Gutters and Downspouts
Robbie Caponetto

Gutters and Downspouts

Gutters and downspouts are invaluable for catching and funneling water away from one of your home's largest surface area -- your roof. Why is this important? Because water that drips unabated all over your windows, doors, siding, and foundation will cause damage over the long run.

Water Damage
Michele Lee Wilson

Water Damage

Water is the reigning champion of the Erosion Play-Offs. So you want to do everything you can to keep it contained and directed away from your house.

Some homes don't need gutters. If your home is constructed with big, broad over-hangs, water probably falls far enough away from your foundation. But anyone who lives in a climate with regular amounts of snow and rain should have gutters. It's simple preventative maintenance.

Shown here: A downspout extender leads water away from your foundation.


Inspection and Materials

It's a good idea to inspect gutters a couple times a year to make sure they're operating efficiently. Gutters are secured to something called a fascia board. This board hangs just under the roofline and is typically made of wood. Make sure the fascia isn't deteriorating or rotting when you're on a ladder checking gutters.

Gutter Materials

  • Steel: durable, but rusts over time
  • Vinyl or plastic: A favorite for DIYers; lightweight; long-term exposure to the elements causes fading and degrading
  • Aluminum: most popular choice (fabricated on-site without seams for less chance of leaking)
  • Copper: beautiful and long-lasting; higher price
  • Wood: practically obsolete; found on some historic homes


Repairing Damage

Patching holes doesn't take much skill or expertise, but you do need to be comfortable working from a ladder.

What You'll Need:

  • 8- or 12-foot stepladder
  • Heavy-duty work gloves
  • 120-grit sandpaper
  • Rag
  • Putty knife
  • Roofing cement
  • Sheet-metal scraps (if necessary)
  • Tin snips

Step 1: Anchor your ladder securely and climb up to the gutter. Clear away debris from the leaking area. There can be exposed screws and jagged metal parts in gutters, so be sure to wear heavy-duty work gloves.

Step 2: If the hole is small, a smattering of roofing cement ought to do the trick. If there's rust, sand the area, wipe away the particles with a rag, and use a putty knife to apply the cement. (Only use cement when it's warm enough outside for it to be malleable.)


Repairing, Continued

Step 3: Holes larger than an inch, but narrower than the width of the gutter trough can be patched with a small piece of sheet metal. If you're lucky, you have a piece of sheet metal lying around! If not, you may have to buy a large piece from a home center and then cut it to size with tin snips.

Spread the roofing cement around the hole and embed the patch over it. Slather more roofing cement over the seams, so it will be watertight.

Sandy May

Cleaning Gutters

Gutters should be cleaned at least twice a year. If your home is on a heavily wooded lot, you'll need to do it more often. The idea here is to keep gutter channels free of debris so water can be free-flowing.

What You'll Need:

  • 8- to 12-foot stepladder
  • Heavy-duty work gloves
  • Garden trowel
  • Garden hose with high-pressure nozzle attachment
  • Scrub brush (if necessary)

Step 1: Start at the drain or downspout area and anchor your ladder securely. With heavy-duty gloves on, scoop out the loose debris with your hands or a garden towel.

cleaning the gutter
Sandy May

Cleaning, Continued

Step 2: Once you've removed all the debris you can, take the hose to the middle of a gutter run. Wearing the safety glasses, turn the nozzle on "jet" and flush the trough with water. Direct the stream toward the downspouts.

Step 3: If there are large chunks of debris that won't dislodge, loosen them with a scrub brush.

Step 4: Finally, go to each downspout and spray water down into it to clear any built-up mud or debris.

Laurey W. Glenn

Gutter Cleaning Tips

Shortcut: If you clean your gutters a day or two after it rains, the moist muck is easier to scoop up. If the muck dries out and adheres to the gutter, it's more time consuming.

Time and talent: Some people are afraid of heights, even just 8 feet up. If you fall into this category, consider hiring a professional. Otherwise, cleaning the gutters of a single-story home will take a few hours.

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