Keeping your home’s gutter system in proper working order is crucial to the health of your home. A poorly functioning gutter can create a lot of problems and cost thousands of dollars in damage. Maintaining the flow of water through your gutters and properly diverting the water away from the downspout is essential to avoid foundation damage in your home.
The gutters must retain their shape (not twisted or bent) and remain properly attached to your roof fascia to allow for proper water drainage. Downspouts must remain aligned and extended into the drainage pipes buried underground or functioning correctly with a downspout extension long enough to divert water away from your foundation.
Besides making sure that the gutters themselves are in good shape, the next thing to watch out for is the buildup of debris. Gutters must remain clear to channel the water toward a downspout without obstruction. Inside the gutter itself, there may be screws protruding into a gutter raceway at the opening to the downspout, transition seam or corner. There are systems constructed without screws, but the majority of metal and plastic gutter systems still use screws to attach various components. These screws, as well as seams and sealant can snag and hold debris. Debris filters and screens mounted on gutters can direct debris away, but nothing is completely effective.
If there are trees near your home, or your home is near a heavily wooded area, checking your gutters regularly can help protect your home from the damage of water and moisture.
When Should I Clean My Gutters?
Primarily, there are two seasons to keep a watchful eye for gutter buildup. Check your gutters several times during the fall and late spring.
Fall is the obvious time to focus on cleaning gutters. With leaves falling over the course of many weeks, cleaning out the build up can be a regular task during this time. Keeping gutters clean in the fall requires keeping the entire roof clean by removing leaves from the recesses on a roof, valleys, under second story soffits or behind chimneys. These areas can store leaves and continue to release debris with wind or rain, throughout the season. Use caution to protect architectural shingles as you clean off the debris. Missing granules may shorten the life-span of the roof and compromise the surface integrity. The granules are a part of the protective heat-reflecting coating of the shingle, provide water protection and are also fire-retardant.
In late spring, the pollen-bearing flower clusters of trees and small twigs of spring are falling. These small pieces of tree litter will get snagged by the seams and screws in many gutter systems. Certain types of trees, primarily Sourwood, Locust, Poplar, Pine and Black Walnut can drop a lot of debris in the late spring after flowering.
The smaller debris can easily float across the downspout opening or wedge across the gutter and impede water flow, eventually blocking all the debris from your roof preventing proper flow of rainwater and potentially an overflow of your gutter.
Wood and Siding Damage
Clogged or inefficient guttering can result in roof and soffit damage, and with water overflow, allow for moisture intrusion into a crawl space, siding, trim or window. The most common damage caused by a malfunctioning or overflowing gutter is in the soffit and fascia system. The water overflowing behind a gutter, saturates the wood fascia board on which most gutters are mounted. When this happens, the wood is kept moist by debris built up beyond the gutter lip. The water-saturated wood invites insects, fungus and rot. The fungus and rot can easily spread to the adjoining roof deck above and to the soffit below. It can also spread beneath painted wood, causing large areas of unnoticed damage that can continue for years, even after a gutter system is repaired or replaced.
In homes constructed without a soffit or where gutters are attached to the siding itself, the opportunity for water to intrude into the wall system is more likely. Water can be channeled behind the gutter and into adjoining siding, directed down the exterior of a wall and into the trim of a door or window. It can also be directed onto the sill of a window.
Maintaining the downspout is crucial as well. Making sure that water exiting a gutter downspout is properly directed away from a foundation or low lying area near the foundation, is equally important. Rainwater overflowing out of a gutter or improperly directed out of a downspout can cause large amounts of water to collect directly against a foundation wall. With a crawlspace or basement, water can penetrate into the soil under a structure. Consistently damp soil at the foundation invites insects like subterranean termites. Dampness at the foundation can produce efflorescence of salts from the concrete and damage the structural integrity of the foundation over time.
A well functioning gutter system is essential to the integrity of a home, from roof to foundation. Maintaining your gutters may save thousands in repairs as well as protect and secure your investment and equity. Water damage is the most common home issue seen in inspection reports and can scare potential buyers away. Always keep your gutters in good shape!