They hang around, pretty much out of sight, season after season, year after year, never uttering a complaint. You, in turn, never give them a second thought. Until that day you happen to look up and see a small shrub growing where a shrub shouldn’t be growing. Or you notice water coming through a basement wall.
Ignoring your gutters over time allows leaves to gather, breaking down into nutrient-rich sludge keeping gutters from channeling rainwater to downspouts and away from your home. Instead, water cascades right over the gutters, seeping into the ground and infiltrating your foundation. Ignoring gutters is a great way to invite mold, a wet basement, and water damage throughout your home.
Cleaning and maintaining your gutters can certainly be a tedious, unglamorous task, but it’s one of the most important things you can do for your house. Whether you do the job yourself or hire someone else to take care of it, your gutters need to be cleaned at least twice a year. But before you climb up there and start scooping, here’s some helpful information.
Take a good look at your gutters.
Now’s a good time to spruce up those gutters to make sure they’re ready to handle those inevitable spring and summer rainstorms. And at the very least, you’ll want to clean them again early in the fall before leaves start dropping.
If it’s been a while since you’ve taken a close look at your gutters—or if you’re checking them out for the first time—you may notice areas where they’re pulling away from the house or even sagging. That means it’s probably time to replace them. But if the problem is just an accumulation of leaves and other organic debris, and assuming you’ve decided to DIY it, here are some steps to follow.
First things first: Staying safe.
As with any task involving tools and ladders, job number one in cleaning your gutters is making sure you don’t hurt yourself. Here’s how to safely clean gutters.
First, see if you can safely reach the gutters on a step ladder—firmly balanced on level ground—without climbing above the next-to-last rung or having to over-extend your reach. If you have a two-story house, use an extension ladder. Make sure to have someone holding it steady at the bottom, or use some type of stabilizer.
If you don’t feel comfortable climbing a ladder, you can either look into buying one of the tools that let you clean your gutters from the ground, or just call a professional. It’s worth the money to stay safe. Make sure to follow these safety tips for cleaning gutters.
Next: Collect your tools.
You don’t need an arsenal to attack your gutters. Aside from your ladder, you’ll want something to scoop out the muck. A garden trowel will do. Then you’ll need something to drop all the debris into, so you aren’t raking it up off the grass or pulling it out of the shrubbery. Grab a bucket or a trash can. You might also want to use your garden hose to clean out any goop you can’t clean out by hand.
It can be a dirty job, so don’t wear anything you don’t mind getting grungy. Water-resistant gloves are a good idea, as are safety glasses. And it’s not a bad idea to have some hornet spray handy in case you notice any flying pests—or their nests—up there.
All set? Let’s climb.
Start near the downspout and work your way toward the dead end. If you have a downspout strainer, pop it out and give it a good cleaning. Then grab any large twigs and other obstructions and start digging out all the nasty stuff.
You might be tempted to lean farther than you should so you don’t have to move the ladder as often. That’s a great way to unbalance the ladder and set yourself up for a nasty fall.
Finally, you may decide to hose out any remaining debris and clear any obstructions from the downspout. It’s a good way to test your system to make sure the water is flowing freely into the yard, safely away from the foundation.
Now that they’re clean, let’s keep them that way.
Now that your gutters and downspouts are free of debris, they can do their job—keep rainwater flowing outside your house, not inside. So let’s keep them clear. Start by walking around the perimeter of your home to see if tree limbs are hanging out over your roof. If you can trim them aesthetically—and safely—that’ll reduce the number of leaves that collect in your gutters every fall. You might consider installing a type of screen or guard to shut leaves and other debris out. Otherwise, set a schedule for cleaning gutters at least twice a year.
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