How to repair failing gutters and downspouts to prevent your home’s structure from incurring moisture damage
Four of the most common problems rain gutters incur are leaking, sagging, overflowing, and pooling runoff around the house. If left unattended, any one of these conditions can cause serious water damage to the house and its foundation. Fortunately, the fixes are within the realm of even a modestly skilled do-it-yourselfer.
Leaking Rain Gutters
If your gutters are leaking, the prime suspects are the joints between sections. Standing water in gutters eventually will rust galvanized steel seams or seep through the seams in aluminum gutters.
First check for signs of standing water and sagging. Adjust or add gutter hangers as needed. Allow the insides of the gutters to dry out, brush leaking seams clean, and then apply silicone-rubber caulking compound along the seams on the inside and outside to seal the leaks, as shown at right.
How to Clean Rain Gutters
To do their job, gutters and downspouts must be clear of leaves and debris. If they aren’t, drain outlets will dam up and rainwater will fill the gutters, overflow, and eventually pull the gutters loose. Water that pools in troughs will rot wood gutters and rust sheet-metal ones.
Work from a sturdy ladder and wear gloves to protect your hands from sharp metal and sheet metal screws.
Work from a sturdy ladder extended above the eaves, and wear gloves to protect your hands from sharp metal and sheet metal screws.
You can hire a service to clean your gutters, but doing it yourself can save you $100 or more. Plan to clean gutters at least twice a year—more often if the roof is directly beneath trees or you live in a region with frequent storms. But only take on this task if you can work safely from a ladder or the roof. If your roof is higher than a single story, you’re better off hiring a gutter-cleaning pro.
The conventional method for cleaning gutters is discussed below. A method sometimes used by home handymen on low-sloped roofs is to blow dry debris out of gutters with a leaf blower. If you use this method, wear goggles and a dust mask, and be extremely careful when working on top of the roof—this is dangerous!
gutter cleaning kit that connects to a leaf blower. Again, you’ll want to protect yourself from the leaves and debris that rains down on you by wearing goggles, dust mask, and the like.
Choose a sturdy ladder, and place it on a firm, level base. A tall stepladder can be easier to use than an extension ladder. If you must lean an extension ladder against a gutter, protect the gutter by placing a short piece of 2 by 4 inside it. Stand on the ladder with your hips between the rails, and don’t lean out over the sides. Never stand on the top two rungs.
If you’re comfortable working from the rooftop and your roof has a very low pitch, this can be easier than working from a ladder. But only do this under extremely safe conditions. Never work on the roof in wet, icy, or windy conditions. Wear non-slip shoes, and never lean over the edge or work near power lines.
When cleaning gutters, wear heavy work gloves to protect your hands since gutters often have sharp metal parts or screw points sticking out into their troughs. Also wear safety glasses or goggles. In some situations, it’s helpful to have a bucket for collecting debris and a dropcloth for protecting areas beneath the gutter.
Before you begin, rake or use a leaf blower to blow the leaves and debris off of the roof so the next heavy rain doesn’t wash it down into the gutters, filling them up again.
Gutter guards and leaf-catchers can be helpful, but most are not a complete solution. Debris eventually settles through them, and the screens must be removed to clean out the gutters.
How to Maintain Rain Gutters
Inspect and clear gutters in both spring and autumn. You also may have to loosen dirt that has blown into the gutters and scrub them with a stiff brush. Flushing gutters with a stream of water from a hose will clear material that has become lodged in the eaves troughs and downspouts.
The slope of gutters may need to be adjusted from time to time to keep water moving toward downspouts. Run water through them, and, if they drain slowly, reposition them so that they slope toward the downspouts at a rate of 1/4 inch for every 10 feet.
Be sure your downspouts expel water well away from your house. If necessary, add downspout extenders to carry the water away (see How to Fix Downspouts That Pool Runoff Water). Also consider concrete or plastic splash blocks, which are slightly sloped and extend away from the house at least 4 feet.
If your climate delivers abundant rainfall, you may want to have your downspouts run into a dry well. The well should be a hole 2 to 4 feet wide and 3 feet deep or a 55-gallon drum, with both ends removed and filled with rocks, that you’ve buried and punctured with holes. Underground drainage pipes should slope to the dry well, which will effectively keep water away from the house’s foundation. Check local building codes before installing.
Also check downspouts for rust, flaking, or peeling paint, plus leaks, and make sure they are affixed tightly against the fascia boards. Check the fascia boards themselves for dry rot or other damage, and, if need be, replace them with lumber treated with wood preservative that is finished to match the other boards.