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Protecting Your Home’s Helmet: Frequently Asked Questions on Gutters

Rain gutters tend to be a puzzle to many homeowners; they do see them on every house, but they seem to not do very much. They can see that they collect runoff from the roof when it rains and guide the water to a downspout, but they don’t see why they should be worth the kind of trouble that they usually are, demanding a thorough cleaning multiple times each year. Wouldn’t it be easier to simply let rainwater roll off the roof and drip down off the eaves?

As basic as these questions are, they are valid, and it’s important that every homeowner has all the answers. It’s the only way to learn how important these devices really are to the integrity of a home’s structure, and commit to the job of keeping them clean and functional.

What is the most important thing that a rain gutter does?

If there were no rain gutters, rainwater running off the roof would drip straight down around the base of the house. Most houses are not designed to be perfectly resistant to water around the foundation. When water drips around it, it seeps into the soil and turns the basement damp. Damage to the foundation follows. While it can seem hard to believe that simple rain gutters could keep a big, strong foundation safe, it’s what they are there for.

Rain gutters also make sure that runoff from the roof doesn’t drip down the walls and cause various problems, including rot in the attic and unsightly water marks on the walls.

What happens if you don’t clean your rain gutters?

Several things go wrong when rain gutters are neglected. When leaves collect in there, they clog the drain hole leading to the downspout and cause rainwater runoff from the roof to fill up the trough, and then simply stand. Any more water that comes down drips down and seeps into the basement.

A clogged rain gutter can be bad in other ways. When dry, it can turn into an attractive nest for rodents that later find their way into the house.

According to a leading roofing contractor in St. Louis, MO, a clogged rain gutter can be truly a risk to the structure of a home by promoting ice dam formation in winter. While ice dams can form in clean gutters, they form more readily in clogged ones. When a warm attic causes snow on a roof to melt and run into a dirty gutter, leaves in the gutter may prevent the water from draining out. Standing water quickly freezes and forms an ice dam that goes on to cause all kinds of structural damage to the roof and attic.

What is the best way to keep gutters clean?

Keeping gutters clean can be a difficult task. While you could have a handyman come in and do it for you twice a year, it can cost $100 or more each time, and many homeowners tend to be reluctant to keep spending. They may get up on a ladder to clean their gutters themselves, but this can be a risky exercise. Tens of thousands of people fall off ladders each year and hurt themselves in very serious ways. It isn’t a good idea to clean your rain gutters yourself.

What you can do is to invest in one of these effective, hassle-free solutions that keep debris out of your gutters. Surface tension designs come with a curved cover on top. They keep all debris out but lead water in through a slit on the side. These designs are effective at keeping dirt out but can have a hard time handling very heavy rain.

Add-on meshes are available for conventional gutters. These can simply be installed on existing gutters. While these do work reasonably well for a time, they need to be removed to allow a thorough cleaning at least once a year. This can be a hassle.

According to Consumer Reports, foam inserts are an effective solution. While these solutions can cost anything from a few hundred dollars (inserts) to a few thousand (surface tension designs), it makes sense to give them serious consideration.

Do gutters need other kinds of maintenance?

Structural maintenance may be necessary once every few years. You need to keep an eye on your gutters to check for signs of rust or a tendency to pull away from the roof. If this happens, you need to replace sections or fasten them properly. Investing in new, seamless aluminum designs can help minimize the chance of both rust and detachment.

As unimportant as the humble rain gutter looks, it can be vital to the integrity of the structure of a house. Careful maintenance is crucial.

Brooke Flynn can be found in the office of the family run home maintenance/repair business. She offers up some tips and tricks for homeowners through her articles.