Cleaning Gutters and Downspouts

Gutters, Downspouts, and Roofing

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Gutters and downspouts can't be ignored every year if they are to carry on doing the job for which they were made. They have to be checked each year and cleaned out, and they'll periodically require minor repairs and adjustments. Most jobs are simple and demand no special tools or equipment.

When there are tall trees near the house, at least one roof and gutter cleanout each year is an absolute must—ideally in the fall just after the leaves have fallen. Cleaning is most easily carried out with an old whisk broom or other stiff brush, and could have to be repeated numerous times as leaves go on falling.  Accumulated debris will clog the downspouts or dam up the gutters, making water back up and overflow.

To keep downspouts from being clogged, the opening at the top must be protected using a special wire strainer or cage which fits into the top end of the downspout. This allows water to flow through, but prevents leaves and other trash from going into the opening. Keep in mind that this, too, would have to be examined at regular intervals. Heavy accumulations of wet leaves might mat against the outside of the strainer and in effect, stop water from going through.

A better means for keeping debris out of the gutter is to blanket the entire length using strips of 1/4-inch mesh hardware cloth (a coarse screen wire). One side is pushed up under the bottom row of roof shingles and the other edge is secured to the outside rim of the gutter with sheet metal screws or wood screws. This works like a "strainer" over the entire length of gutter to hold leaves and debris out.

To simplify installations of this type, gutter guards that are ready-made are available in many hardware stores. These don't need any cutting to allow them fit because they have specially made clips which allow you to snap them rapidly into position. They come in different lengths and in long rolls which you cut to length.

Apart from cleaning when needed, gutters ought to be inspected at least every year for indications of cracking, rotting or rusting. The life of the gutters can be extended considerably by coating the insides using protective compounds. Apply linseed oil on wood gutters and liquid roof coating on tin or galvanized metal. (You can have the painter do this every time the outside of the house is done.) While copper and aluminum don't rust, they do oxidize, so they also would benefit from being coated now and then on the inside. Roof coating or spare varnish can be used.

When cleaning and recoating the gutters, make a quick check on all hanger straps and other fastenings. Those that have worked loose must be tightened up or renailed. Any that have rotted away completely should be substituted with new ones.

In some instances an excessive snow or ice load throughout the previous winter could have bent hanger straps out of shape so that the gutter sags or does not slope correctly. This can be quickly examined by pouring a bucket of water into the trough to check that it drains right. When it doesn't, the slope should be adjusted by bending one or more of these mounting straps a bit or by adding extra ones where needed. Also check all connecting joints and end caps for leaks. When you notice one, smear a liberal amount of heavy roof cement on the joint.

Areas of the roof that have rusted through can be repaired to a tolerable degree to prolong the life of the gutter by a few years. Start by scraping up all accumulated dirt and rust, with coarse steel wool or a wire brush. Smear on a liberal coating of roof cement, then press on a strip of heavy guage aluminum foil or canvas and blanket with another layer of cement.

There are plastic gutter repair kits that have fiber-glass cloth that you saturate in a special mixture of resin and catalyst that works better. You can purchase them at most hardware stores for a minimal cost, and patches made using them would last indefinitely. They work equally well on all types of metal and wood gutters.

Keep in mind that if a badly rusted gutter spot is discovered, there is strong possibility that more spots are about to break as well. So before wasting time on gutter and downspout repairs, check the rest of the length to check whether or not the gutter still deserves fixing.