Home & Safety Preparedness

Tips for Cleaning Gutters

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Cleaning gutters may not be a favorite on your already long to-do list, but it is an essential component of any home maintenance program. If neglected, clogged gutters could adversely affect not only the outer appearance of your property, but the integrity of your home's foundation. Typically, the best time to clean gutters is late fall after the leaves have fallen, reducing the risk of ice dam formation during the winter months.

Gutter Systems at Work

The function of gutters is to allow excess water to be redirected from your roof into the downspouts and away from your home's foundation. In order to carry water off your roof, gutters must be cleaned out of any accumulated debris, such as leaves, small twigs, and other dirt particles, at least once, if not twice a year. Otherwise, gutters may separate from the house due to the weight of water buildup and create serious problems down the road that can be costly to fix.

In addition to the unsightliness of detached gutters, water overflowing down the sides of your home can seep through the foundation's cracks and leak into your basement, producing an environment conducive to mold and bacteria growth. Over time, water can also cause erosion of the soil, penetrating deeper into the layers under your foundation. In a worst case scenario, this could bring about a sinkhole whereby your house gives way.

To avoid these potential hazards and the steep repair costs involved, clean your gutters at least once a year, or twice, if necessary, to help maintain the beauty of your home and prevent indoor leaks and damage to your foundation.

Do-It-Yourself vs. Professional Cleanup

Gutter cleaning is relatively inexpensive to do yourself, but can be time consuming as you work in sections according to your reach, climbing up and down, moving the ladder as you go. If you don't have time to spare, or are unsure about handling this project on your own, there are professional service companies that specialize in gutter cleanup. Hiring experienced gutter cleaners may cost you more, but will help ensure that the job is done properly.

If pride in homeownership inspires you to clean the gutters yourself, here are some basic tips to help you tackle the job:

  • Secure a sturdy ladder on solid ground up against a firm surface. For your own safety, don't lean your ladder up against aluminum gutters.
  • Use a gutter scoop and wear waterproof work gloves to remove debris by hand that may contain mold, bacteria, and sharp objects.
  • Bring a trash bag with you for debris disposal, or throw debris on the ground for pick up later.
  • Be sure to thoroughly scrub off any remaining mold or mildew on the sides or underneath the gutter with a gutter cleaning brush.
  • Rinse gutters after cleaning by turning on your garden hose at one end of the gutters and letting the water run through.

Alternative Methods

If the gutters are not too clogged, you may want to consider pressure washing. Although the high pressure washer is a highly effective tool for cleaning gutters, debris and moldy residue can spill over the sides of your house from the force, which then has to be removed. The often insufficient length of the hose may also hinder your reach. Another option is the gutter cleaning wand, similar in operation to a pressure washer, but somewhat easier to maneuver with an exceptionally long handle that can allow you to reach gutters from the ground. The wand offers more control over the spray of water into gutters, helping to avoid the spillage of debris over the sides.

Remember, your safety is the most important aspect of cleaning gutters and downspouts. Make sure to use proper equipment and know how to use it correctly. It's always wise to have another person on hand or to let someone know you will be working on a ladder in case an accident occurs.

The ideal times for gutter and downspout cleaning are late autumn in preparation for the winter, and early spring to eliminate any post-winter ice and debris. Whatever cleaning method you decide to use, or if you hire a professional service, the annual or twice-yearly maintenance will be well worth the time, effort, or cost to preserve the beauty and structural integrity of your home for many years to come.


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