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Get Your Leaves Out of the Gutter!

Cleaning the rain gutters on your home is certainly not the most exciting job in home maintenance, but it is one of the most important, and luckily, it is fairly simple. Maintaining gutters can not only extend the life of the drainage system on your roof, but also prevent structural damage due to water. Leaky gutters can allow water to permeate your siding, causing wood rot, interior wall destruction and roofing problems. Maintaining gutters will save you from stressful emergency repairs and the expensive bills that accompany them.

Downspouts and gutters should be inspected twice a year-once in the late fall, to remove leaves and debris, and once in the spring, before any spring rains occur. Remove all debris from gutters and downspouts in order to allow water to freely move off of the house, and to avoid water puddling inside the gutters, which causes rust to form. Once your gutters are clear, look for crusted dirt in the bottom of the gutters, and use a putty knife to remove it. This prevents future clogging.

Now starts the search for clogs! Common places to check for clogging include the elbows where the downspout meets the gutter. Simply remove the elbow and free any debris. To clean out the downspout, push a garden house down into the first bend and have someone turn on the faucet. The water pressure will force small clogs out of the spout. If clogging continues, use a plumber's snake to clean it out.

Once you've cleared the gutters, now is the time to do some preventative maintenance. Most drainage problems are caused because the pitch of gutters is incorrect. Fortunately, this is one of the easiest problems to look for and to solve. Simply pour a bucket of water into the gutter and observe the flow. If the water runs off without leaving pools of water along the gutter, the pitch is correct. If you notice pools of water remaining in the gutter, this indicates a low spot in your pitch. This can be corrected by bending the hanger that supports the gutter. Generally, a slight bend will eliminate the pooling. Some gutters are installed with spikes and sleeves (also called spikes and ferrules), or with hangers. This type of installation will require the installation of an additional spike or hanger to raise or lower the pitch of the gutter at the appropriate points.

One idea to consider, that will make your work easier in six months, is to install leaf strainers over all downspout outlets. These strainers insert into the outlet, and allow water to pass, but prevent large debris from passing into the downspout. Or consider installing leaf guards over your entire gutter system. Leaf guards are generally made of metal or plastic and sit above the gutter, under the eave of the house. Gutters will still need to be inspected twice a year, but you won't have as many clogs to confront.

Gutter maintenance is the type of work that is easily forgotten until it is too late, and water comes cascading down the front of your home. You can avoid that compelling vision by inspecting those gutters twice a year!

Source: Gene Gary, The Washington Post, and James Dulley.

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