Rain gutters are one of the best investments a homeowner can make. Not only do they help prevent excess settling near the foundation by directing rainwater away from the structure, but they also help preserve painted surfaces around the house by keeping roof water from running over them or splashing up from the ground. Additionally, they keep doorways and windows drier during storms.
But rain gutters have their downside, namely, they require some periodic (but easy) maintenance and repairs to do their job properly. The most basic item to keep up on is cleaning to help prevent clogs and avoid corrosion of metallic gutters caused by wet debris.
Gutters and downspouts need to be checked and cleaned twice annually and more often during the rainy season if there are tall trees near the house. Use a small garden shovel to clean gutters and insert a hose into gutter drains to flush the downspouts.
To help prevent debris from lodging in the downspouts and from covering the drain opening, either purchase a downspout guard from a home center, or create one yourself with one-quarter-inch steel "hardware cloth" mesh from a hardware store.
The best way to do this is to cut a rectangular piece of material about 6 by 10 inches. Roll the material into a cylinder about 3 inches in diameter by 6 inches long. Then insert the roll into the drain hole so that it sticks up about 3 inches. The natural springiness of the material will keep it in place while it acts as a strainer for leaves and debris. Most gutter systems can be screened this way in less than an hour.
Because of shifting and settling of all wood-frame houses and loosening of fasteners due to weathering, gutters should be checked for proper slope and tightness of the hangers once a year. The best way to do this is to check them for puddling and looseness a day or two after a rainstorm.
If you see standing water in the gutter, you may be able to easily re-slope it by simply pushing up hard under the low point and pulling down on the drain hole area to bend the retaining spikes and correct the problem. Loose hanger spikes can be secured by driving them back in with a hammer.
When cleaning or inspecting rain gutters, check for stains on the outside, which are telltale signs of holes and leakage. Most small holes can easily be repaired by the homeowner by cleaning the surface of the inside of the gutter above the problem area with a scraper or wire brush so that the bare surface is exposed and dry.
From most any paint or hardware store, pick up a tube or cartridge of G.E., Dow or other silicone sealant. Follow the application instructions on the container to apply it over the hole on the inside of the gutter.
For spot holes, cover and overlap the bad area with a circle of sealant about an inch across. If the hole is at a joint between sections, apply a generous amount of sealant and smooth it down with a putty knife, overlapping the joint about an inch on either side. Let the sealant dry 24 hours before water-testing it.
A final suggestion: Because one of the most important functions of rain gutters is to prevent foundation movement due to water, place a ready made "splash block" (available from larger home centers for about $10) under each downspout. A splash block is a rectangular concrete-on-fiberglass wedge about a foot across and about 2 feet long that is placed on the ground under the downspout outlet. Rainwater flowing out of the downspout hits the block and is diverted further away from the house, thereby reducing water accumulation and erosion at the foundation.
Gary Abrams is a general contractor. Comments and questions can be sent to P.O. Box 711, Thousand Oaks, CA 91319.