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Five Expert Tips for Keeping Your Gutters Working All Year Long

Rainwater management has to do with a lot more than just clearing out debris and leaves every season.

Associate Editor
Home with Gutters System in the front
Photography by: JamesBrey / Getty Images

You may be surprised to learn that your roof can be exposed to more than 1,900 gallons of water in a single rainstorm—and, believe it or not, your best defense from this deluge of water isn't tightly-sealed windows or slick shingles. Kevin Busch, the vice president of operations for Mr. Handyman, a national residential repair, maintenance and improvement franchise, says functioning gutters can keep pooling water from turning into mushy flooded landscapes around your home. More importantly, though, a well-maintained gutter system can also greatly reduce the risk for flooding basements and other interiors while also preventing water from affecting your roof's structural integrity. "The key purpose of functioning gutters, at the end of the day, is to swiftly direct water away from the home," says Busch, sharing that gutter repair and maintenance is one of the most frequently requested projects for Mr. Handyman franchises across the nation. "You don't want water to pool up against the foundation of your home—any water that's coming off the roof needs to be captured and moved away, and you want to make sure that water gets to the appropriate place and doesn't cause issues." 

 

Many homeowners believe that their gutters are functioning as long as there's not a build up of leaves and seasonal debris—but that's not the case. While keeping gutter tracks clear is important, there are many more aspects of gutter maintenance that you need to watch out for. And since the most common form of water management systems in place today are made from single run, seamless gutters, Busch says that foregoing maintenance can mean you'll have to replace entire systems at once. While Busch says that professionals should inspect gutters and other rainwater management features at least annually, there are some types of maintenance that you can handle on your own.

 

Related: How to Prevent and Repair Flood Damage in Your Home

 

Clear Out Your Gutters

It's the first thing you probably have on your to-do list each and every fall, and Busch says you should do it more than once for best results. Clutter can cause water to overflow out of your gutters and onto the ground around your home or be pushed back up onto your roof, Busch says. Since gutters are adjacent to the eaves of your rooftop, you should only attempt to clean your gutters if you live in an accessible one-story home—and even then, you want to exercise caution as some gutters can't be properly accessed using ladders. "If you can access your gutters, you should remove any debris that may prevent water from smoothly traveling down the gutter and into your downspout," he says. In the fall, wait until the prime seasonal changes have passed—you'll find that leaves, twigs, dirt, and other debris can be removed after all other natural droppings have fallen off trees. This is also a good time to make sure that wildlife hasn't nested in your gutters.

 

Prevent Ice from Forming

It's a good idea to clean your gutters once more around December if you live in the northern half of the United States. Any remaining debris that prevents your gutters from properly draining could lead to frozen water that can expand into the edges of your roof. When ice becomes lodged into the cracks around your roof and between shingles, there's a temperature difference radiating from within the home that can cause the outermost layer of ice to melt inside your roof. Over time, this can cause roof leaks and serious structural damage. Plus, the expanding of water when it's formed into ice can cause your gutters to potentially crack and lead to spouts of water pouring directly onto the ground below, failing to redirect water away from the home.

 

Test for Leaks

Busch says professionals will often check your system for leaks when cleaning your gutters. You can also do this on your own by flushing the gutters with running water following a cleaning. If the gutter's downward pitch is perfect and debris isn't an issue, the water should flow directly into the downspout and out away from the home—if there's a leak, however, you'll immediately notice the stream interrupted. If so look for a spout of water tumbling towards the ground. More often than not, these leaks have to do with elbows, the standalone feature that helps water turn a corner around the house. These can be replaced if faulty, Busch says, without replacing an entire gutter system. Be sure to do this only after you've cleaned your gutters: debris can easily dislodge or clog downspouts. 

 

Clear Out Downspouts

"You haven't done yourself any favors in making sure the water gets down to the ground if it doesn't get away from the home," says Busch, who suggests inspecting the downspout and any pipes leading away from your home just as regularly as the gutters. If your water is pouring out of the extension pipe that leads into your downspout, it may be due to a seam issue, and Busch says you may wish to try and reattach your connection. But it may also be because debris has built up within your downspout—you may have to remove it and clear out the blockage, or at least snake the pipe so water can flow freely away from your home's foundation.

 

Install Gutter Guards

One of the easiest ways to prevent the need for frequent maintenance may be in investing in a system that prevents gutters from becoming overloaded with debris. Home improvement centers like Home Depot offer straightforward snap-on products that are made with wire-mesh covers to prevent debris from entering your gutter system. You'll still need to have these covers cleaned every other season, Busch says, and should ask for professional installation if your system is more than two stories off the ground.