We know: Maintaining your gutters is a thankless job. Up the ladder you go every fall to clean out decaying leaves, sharp twigs and the occasional mystery item, only to be foiled anew by Mother Nature. Then again, spending a couple of hours a year on your gutters is a small price to pay for the protection they provide your home.
Rain gutters perform two important functions: First, they catch and reroute water runoff so it doesn’t damage your home’s exterior. Second, they direct water away from your home’s foundation, where it would otherwise collect and possibly seep into the basement. But invariably, gutters clog or fail. So here are five ways to set things right.
Problem One: Clogged Gutters
The usual culprits are leaves, pinecones and other tree droppings. Remove them before they turn your gutters into wading pools.
Get a bucket, a pail hook and a pair of work gloves to protect your hands from sharp twigs or jagged edges. Set up your ladder at one end of a gutter. To keep both hands free, use the pail hook to hang the bucket from the ladder. Remove debris with your hands and place it in the bucket—dropping it on the ground will just add a step to your cleanup. Move the ladder along the length of the gutter, cleaning it as you go. Use a trowel or putty knife to scrape off hardened-on gunk.
Problem Two: Clogged Downspouts
Once you’ve cleaned your gutters, flush them with water. If they won’t drain or they drain too slowly, you have a clog in a downspout or the in-ground drainage system.
Disconnect the downspout from the in-ground drainage system if you have one. If the water still doesn’t empty out, then the clog is somewhere along the downspout. Check the elbow where the gutter meets the downspout; it’s common for debris to accumulate here. The elbow is usually just fitted in place so you can remove and clean it. But if it’s soldered or riveted to the downspout, or if the clog is somewhere else, try reversing the normal water flow. Thread your garden hose through the bottom of the downspout, turn it on and let the water pressure rinse the clog out. It helps to have a partner watch from up top to let you know if or when the clog is clear.
If reverse water pressure doesn’t do the trick, try feeding a snake through the downspout from above. If the clog is underground, feed the snake through the opening at ground level where the downspout usually connects.
Tip From the Pros
Installing gutter screens and strainers is the easiest way to prevent clogs. Screens that cover the entire gutter system typically come in 3-foot sections with clips that allow you to remove or pivot the sections easily. They’re a real timesaver if you live in a heavily wooded area, where debris can build up within weeks. And at $1.50 to $3 per section, they’re a relatively low-cost solution.
Leaf strainers, however, are practically useless. Because they cover only the downspout openings, in time all the junk wads up around the strainers and water cascades over the side of the gutters. Their saving grace is that they’re cheap, about $3 to $4 each.
Problem Three: Sagging Gutters
Properly installed, gutters should slope 1/4 inch per 4-foot section. Because their slope is so slight, sagging gutters are rarely obvious. Look for puddles of water in the gutter, a giveaway that water isn’t flowing to a downspout.
If your gutters sag, the usual suspects are the fasteners that hold the gutters to your house. Fasteners come in three general types: spikes—long nails—that are driven through ferrules and into the fascia; bracket hangers that are fastened directly to the fascia; and straphangers that are attached to the roof, underneath the shingles.
If bracket or straphangers secure your gutter, you can often just bend a hanger or two up or down to adjust the slope. If your gutter is attached with spikes, which are notorious for pulling loose over time, you can replace them with 7- or 8-inch screws that are thin enough to fit through the ferrules. Trouble is, the wood around the old holes may have rotted, and screwing into it will worsen the rot. All in all, if your spike-and-ferrule fasteners are pulling loose, replace them with straphangers or bracket hangers. They’ll last longer and support better.
After you’ve adjusted or replaced the fasteners, test the slope by flushing water through the gutters and checking for puddles.
Problem Four: Corroded Spot or Leak in Gutters
Prep metal gutters by using a wire brush to scrub debris and rust away from the damaged area, then wipe down that section with turpentine. While it dries, use tin snips to cut a patch of sheet metal. The patch should extend 2 inches beyond the damaged area on each side.
With a putty knife, apply a coat of roofing cement that covers the damaged area with a 4-inch margin on each side. Press the patch into the first coat of roofing cement and apply another coat over the top. Smooth the edges of the cement around the patched section.
Tip From the Pros
If your gutters are sectional—10-foot lengths attached by connectors—just replace the leaky section. Use the gutter sealant or silicone caulk to reattach sections. If you have steel or copper gutters, however, you may need to solder the sections together. Unless you’ve worked with solder before, this is a job for a professional.
Problem Five: Leaky Gutter Joints
If a gutter joint has a small leak, use a wire brush to clean the area of any dirt or debris, and let it dry completely. Apply sealant directly into the joint and let it set.
If the joint is leaking badly, disassemble the section and use a wire brush to remove debris and old sealant. Apply fresh sealant to both ends of the removed section and reattach it with screws or rivets.