Winter is coming, and with it comes the frost and snow, especially for those of us in the north. Maintaining your eavestroughs as fall arrives is crucial to preventing problems caused by ice damming and water damage to the roof deck. Also, any debris and water caught in the eavestrough will freeze, overload the gutter and eventually warp it – remember that water expands when it freezes! The best way to avoid this is to make sure that your eavestroughs are clear of debris, and that requires adequate maintenance throughout the season, before the temperature drops.
Water: Enemy No. 1
Aside from hurricanes, tornadoes or a fire, water damage is pretty much the worst thing that can happen to your house, necessitating sweeping repairs if it happens. Clogged gutters can push water into your home, seeping into the fascia and causing mold and rot. Moisture can also rot the wood in your roof and walls. Worse, water can be diverted into your basement if the gutters are filled with debris, and can even crack your home’s foundation. This can be a very costly repair. Finally, cracks in the sidewalks or driveway, as well as driveway buckling, can result from water damage; it can also ruin landscaping, including additions such as patios.
As if all this were not enough, the safety issues caused by water spilling from clogged eavestroughs are not to be sneezed at. Too much water on walkways can make them slick and slippery, as mold starts to grow underfoot and the excess water can cause you to lose your footing. And don’t forget that mosquitoes breed in standing water, meaning that there is an extra risk to you and your family from pests and insect-borne illnesses.
Prevention is Key
Cleaning your eavestroughs is useful and necessary, but it’s far better for your peace of mind, and your precious time and money, to get a head start by ensuring that they don’t get clogged in the first place. With fall underway, now’s the time to trim trees and tall hedges away from your roof’s edge, especially if they’re deciduous and will soon start shedding their leaves. The rule of thumb is a minimum of eight feet away, which will greatly reduce debris blown into the gutter by heavy winds. Leaves aren’t the only problem either: loose shingles and roof or chimney material can trickle down into your system if you’re not careful, so ensure that you have your roof inspected and sections are replaced or repairs are made where needed. Also, keep your yard clean and your garbage and recycle bins sealed tight. Anything light enough to be picked up by winds or carried by birds is a potential clog hazard!
For further prevention, consider installing a leaf and debris protection system on your guttering, fitting eavestrough covers and guards to the entire system. This will prevent anything except rainwater from entering your gutters and will make clogging a non-issue. If you’re willing to spend a little more, consider an entire replacement of your guttering system; it’s actually a relatively small investment for not having to worry about clogs. A high-grade system will filter leaves and debris and maintain adequate rainwater flow more effectively than a lesser system, so consider those made from copper, zinc, aluminum or steel.
All this prevention isn’t very helpful if your gutters are already clogged of course! Consider hiring a roofing contractor to do the job for you if you have $100 or so to spare and no time to waste. If you decide to do it yourself, make sure that you can work safely from a ladder on your roof. Choose a sturdy ladder and place it on a firm, level base. You can work on the roof itself, but only do this under extremely safe conditions – never when it’s wet, icy, or windy. Wear non-slip shoes, don’t lean over the edge, and never work near power lines. Wear heavy work gloves to protect your hands, and wear safety glasses or goggles. Rake leaves and debris off the roof before you begin. Then scoop out loose debris starting at a drain outlet at the lower end of the eavestrough, using a narrow garden trowel. Then blast out the gutters with a hose, working toward the drain outlet. Finally, clear obstructions in drainpipes using the hose or a plumber’s auger (snake) to free and pull out the debris from the bottom or push it through from the top.