The purpose of gutters is to protect a home from rainwater. Just like you use an umbrella to shield you from soaking or even damaging your clothes in the middle of a rainstorm, a gutter system serves as a protective tool that allows your home to get through bad weather without causing any water-related destruction.
Gutters benefit your home in many ways and when they’re not clean, you run the risk of causing damage from your roof to your foundation. Some problems that can result from clogged and dirty gutters include a flooded basement, foundation issues, a harmed driveway or landscape destruction.
Homeowners should clean their gutters at least twice a year, but we recommend making it a point to clear or check on gutters every season. Depending on what sort of foliage you have near your home (such as pine trees), you will want to clean them out every three months.
Below are tips on how to maintain your gutters throughout each season:
Beginning of spring is definitely one of the seasons you should prioritize your gutter cleaning. This will ensure they are free of clutter before the heavy spring rains settle in. Maintenance at this time will also allow you to make any necessary repairs caused by winter freezes and flush out any debris.
Tip #1 Survey Your Property’s Trees
Certain trees can cause higher-than-normal debris for gutters so it’s important you research the type that is typically produced by the trees on your property. Maple trees, as an example, produce “helicopter” seed pods that will clog gutters just as fast as falling leaves, which creates a double issue for any homeowner. Managing nearby trees and other foliage is one of the best ways you can reduce the total amount of debris collected in your gutters.
Tip #2 Trim Trees Overhanging Your Gutters
If you have any trees close to your house, you will want to trim them in the spring as a preventative measure. Any risk of trees overhanging your gutters is a problem as most tree species produce large amounts of pollen, seeds, and other materials that can clog them over time. This is a great maintenance measure that will reduce the total amount of cleaning your gutters will need year-round. In particular, you will want to stay on top of pollen removal because, when combined with water, it can become corrosive and weaken your gutters.
Tip #3 Address Any Winter Damage
Snow days can make for great childhood memories but create a nightmare for homeowners. Even well-maintained gutters have some issues to deal with come spring because runoff from snow in the winter can freeze and expand within a gutter’s cracks or openings. This expansion can lead to gaps between straight connectors, loosened hangers, small cracks, and other minor issues. You should check for these during your spring cleaning and take care of any needed repairs or replacements before the arrival of heavy spring rain.
Tip #4 Install Gutter Guards
The best time to install gutter guards is after a good spring cleaning and repair process. Once your gutters are in tip-top shape, you can protect them from future debris by installing gutter guards. These guards are typically metal or plastic mesh that sits on top of the gutters, protecting them from falling materials. We recommend gutter guards as they are one of the best ways to keep out large amounts of debris from your gutters.
Depending on your region or type of trees on your property, you may need to undertake a summer gutter cleaning. Check your gutters in the early summer and do a quick cleaning if they appear to be getting clogged. Follow the below tips to get the most out of your cleaning.
Tip #5 Consider the Time of Day
Summer gutter cleaning can be a problem on high temperature days. The shingles on your roof absorb and radiate heat from the sun and its proximity to the gutters can make the temperature feel even hotter. Early morning is the best time for cleaning gutters. Make sure to take frequent breaks to avoid overheating, and if it becomes too hot, stop for the day.
Tip #6 Remove Any Unwanted Guests
Gutters make the perfect home for all sorts of pests and critters. Stinging insects like bees, wasps, and hornets love the moist, enclosed environment, and critters like birds, wood-boring insects like termites, and even the occasional possum are known to live in gutters, too. If spotted, try to safely remove the pest before you continue cleaning. As this can be dangerous for many, we recommend contacting a professional to take care of the problem.
Tip #7 Flush Your Gutters
Always take the time to flush your gutters and doing so at the beginning of the summer offers additional benefits. Summer flushing helps remove any remaining residual pollen from late spring blooms. These substances can, over time, erode your gutters and cause problems down the road. So even if your gutters aren’t clogged, and don’t require a complete cleaning, a quick flush with the hose can still help.
Tip #8 Prioritize Safety With the Right Gear
Gutter cleaning can be nasty and dangerous work. Always wear gloves, eye protection, a face mask, and long-sleeve clothing when cleaning your gutters as they can contain hazardous materials such as bird and squirrel droppings, dead insects, and even dead animals like rats, birds, and frogs. The heat from the summer can make these things break down and become highly unpleasant.
Fall cleaning is your next big priority as gutters become the most clogged during this season. If there is one thing you can count on is that autumn wind will carry falling leaves, trigs, nuts, and seed pods right into your gutters. But unlike in the spring, the best time to clean will be late into the fall. Your gutters will likely fill up as the season unfolds and that beautiful foliage begins to fall from trees. Fall foliage can make thick clogs that then lead to ice and snow buildup, and eventually to gutter failure, if you do not prioritize a fall gutter cleaning later in the season.
Tip #9 Invest in a Gutter Cleaning Scoop
As we just mentioned, fall foliage can become a thick, heavy mass from all the wet, sticky leaves, and all the other materials that compact down inside the gutters. Getting your hands into this matted mess of grime can be tricky and unpleasant so it’s worthwhile to get a good gutter cleaning scoop. Most are designed to fit into “K” style gutters and resemble small hand trowels. They can be found at most home improvement stores.
Tip #10 Tighten Spikes Before Winter Snow
All homeowners need to do this especially if they live in areas with heavy snowfall. Any weight on gutters from debris will slowly pull on the hangers and attachment spikes that hold it to the facia. If spikes loosen and cause your gutters to sag or lean away from your house, a heavy snowfall can cause the gutters to break free and fall. So when doing your fall cleaning, check your gutter spikes and tighten them if they have become loose.
Tip #11 Work Toward the Middle and Away From the Downspout
Fallen leaves and twigs can jam and clog downspouts during cleaning if you work from one side of the gutter straight to the other. As you push the leaves, they will eventually fall into and clog the downspout. To avoid this, work from one downspout to about the center of a gutter, stop, go to the other side and work from there toward the center again. This way, you keep your downspouts free and clear of as much debris as possible.
Tip #12 Check Your Downspouts and Flush Before Winter
Along with tip #11, you will want to clear any downspout clogs before winter arrives. If you’ve ever seen ice popping out of the sides, overflowing from the top, or the entire outside of a gutter, the odds are good a downspout clog caused that. When a downspout becomes filled with material, it can become so clogged that ice, snow, and water cannot pass through. During the winter, this can lead to a frozen clog that is bad enough to completely freeze parts of the downspout. You can avoid this by thoroughly flushing out your downspouts and declogging them during your fall cleaning.
If you have followed all of the above recommendations, by now your gutters should be functioning correctly and not require any cleaning or maintenance. In most cases, you should only have to clean your gutters twice, or at most three times a year during the spring, fall, or summer. However, under certain circumstances, ice and snow can build up on gutters and require some cleaning.
Tip #13 Check Regularly and Clean When Needed
If gutters are not properly draining water, they will freeze up and become iced over. When this happens, the tops of your gutters will resemble a massive, frozen mixture of ice, snow, and other debris. This formation is called an “ice dam” and can cause costly problems, including roof leaking, sagging, and even gutter collapse. It should also be noted that ice dams can result from other sources, such as poor attic ventilation. If you cleaned your gutters in the fall but are still getting ice dams, that may be the cause.
Tip #14 Exercise Ladder Safety and Never Climb Alone
Gutter maintenance in the winter can involve slick and icy conditions so extra safety precautions are necessary. When working on gutters in the winter, be sure to proceed with the utmost caution and do the following:
- Use a sturdy, extendable ladder
- Wear the proper winter clothing
- Check the ladder’s location for ice before ascending
- Always work with a spotter
- Do not overextend while on the ladder
- Always maintain three points of contact with the ladder
Tip #15 Know How to Properly Remove Ice Dams
Be very careful with whatever method of removing and clearing ice dams you use, especially if you are following something seen online. For example, pouring hot water on an ice dam can be an effective way to clear it but this method is dangerous and can lead to slipping, falling, and burning. It is better to use a roof rake to clear away as much ice and snow as possible, then apply a layer of ice melt or salt. This process takes longer but is much safer. Also, remember that long-term salt application to your gutters can cause deterioration, so use it sparingly.
Tip #16 Check Again for Downspout Clogs
We talked about downspouts in a previous tip. As you now know, these can be prone to freezing and clogging in the winter, and if not properly cleaned in the fall, a downspout can clog and freeze up to the top of the spout. This clogging can lead to the entire gutter being frozen, resulting in an ice dam. Generally, downspouts can become clogged at the spout’s top or bottom. For topside clogs, you will want to rake away as much snow and ice as possible with a roof rake, then apply salt or ice melt. (Remember not to use hot water!) For bottom clogs, you can apply hot water to the outside of the spout until the ice melts, dislodges, and gets pushed free.
E&K Can Help With Gutter Cleaning
As you keep an eye on your gutters year-round and take appropriate action when clogs, sagging, or leaning are present, we are available to provide you with the necessary tools or advice on how to clean your gutters properly. As a first step, follow these tips and you will be able to have well-maintained gutters that can keep your lawn, foundation, and other house structures free of water.
If you have never cleaned gutters before, this video by Home Depot provides a great example of how to clean gutters quickly and efficiently.