Gutter Talk

Autumn is here and soon all those colorful leaves you’ve enjoyed will be clogging your roof gutters. Gutter cleaning time is fast approaching and the earlier it’s done after the last leaf has fallen in your neighborhood, the less unpleasant it will be. Dry leaves are fairly easy to remove. Fermented leaf sludge is just nasty.

The best way to clean gutters is to have a roofing contractor do it. Roofs are dangerous places and ladders are even more so, in the hands of the inexperienced. If you insist on doing it yourself, here are a few basics to consider.

  • Carefully follow the instructions printed on your ladder. If your ladder doesn’t have any printed instructions, sell it for scrap and buy a new one.
  • Have a helper hold the ladder. Better yet, send the helper up. Keep an eye out for falling helpers and/or gutter slop flung by disgruntled helpers.
  • Look for wasp/hornet nests before you set the ladder up. They get cranky when disturbed.
  • Wear gloves. Cleaning out the debris doesn’t need further instruction, but while you’re there, look for evidence of leaks, especially at joints. If you fix a leak with one of those magic TV sprays that can make a boat out of a screen door, let us know how it works.
  • Look for evidence of poor drainage (such as standing water or water stains). Also look for water stains on the fascia behind the gutter. Gutters will occasionally overflow during especially heavy rains and they should be installed with outer edges slightly lower than the backsides so water spills out the front rather than onto the fascia
  • Look for backed-out fasteners (especially gutter spikes). The spikes should have been positioned to penetrate rafter ends, but they’re likely as not to only penetrate the fascia board, which in most cases is only about one-half-inch thick. That’s not enough “meat” to hold a spike and driving one back in won’t fix the problem.
  • Check the condition of shingles from your vantage point at the gutter line. Uplifted, torn, missing, or otherwise compromised shingles will be far easier to spot from there than from the ground. Damaged shingles should be repaired or replaced by a contractor as soon as possible.

While you’re on the ladder anyway, you might as well check the condition of other building elements (especially wood fascia, trim, etc.) that you can safely reach. A simple check for rotted wood would be to probe it with a knife blade. A pocketknife should penetrate no more than about one-quarter inch under moderate hand pressure. You should also look for insect damage, bird nests in dryer vents, dislodged soffit vents, cracks, bulges, stains, or any other condition that seems out of the ordinary