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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.

Patch small holes with roofing cement. Use a putty knife to spread the cement generously around the hole. Try to do this on a warm day, but, if the weather is cool, warm the cement to room temperature so it spreads easily.

Repair larger holes in gutters by covering them with patches. Take a sheet-metal patch, embed it in roofing cement, and then apply another coat of cement over the patch, as shown at left.

If your region delivers abundant rainfall, you may want to have your downspout 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 keep water away from the house’s foundation. Check your local building codes before installing.

Overflowing Rain Gutters
Gutters that overflow can present serious problems to your home’s walls and foundation. If your gutters overflow during a heavy rain, either the gutters and/or downspouts are clogged, the gutters are sagging and thereby preventing water from reaching the downspouts, or the gutters and downspouts are not large enough to handle the volume of rain runoff.

In most cases, gutters overflow because leaves and debris are clogging them, essentially creating dams that prevent water from flowing to the outlets above the downspouts. In fact, these clogs often occur right at the outlets. When this is the case, it’s time to clean out the gutters. (For more about this, see Rain Gutter Cleaning & Maintenance.)

Gutters that sag are a different issue—and the more they fill up with water, the more likely they are to sag because they become so heavy when full. If the gutters overflow but are not sagging or clogged, you will probably need to install new, larger downspouts and gutters.

Sagging Rain Gutters
When full of water, rain gutters can become extremely heavy. As a result, the types made of flexible materials such as aluminum, vinyl, and galvanized steel can begin to bend and sag and their hangers to loosen. As this happens, they cease to do a good job of draining rainwater efficiently, allowing water to pool along their lengths. This, of course, just exacerbates the problem, making them heavier and causing them to sag even more.

To determine if your rain gutters sag, check for signs of standing water or water marks along the inner sides of the gutters. With a level, check the slope—gutters should drop about 1/4 inch for every 10 feet of run toward the downspouts.

To fix them, you may need to replace the hangers or, at the very least, re-seat them. If the gutters are held by spike-and-ferrule hangers, use a hammer to drive the long spike, making sure it goes into solid wood. If it does not grab securely, you may need to replace it with an even longer galvanized nail or, better yet, a long screw.

To tighten clip-style gutter hangers, you will need to lift the roofing material along the eaves and refasten the hangers to the sheathing. Be careful not to crack or create holes in the roofing.

Downspouts may break loose from the gutter outlet or between sections. This often happens when elbows in the sections become clogged with debris.
Take the sections apart and clean out the debris. Then, to refasten them, push the downspout sections and/or elbows together, drill pilot holes if necessary, and fasten them with two 3/8-inch #8 galvanized sheet metal screws. (Don’t use longer screws because debris will hang on them.) Be sure the anchor straps that hold the downspouts to the wall are secure.

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Gutter maintenance does require climbing up to the roofline on a ladder, but it is not especially challenging otherwise. Thoroughly cleaning out debris and making sure water flows through the system effectively need only be done twice a year; read more about that simple gutter cleaning and inspection process

If during your gutter inspection you encounter maintenance issues—namely rust, holes, and leaky joints—the following tips can help you resolve them yourself.

(Remember to take care when using a ladder, and don’t forget to check the ladder itself for instruction labels; the proper ways to use it are often printed right on the side. The US Department of Labor provides further tips for ladder safety.)

Rusty downspout that needs to be cleanedRust
Gutters made of galvanized steel are strong and durable, but they’re no longer as popular as they once were because of their susceptibility to rust. 

If you happen to find minor rust damage, you can easily scrub it away with a wire brush. Once the area is clean and dry, you should then coat the affected spot with a metal primer designed to inhibit rust.

Sometimes, rust corrosion can eat all the way through galvanized steel gutters. Aluminum gutters can develop holes, too; although they probably won’t rust, aluminum can be punctured more easily than steel gutters.

You can use the same process for repairing holes in both steel and aluminum gutters. Once the hole is clean and dry, spread roofing cement (1) around the edges of the hole and apply a patch of appropriately sized metal flashing. 

After the patch is situated, cover it completely with another coat of roofing cement.

(1) The tarry paste used to fix shingles that can be found at most hardware stores

Leaksan replacing guttering on exterior of house
In dry weather, it may be difficult to detect compromised seams, but by watching your gutters work during a rainstorm (or by simply pouring a bucketful of water into the gutter trough) you can spot leaks easily enough.

Debris caught under a seam is also evidence that a leak is present or developing.

To repair the leak, you’ll have to apply a fresh bead of gutter sealant, another must-have gutter-repair product that can be found at most hardware stores. 

Begin by detaching the compromised section of gutter so you can have full access to the leaky seam; this may require removing screws or rivets, depending on how your gutters are attached, but in either case it should be easy to free the section you need to work on. 

Once you’ve fully taken apart the seam, clean off any remaining old sealant with a utility knife or sandpaper. Then, simply apply fresh sealant along one edge of the gutter seam, press the pieces back together, and reattach the gutter troughs to the fascia.

Just remember to fully clean and dry any areas where you’ll be applying roofing cement or gutter sealant, and these repairs should be a cinch. 

However, if your gutters have more issues than you can handle on your own, or if perching on a ladder gives you vertigo, contact a local gutter installer for help with your project. 

As your gutters continue to age well, you’ll be glad you took the time to give them the maintenance they need.