Fall is Coming. Are Your Gutters Ready?

It may not seem like it, but fall is just around the corner. And, as the name implies, this is the season when thousands of leaves fall off of their trees and land on your home. Falling leaves can affect every part of your home, from your roof down to your foundation. But one area where falling leaves can cause the most damage is your gutters and drainage system. Gutters that are clogged with autumn leaves can leave your home open to all sorts of damage. Now is the time, before the leaves start piling up, to prepare your gutters.

Fall is Coming Are Your Gutters Ready [infographic]

What’s Wrong With a Few Leaves?

It may seem like a few leaves in your gutters can’t hurt anything. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. When leaves, twigs, and other organic matter collect in your gutters, they start to break down and decompose. What’s left is a sticky sludge that can clog up your gutters and destroy your drainage system.

Keeping your drains open and flowing is vital to the health and safety of your home. When gutters clog and overflow, they can cause damage to many parts of your home.

Gutters and Roof Damage

One of the most destructive forces on your roof is water. If your roof is not able to drain properly, water and moisture can accumulate and penetrate your shingles. Once the water has gotten under your shingles, it can take a very long time to dry. In the meantime, the water is causing rot and decay, damaging the crucial structures that hold your roof up. Also, water can penetrate your roof and start leaking into your attic. Once water gets into your attic, it can moisten both the wood frame and the insulation, allowing mold to grow. Mold spores carried by your home’s ventilation system can sicken family members and cause or worsen the effects of asthma.

Gutters and Foundation Damage

From the very top of your home to the very bottom, clogged gutters can cause all sorts of trouble. When your gutters are clogged, water is not directed down a downspout and away from your home the way it should be. Instead, water collects and pours over the side of the gutters in torrents. As the water collects at the base of your home, it can saturate the ground and begin to damage your foundation.

Saturated ground damages your foundation in multiple ways. First, as water collects in the earth that surrounds your foundation, it puts pressure on the foundation. If you have a basement, saturated earth can press against the concrete walls causing cracks. These cracks very quickly become leaks, and soon you have a basement full of water issues. At that point, you may need a foundation specialist or a water abatement professional to make some expensive repairs. Foundation repairs that can cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars could be avoided simply by keeping your gutters clear.

Another way water damages your foundation is by saturating the concrete itself. Concrete is porous, and if your foundation isn’t sealed correctly, water can permeate the material. Weakened concrete can sag, crack, or crumble.

Finally, saturated earth around your foundation can become unstable, causing your foundation to sink. Even a few inches of sinking can severely damage your home. And if your foundation doesn’t sink evenly (as it probably won’t), you may need expensive grading and leveling work.

Gutters and Siding

As water pours over the sides of your clogged gutters, it will most likely end up running down the side of your home. While your home’s siding is designed to stand up to the weather, it was never designed for clogged gutters. Even the most driving rain is nothing compared to the rush of water that flows from a clogged gutter. When your gutters overflow, they send all the rain that fell on the entire roof down the sides of your home in a single gushing stream.

Depending on the material on the side of your home, the damage may vary. If your home has wooden or vinyl siding, the greatest danger is water penetrating at the seams. If your wall is made of brick or stucco, water could saturate and weaken the material.

Getting Ready for Fall

What can you do now to prevent gutter problems in the fall? Unfortunately, you can’t clean out all the falling leaves before they’ve fallen. However, starting with clean gutters before the leaves start falling is much better than letting those leaves pile up in an already clogged gutter. Another great way to plan for fall is to purchase covers for your gutter. There are a wide variety of gutter covers and screens on the market. Talk to a TrustDALE certified gutter expert in your area to find out which option is best for your home.

Clean Now to Prep for Fall

There is no way around it. Cleaning gutters is a messy job. In a separate post, we discussed some of the best ways to clean your gutters. However, the fact remains that digging in and getting dirty is still one of the most effective methods. If you’re not comfortable climbing a ladder and working with your hands, call a professional. But if you are ready to do some hard work for a great reward, read on!

The most important consideration in gutter cleaning is not about cleaning at all; it’s about your safety. Make sure that you have all the right tools and safety gear.

Tools for Gutter Cleaning

The first thing you need is a good, sturdy ladder. The most common ladder for home use is a step ladder. You can get step ladders that are six, eight, or ten feet tall. Depending on the height of your roof, that should be tall enough for a single story.

If you need to go higher than one story, you could use an extension ladder, but we don’t recommend it. For two-story or taller homes, we strongly suggest hiring a professional. Professionals have safety equipment like harnesses and high-quality ladders that make the job safer. They also have the expertise and experience to do the job safely.

Once you have a good ladder, you will need protection for your hands, face, and eyes. Get a good pair of work gloves, a dust mask, and some safety goggles. You never know what you’ll find in a gutter. Sharp objects, mold, animal droppings, and even dead animals are not uncommon. You should also expect some splashing. Protecting your hands and face will keep you safe and healthy.

Finally, you might want a bucket or tarp where you can toss the materials you dig out of your gutter. In most cases, just tossing them on the ground below is not the best option.

Finishing Up

Once you have your tools and you’re ready to go, it’s time to dig in, literally. Get in there with your gloved hands and start pulling stuff out. It’s a messy job, but when it’s done your gutters will be clean and clear and ready for the fall onslaught. As the leaves start to fall, get back up there, and do more cleaning. If you start with clear gutters, the fall cleaning should be much quicker, since the leaves will be fresh and the decomposing goo will mostly be gone.

Professional Gutter Cleaning

If all of this sounds like a terrible idea, you may be ready to hire professionals. Even if you want to do the cleaning yourself, a professional gutter cleaning company can help you choose and install the right kind of screens or covers to keep leaves out. Try these TrustDALE certified gutter cleaning companies in your area!

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Three for Thursday is a weekly email and Dale’s Do’s and Don’ts is a monthly newsletter from Consumer Investigator Dale Cardwell. Each week in Three for Thursday you will see a video of one of our investigations, hear Dale answer real consumer questions and learn the steps to becoming a savvy consumer. Each month in Dale’s Do’s and Don’ts Dale provides information valuable to homeowners.

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