Properly functioning gutters can prevent water damage to your cabin, saving you thousands of dollars in repair bills. Gutters can also be a source of great frustration, and if improperly maintained, they can cause more problems than they solve.
Here’s a list of common inspection pointers to make sure your gutters keep water moving away from your cabin:
1 Safety first
It’s critical that you avoid damaging the gutter – or yourself – when making the inspections. Since inspections typically happen via a ladder, have a spotter hold the ladder steady for you (always a good practice). And try not to lean the ladder directly on the gutter.
You can help avoid damage by using a Ladder-Max Standoff Stabilizer, a device that holds a ladder away from your gutters (www.buyladder-max.com).
2 Clear debris
Once you’re safely up at gutter level, go ahead and clear out the larger debris. Then, look for any biological growths, which can actually be corrosive.
Moss or lichen can create acids that will affect the strength of your gutter; if they’re present, clean them away with a 50-50 mixture of bleach and water.
Most biological growths are caused by an improper gutter slope, which results in ponded water.
3 Screen it
Every downspout connection should have a screen to prevent larger debris from getting lodged in the downspouts. Failure to install screens can create plugging that will render your gutter worse than useless; it can actually cause water to back up and into the fascia and soffit, causing interior water damage.
4 Free flow
Ensure the downspouts terminate in an area where water can freely flow. This is especially important in freezing climates, where ice buildup can start at the downspouts and work its way up to the gutters, affecting the entire system.
Gutter guardians to the rescue!
Anyone who has ever dipped their hand into the slimy, unknown mass of detritus in the cabin gutter has likely vowed to install some sort of leaf screen or guard. The following is the lowdown on some general types of leaf protection devices you might want to consider prior to your next hand dive into the “gutter lagoon.”
But be forewarned – there is no such thing as a totally “maintenance-free” gutter system, and those that promise the lowest levels of upkeep often take many years to provide a return on your investment.
Screens or mesh sheets
One option is installing screens or slotted material that fit over the gutter’s top, letting the water drip through with leaves and other detritus staying atop the devices. Prices vary according to the size and manu-
facturer, with the smaller pore-size filters costing considerably more than larger slotted screens. These types of guards do still require maintenance to keep the pores/slots/screen open. Some brands include:
- Smart Screen, www.thesmartscreen.com
- LeafBlaster, www.leafblaster.com
- LeafFilter, www.leaffilter.com.
But you may want to look at the inexpensive options available at your local hardware store or big-box home improvement center. A low-priced screen may be all you need to keep out leaves and other debris.
Inserts are often porous foam or bristles and are meant to be inserted into the gutter and keep leaves, pine needles, and other debris near the top of the gutter, allowing water to flow freely underneath. Here’s one example:
- Flo-Free Leaf Guard, www.flofree.com.
A problem with foam inserts is that water may flow over the top of it and splash out of the gutter, especially during heavy rainfall.
Guards, caps, helmets
There are pricey products that form a solid cover over the gutter, leaving only a small gap with a “reverse curve” near the exterior edge of the gutter for water to drip into, cutting down on maintenance. Examples:
- Gutter Helmet, www.gutterhelmet.com
- LeafGuard, www.leafguard.com.
Gutter Helmet and most other helmet/cap systems work with existing gutters. LeafGuard, however, is actually an integrated gutter replacement system, as the gutter and guard are one piece.
Other than price, two other drawbacks of this category to keep in mind: Any buildup on the surface of a guard, cap or helmet can cause some of the water to miss the gap, defeating the purpose of having a gutter. These gutters also affect the aesthetics of your eave line.
By Kurt Anderson