Gutters are critical in protecting your home’s infrastructure by channeling water away. If gutters and downspouts have clogs, leaks, or other damage (or dangle too low for safety), they fail to efficiently direct water out of harm’s way. When your gutters are clogged with leaves or disconnected from the downspout, water can cascade erratically off the eaves of your roof, causing erosion in the ground below. This undermines stability and weakens supporting structures, leading to foundation cracks or fractures. Gutters clogged with leaves or debris can also create a fire hazard, as they prevent water from flowing down the drainpipe. This can cause backpressure in the system, leading to leaks and even structural damage.
Extending Your Gutter's Lifespan
The frequency at which you should replace your gutters depends on the weather conditions in your region, but regular maintenance can extend their lifespan. Typically, galvanized steel or aluminum gutters have an average life expectancy of 20 years, while copper ones can last as long as 50 years! Most importantly, inspecting and cleaning your gutters twice a year will allow you to identify any potential issues before they become significant problems that will cost you hundreds or thousands. When replacing your roof, it is often wise to consider replacing the gutters as well—traditionally, doing so at the same time can provide an overall boost to your savings.
Checking for Signs of Deterioration
Gutters will start to deteriorate once they are a decade old—making them potentially dangerous. Here are some signs you can look for to make sure that you don’t have to face this problem any time soon:
- If gutters are clogged or leaking water towards your foundation instead of directing it away from the house, this could cause cracks in your home’s foundation, as mentioned above. This is one of the most expensive home repairs you’ll have to do as a homeowner, especially if you don’t get it fixed promptly, so don’t let this simple chore pass you by. You could regret it in the future!
- Is water leaking into your basement? Clogged, damaged, or worn gutters can all contribute to basement leaks. Gutters are an essential part of your home’s drainage system. They divert water away from the foundation, protecting your home from damage. However, if they become clogged with leaves or other debris, they can’t do their job, and rainwater can pool against your house instead of draining away, which then allows the water to leak into your basement.
- Mold can grow in your basement when it becomes damp. Leaky gutters create moisture in the basement, creating a conducive mold growth environment. Mold can cause health problems for you and your family, including asthma, allergies, and respiratory infections. Mold can also cause damage to your home by destroying wood furniture and other household items.
- If the paint on your home is peeling, wood is corroding in areas behind the gutter, or rust stains are visible further down along the back of it—this could be caused by water splashing or overflowing from within gutters and running downwards. Also, if your gutters are worn, misaligned, or clogged, they can be a significant cause of roof leaks.
- Loose nails or broken fasteners are causing nails and other items to fall from your gutters. Also, if your gutters are missing pieces or have gaps between them and the roofline, water will run down from above and cause leaks.
- If water channels are forming in your landscaping or parts of it are washing out or eroding, this is a sign that your gutters aren’t serving their primary function: channeling rainwater away from buildings. If water pools in areas where it shouldn’t be, this can cause a leak.
- Gutters are sagging, pulling away from your home, hanging down, leaning more towards the front instead of being level, or seamed gutters are loose or tearing apart at the seams and are too worn to be reattached.
- If your gutters are bent, dented, or have holes or cracks that cannot be repaired. Obviously, any holes will cause leaks, but you might not realize the tiny holes or cracks left in the crevices of dents and that leakage can work up to a more significant problem over time.
- If water has pooled in your gutters for an extended period, it may indicate that you have leaky gutters. Standing water should not be the norm with a functioning gutter system.
- Lastly, though already touched on above, if you can see gaps in the connection between any two gutters or along the bottom of fascia boards where they are attached.
Professional inspection companies suggest homeowners have their gutters cleaned and inspected during spring and fall. Their experts check for signs of wear or damage, check gutter alignment, evaluate whether your system is working correctly, and even clean it if necessary. For example, if you were to clean your gutters today and blow the leaves off your patio or yard, then the next time you see leaves out there again, it’s likely that they’ll be in the gutters as well.
Gutter Systems & Accessories
Invest in an adequate system when you have determined that it is time to replace your gutters. Ask potential contractors for licensing and insurance information as well as references from homeowners with whom they’ve recently worked. Be sure to have a contract specifying the terms of payment, warranties, and guarantees. Never pay for services you haven’t received.
When installing gutters, it’s essential that a contractor follow standard practices. Gutters should be spaced two feet apart from each other, and the back of each one should sit behind the roof flashing to prevent water leaks between them.
It is a good idea to use oversized downspouts so they can hold the weight of heavy rains, especially during the tropical storm season. If excess weight causes gutters to sag, pull away from the house, or become bent, it may be time for new ones anyway. You’ll also be pleased to note that oversized downspouts drain much faster and don’t clog as easily.
Some people worry that oversized downspouts are unsightly, but standard downspout dimensions are two inches by three inches, and larger pipes are three inches by four. They only add an inch of width each way, but the extra capacity makes them a worthwhile investment for most homeowners.
Downspouts are typically placed at the outside corners of a house, but it’s also recommended that an additional downspout be placed in the middle of long runs.
A splash block is used when a gutter system includes an elbow at the base of its downspouts. Its only purpose is to break the impact of water coming out this way, and it can be helpful if you have landscaping that needs additional protection from sprinklers or other hard rains. Downspout extensions are different because they’re designed to move water further away than it would reach on its own. If your garden borders a flower bed (or anything else like grass), it might help distribute rainwater evenly among plants by using such an extension.
Some rainwater can be directed away from a house with the use of downspout extensions; however, if the property is flat or slopes back toward your home, you may need to install an underground drainage system.
If your home is surrounded by trees, you should install a leaf guard. Leaf guards are screens that keep leaves from entering the gutters of your house; they also come with no-clog warranties. Solid tops on these products can help prevent debris from falling inside windows or doors when winds pick up in the fall season, so these might be worth your money as well. The curved edge of these tiles, which is designed as a bullnose, allows water that comes in contact with it to flow into the opening while leaving behind dirt.
Few people buy sectional gutters anymore. Seamless gutters are leak-resistant, but with sectionals, you’re more likely to get a leak in the corners. Installing them is also somewhat more time-consuming than seamless ones—although that’s not really much of an issue for most homeowners that need their gutter cleaned out every once in a while.
Aluminum gutters come in a variety of colors, making it easy to find one that matches your home. If you repaint the house and need to change the color of the gutters again, it’s possible to do so by painting them over.
You should invest in an adequate gutter system with the right company, as this will save you time and money down the road. Periodic maintenance, along with a good gutter system, can keep your home safe from foundation problems, wood rot, erosion—just about anything bad!