Bugs & Other Critters
Gutters are a magnet for insects, squirrels, birds, mice, and other animals. Warm moist decomposing leaves are a rich source of food for many pests and once they’ve settled into your gutters, their next stop will be inside your house.
Driveway & Yard Damage
When it comes to your lawn and plants, too much water is just as bad as not enough. If your gutters aren’t draining water properly, water can pool up (even underground) killing delicate plants.
Too much water that isn’t draining properly can cause slick mold to grow on your driveway, or freeze into slippery ice during the winter. Both of these problems can lead to falls and potentially serious injuries, especially to kids and older adults.
How Can You Spot Damage From Unclean Gutters?
The best way to spot damage from unclean gutters is before it starts. A visual inspection of your gutters during the fall (before it starts raining) is a great place to start. If you’re not sure what to look for, or aren’t comfortable up on a ladder, a professional inspection can help.
Once the weather turns, here are a few warning signs you can look for inside of your house and in your yard:
- Pools of water on your lawn, near your foundation, or on your driveway. All of these are signals that water isn’t draining properly. It might also mean your downspouts aren’t connected properly.
- Dripping gutters or gutters which aren’t draining at all. If water isn’t draining smoothly, it probably means you’ve got a clog or a leak somewhere in your gutters.
- Water where it shouldn’t be. Are there drips inside your house? Pools of water in your basement? These are major warning signs: Your foundation or your roof could be at risk.
- Signs of animal life. Are you seeing bugs in your house? Hearing mice in your attic or walls? These critters could be nesting in clogged gutters.
How Often Should You Clean Your Gutters?
Like many other questions, the answer is, “it depends!” Many experts recommend cleaning your gutters at least twice a year– once in late spring and once in late summer/early fall. But there are a few factors that might make you reconsider.
If you have pine trees growing above your house, consider inspecting your gutters every 3 months. The reason for this is because pine trees shed needles year-round (and they have a lot of needles to shed).
If you’re home has a shallow roof pitch, ice is your biggest worry. Making sure your gutters are clean throughout the winter is a bit of a headache, but damage to your roof caused by ice is a real pain. Better to catch it before it starts. Ice Damming is a real issue that causes a lot of damage, and you wont know ice has pushed back into your home until its too late and starts melting.
Do You Need to Replace Your Gutters?
Maybe. Depending on the type of gutters you have installed, you should be able to get at least 20 years out of them, assuming they’re properly installed and maintained.
Metal gutters last the longest– hopefully longer than 20 years. Cheaper, plastic or vinyl gutters won’t last as long and may need to be replaced sooner, especially if they get damaged.
Neglecting yearly maintenance or not installing them properly in the first place can shorten their lifespan dramatically. The only way to be sure if your gutters need to be replaced is to get an inspection from a roofer or gutter expert who you trust.
How Do You Clean Your Gutters?
Cleaning out gutters isn’t rocket science, but it can be a messy job.
The tried and true method of cleaning gutters by hand is most effective, but a high pressure hose can help clear out clogs in your downspouts.
Here are a few tips to make the job easier, safer, and more effective:
- Wear proper protection. Wear work gloves and eye protection for your safety.
- Don’t just toss the gunk in your gutters on the ground! Put it in a garbage can or bag to be composted. Leaving it on the ground can attract insects.
- Seal any leaks you find. Use a high-quality sealant and make sure you give it enough time to cure.
- Pay extra attention to mold. A diluted solution of bleach and water in a spray bottle can be used to clean any mold you come across.
- Be safe. Whenever you’re working on a ladder or on your roof, there’s a chance of injury. Have someone help you, don’t overdo, and don’t do anything where you feel unsafe.
So to sum this all up, being aware of your gutters and keeping them clean can prevent:
- Roof Damage
- Insects and pests infestation
- Damage to fascia and soffits
- Overwatering garden beds
- Cracks in foundation
- And Ice damming in the winter