Gutters are critical to your home's overall maintenance and safety because water is the greatest enemy of almost all buildings. It can damage roofs, walls, windows, and foundations. While your roof is your most important protection from water—leaks can cause a lot of damage—gutters are a close runner-up. As your roof sends rainwater rushing down toward its edge, gutters collect that water and guide it into a downspout and away from your home. Without gutters, or when gutters clog and overflow, you risk severe damage to your foundation from pooling water. In a torrential downpour, water can get under your soffit and cause leaks, pour over your windows, and saturate the ground near your foundation or basement. The only way to prevent water damage is to keep gutters clear, so the water has a clear path to the downspout and away from your home. But as every homeowner knows, keeping gutters clean and clear is not always easy. Here are four ways you can keep your gutters clear.
1. Cleaning Gutters By Hand
Cleaning your gutters by hand is the most foolproof and effective way to keep your gutters clear. It is also one of the dirtiest and most labor-intensive. But good things often come with hard work.
Tools You Need
To clean your gutters by hand, start with a few essential tools. First, you need a good sturdy ladder. For single-story homes, a six-foot step ladder is usually sufficient. For two-story homes, you may need an extension ladder. If that is the case, only use the ladder if you are comfortable with that height and have used one before. If you aren't completely comfortable climbing a ladder to your two-story roof, don't do it. Hire a professional. You can find great TrustDALE certified gutter cleaners here. If your home is more than two stories, the safest thing is to hire a professional.
In addition to a ladder, you need some safety gear. Wear long sleeves and sturdy work pants, even if it is hot out. Make sure you also have thick work gloves that won't tear if they snag on a sharp piece of metal. Finally, work goggles will protect your eyes from flying debris. While it may seem like overkill, all of this protective gear is necessary because you don't know what may be lurking in the sludge that settles at the bottom of your gutters. In addition to leaves and twigs, gutters can collect animal waste or even dead animals that can be hazardous to handle with bare skin.
The last two tools are optional but could make your life a little cleaner. First, a gutter scoop will protect your gloved hands from handling the muck in your gutters. You can get a dedicated gutter scoop at a hardware store for just a few bucks, but a plastic spatula or a children's sand shovel works just fine. However, avoid using a metal spade or other metal tool because they could damage your gutter and cause perforations and leaks. Finally, a good painters tarp laid out beneath you can capture the junk you scoop out of your gutters. It protects your grass, bushes, patio, or other landscaping. However, if you don't have one, you can just rake up the debris or use a hose to spray it off of a hard surface.
With your tools assembled, all you need to do is climb up your ladder and start scooping. Be sure to follow the directions on your ladder and never step on the highest step or rung. If you can, have someone come with you as a spotter and to pick up any tools you might drop. If not, make sure someone knows you are out there working so they can at least check on you from time to time.
2. Specialized Tools
Do-it-yourself gutter cleaning with your hands or a scooper has been the method of choice for most homeowners for over a century. But this is the twenty-first century, and we have some great tools that help us keep our hands clean. Some are high-tech, but most are just clever low-tech solutions.
One popular method for cleaning gutters without using your hands or climbing a ladder is a specialized hose attachment. The attachment is a long metal tube with a u-shaped curve at the top. The tube concentrates the stream of water to increase the pressure, and the hook at the top reaches into your gutters. With the hose attachment, you can quickly blast the scum in your gutters without ever leaving the ground. Ideally, the force of the water will break up the sludge and force it out your downspout. It makes sense, but may not always work as advertised, especially on gutters that haven't been maintained in a while. However, the advantages—cleanliness and staying off a ladder—are very appealing. The attachments are usually relatively inexpensive, so it's not a huge investment to give it a shot.
Working in the opposite direction from the hose attachment, many hardware and home improvement stores also sell gutter vacuums or accessories. These are usually attachments for wet/dry shop vacs. They come in various shapes intended to fit into your gutter. Unlike the hose attachments, many still require you to climb a ladder to get close enough to suck out the scum. Again, these attachments work well on gutters that are cleaned regularly but may not be powerful enough for stuck-on sludge.
Finally, much like the hose attachments, there are a variety of attachments for leaf blowers that aim to blast out the debris in your gutters. As with all these special tools, they work well for looser debris but are not so effective with thick buildup. If you plan to use one of these tools, you may have to clean out your gutters by hand once, and then, you can regularly use the other tools to keep your gutters clean.
3. Gutter Covers
If you don't like cleaning your gutters, one popular option to keep your gutters clear is to install some type of gutter covers. There are several different styles of gutter covers, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Despite how they are advertised, none of them will work in all weather and without any cleaning.
Mesh and Lattice Covers
The first type of covers is made of mesh or lattice. They are available in both metal and plastic and a wide variety of styles. They all work on the very simple principle of keeping out larger items like leaves and twigs and allowing water to pass through. The most significant drawback of these gutter covers is that the screens can become clogged. The advantage is that it can be easier to brush debris off a screen or lattice covering than to scoop it out of a gutter. Also, not as much debris collects on a cover as it would in an open gutter. But it still requires some maintenance from the homeowner.
Adhesion covers are solid covers with a lip and an opening on the underside of the lip. The main advantage of these covers is that, depending on the style, the opening for water is almost or entirely covered, leaving very little room for debris. However, there are some drawbacks, and they are not entirely maintenance-free.
The most significant drawback is the principle on which they function, that water will adhere to the smooth cover and flow under the lip to where it is deposited into the gutter. While this works in light rain, it only works when the whole cover is wet and the stream of water is not too strong. In a downpour, a large amount of water can pour over the covers and onto the building and ground below before the adhesion kicks in. And a heavy water flow, either from heavy rain or concentrated streams like at the base of a roof valley, can be too much to adhere to the cover, so the excess water showers down onto the building and ground below.
Foam inserts are a little different from covers. Instead of resting on top of the gutters, they are inserted inside the gutter, so the tops are flush with the top of the gutter. These work on a principle similar to the lattice and the screen covers. As water flows over the porous foam, it soaks through into the gutter, and leaves and debris obviously cannot get through. Like lattice and screen, debris can cover the foam, and like solid covers, too much water will flow right over them without soaking in.
4. Professional Gutter Cleaners
One way to get your gutters reliably clear without doing the work yourself is to hire professional gutter cleaners. Professionals have all the tools, skills, and hard work to get your gutters completely clear. They can also let you know how best to keep them clear. They may recommend a type of cover or another strategy in combination with regular cleanings.
How often you need to clean your gutters, either yourself or with the help of a professional, varies a lot from house to house. The most significant factor in how often you have to clean your gutters is the number of trees around your home. If you have no trees near your home, you may be able to clean your gutters just once or twice a year. Even a single tree can drop enough leaves and twigs to require more cleaning, depending on the type of tree and how close it is to your home. If you live in a wooded area with trees all around the home, you may have to clean the gutters as often as weekly during the fall when the trees are dropping their leaves. During other times of the year, like during winter, when the trees have no leaves, you may be able to wait until the end of the season to do a minor cleaning.
If you're looking for professional gutter services, it may be hard to separate the reliable companies from the fly-by-night unprofessional services. The best way to find a gutter specialist you can trust is to use a TrustDALE certified gutter company, backed by Dale's trademark $10,000 Make-It-Right™ Guarantee.