Gutters are first line of defense against water damage

Clean, working gutters help protect your house

TAMPA - Gutter cleaning is one home maintenance task that should never be overlooked. A lack of maintenance can cause major problems for a home. Clogged gutters can lead to expensive repairs when left untreated:

  1. Foundation damage: The main role of gutter system is to channel water off the roof and away from the home's foundation. A blockage can cause water to pour over the sides of the gutter and pool around the foundation. Over time, the water can cause cracks to form in the foundation, potentially resulting in collapse. But even if the foundation doesn't fail, the water can still cause mold growth.
  2. Wood damage: The fascia boards that hold the gutter system are often made of wood. When gutters clog and fill with water, the boards start to deteriorate and rot. If a home has wood siding, clogged gutters can also cause water to overflow out of the gutter system and down the sides of the home.
  3. Landscape damage: When gutters clog and water spills over the side, it often lands on flower beds, small trees or shrubs that surround the base of a home.
  4. Ice dams: In colder climates, ice dams can form on the gutters or the lower edge of the roof, causing water to pool and eventually seep into the home. While ice dams can form on homes with clean gutters, clogged gutters prevent water from draining, which increases the chance for ice dams.

"Gutter cleaning can be a pretty simple task this time of the year, but a lot of times consumers tend to skip over it," said Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List, the nation's leading provider of consumer reviews. "That can be dangerous because your gutters are your first line of defense against water problems in your home."

But be careful! Climbing up and down ladders or walking around on the roof can be extrememly dangerous. "While gutter cleaning may seem like a task to be tackled as a do-it-yourself project," Hicks said, "it can actually be rather dangerous if you don't have the right equipment or you're not using the equipment properly because it involves getting up on your roof, using a ladder, and if you don't have the right size ladder or not using it properly it can result in falls which could lead to injury." According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, falls from ladders sent more than 240,000 Americans to hospital emergency rooms in 2009 (the most recent year available.)

One option is hiring a professional to clean the gutters for you. "The cost to clean your gutters can range anywhere from about $75 to around $200 depending on the size of your house and the number of stories you have in your home. In order to replace your gutters it can be anywhere from $500 to $2,000 for aluminum gutters so as you can see it pays off to take care of your gutters through the years," Hicks said.

A professional gutter cleaning should include removal of all leaves and other material from the roof, gutters and downspouts, as well as a check of overall gutter condition and repair of any loose gutter spikes. In addition, the person who does the work should leave your yard clear of debris.

How often should gutters be cleaned? It generally depends on the part of the country where you live. If you live in Arizona, for example, you may be able to go several years, but for those who live where autumn leaves fall, it's important to clean gutters at least twice a year. The most important time is in late fall after all or most of the leaves have come down. Most deciduous trees also drop debris in the spring, so an early summer cleaning is important as well. Those who live in heavily wooded areas may find it necessary to clear the gutters three or four times a year. While leaf guards help reduce debris collecting in your gutter, you should still check your gutters twice a year.

Take a walk around your house while it's raining (but NOT if there is lightning!) and check to see if your gutters are overflowing and/or leaking. Always make sure the downspouts are not clogged and that they are carrying water away from the house foundation. If you notice your gutters pulling away from the fascia board (the board the holds the gutter) or your gutters continue to overflow after having already been cleaned, it could be time to replace them. A qualified and experienced gutter professional can help you determine if your gutters can be repaired – usually for a few hundred dollars – or if they need to be replaced, which could range from $500 to $2,000 for aluminum gutters, depending on the size of the home.

There is no perfect way to keep gutters clean other than getting on a ladder and scooping out the leaves. However, there are several types of gutter guards and hoods to consider that may offer less maintenance.
Whether any of these actually eliminate the need to get on the ladder twice a year is a matter of debate. Common complaints about various products are either that too much debris still gets in (and so has to be manually cleaned out) or that too much rainwater runs off instead of going

into the gutter.

Even if you have gutter guards, you may want to hire a professional. Experts say up to 20 percent of leaves and other material can get through a gutter cover, and that experienced workers may be better at removing and reinstalling the guards.

Angie's List Tips: Hiring a gutter cleaning service

  • Licensed & insured: Working on gutters requires the use of a ladder, which can be dangerous. When hiring a professional, check that the company is licensed and insured, has worker's compensation protection for its employees, and has a good reputation and work history. Check with your agent that YOU have enough homeowners insurance.
  • How much do you charge? During a cleaning, a professional should remove all debris from the roof, gutters and downspouts, while checking and repairing any loose gutter spikes. The cost of gutter cleaning ranges from $75 to $225 for an average home, depending on the length of gutters, height of the home and scope of work. Most companies charge a flat fee per foot of gutter, but the cost can go up depending on the complexity of the work.
  • Read the fine print: If you have to purchase new gutters, be sure to read all the details before signing a contract. Check the warranty – look for a warranty that runs at least 20 years.
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