If you think a few leaves and twigs in your gutter are harmless, think again. Clean gutters are the single most important key to avoiding major and expensive home repairs. Gutters perform one duty: controlling the water around your home. And if debris keeps them from doing their job, then you can wind up with some serious problems: LEAKING BASEMENTS - Clogged gutters are the number one cause of basement water problems. Roof water overflows and accumulates around the foundation. If this happens, basement leaks may be moments away. CRACKED FOUNDATIONS - Excess water against the foundation wall can weaken the footing and lead to cracks. This is particularly true in the colder months when built-up water at the foundation freezes and causes a condition known as "frost-heave" which can cause severe cracks to foundation walls. ROTTEN WOOD - Water backing up from clogged gutters will cause moisture damage to the wood fascia around the house. The rotted area will get worse quickly if the leak is not eliminated by cleaning the gutters. LEAKING ROOFS - In winter, ice-dams can form on top of clogged gutters. Then snow builds up across the top of the gutter and freezes. During the next thaw, water running off the roof is blocked by the frozen snow and backs up into the house. This can lead to major wall and ceiling damage. SLIPPERY SIDEWALKS - Overflowing gutters can deposit water on walks and driveways where it can freeze and cause a tripping hazard. Avoid this problem by keeping gutter clean and the spouts extended away from any traffic areas. AGING DRIVEWAYS - Misdirected and clogged gutter spouts often cause driveways and walks to sag and crack. WASHED-OUT LANDSCAPING - Any newly installed plants, grass or trees can be killed by excess water. Overflowing gutters can cause severe erosion and put an early end to young plantings. WOOD DESTROYING INSECTS - Bugs love moisture. Keeping the soil dry around the foundation perimeter can force bugs to go elsewhere for a tasty snack of dampened two-by-four.
If you think your gutters need a good tune up, here are some important steps to follow: SAFETY FIRST - If you are not comfortable with heights or don't use tall ladders regularly, this is not a job for you. Consider hiring a handyman to help. If you decide to do the job yourself, watch out for hidden hazards like electric lines and bees nests. CLEAN GUTTERS - Using a ladder, work gloves and a hose, clear the gutters beginning at one end and moving to the other. Always work from the ladder and not from the roof, where you could fall off. If you find any loose gutter sections, tighten them up as you go along. It may help to have a supply of long lag bolts to use when replacing loose or missing gutter spikes. Lag bolts won't pull out like spikes, so you usually don't have to do this more than once. SPRAY SPOUTS - When you get to the end of the gutter where the spout is, spray the hose down it to make sure it's clear. If the spout is clogged, water will back up and cause problems. Clearing clogged spout can be a chore. Try removing the debris from both ends and flushing out the rest with a hose. If this doesn't work you may need to take the spout apart to clear it. Once the spouts are clear, make sure the discharge end is extended at least 4 to 6 feet away from the house to avoid problems. INSTALL GUTTER GUARDS - Once the gutter system is cleaned and properly adjusted, consider installing gutter guards to avoid a repeat performance in the future. There are many types of guards available. Screens can be effective in the short run but eventually allow debris to get through. Clogs will reoccur and can be even harder to clear since the screens will need to be removed first. Leaf blocking guards, which look a metal louver that is installed above the gutter, are a more costly but more effective option. The louvers allow water to leak into the gutter while washing leaves over the side.
Note: Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. To find a local radio station, download the show's podcast or sign-up for Toms free weekly e-newsletter, visit the program's website at www.moneypit.com.