Get your mind out of the gutter

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Garden And Lawncare, Home Improvement Tips

You might not give a second thought to the gutters around your house. But then the rain starts to pour, and suddenly you notice some darkening on your ceiling -- a bad sign. You've got a leak. When you go outside to investigate, those gutters you never noticed are overflowing with leaves and other debris.

At least you know where the leak came from, right?

Cleaning out the gutters is difficult and often dangerous work. It requires balancing on a ladder and perhaps even reaching above your head to remove clumps of disintegrating leaves, wood, and other gunk that comes from all that time out in the elements. It can be icky, slimy, smelly…in other words, not the most appealing job you can imagine. But it has to be done!

Cleaning out the gutters

First things first: If the gutters need to be cleaned, now is the time. It can be a weekend project for a serious do-it-yourself homeowner, or you can hire a professional contractor to come out and handle it for you. Either way, leaving the gutters alone means water backs up, and that means leaks. If you let it go through the winter, it could also mean an increased possibility of ice dams on the roof. That gutter gunk has got to go!

If you choose to clean the gutters yourself, make sure that safety comes first. Use a very sturdy ladder, and only go up as high as the ladder is rated for -- there is a reason you should never step on the top rungs. Make sure the ladder is sitting very securely. Have someone else there to help spot you and make sure things are staying where they should be while you are up on the ladder.

Clean the debris out carefully, either using your hands while wearing sturdy gloves, or by using a plastic gutter scoop. Though some people choose to drop the debris in a bucket, it might be safer to drop it onto a disposable tarp on the ground. Slowly work your way down the gutters, removing the debris, and then wash out the gutters with a water hose. Make sure the water flows smoothly through the gutter and out of the downspout.

Why gutter guards are a good idea

Every year, thousands of people go to the emergency room because they got into an accident while working on their house. That number includes more than a few who toppled from a ladder while they were trying to do a difficult chore around the house, such as clearing out those gutters. The best way to avoid becoming a statistic is to avoid cleaning out the gutters in the first place.

That's where gutter guards come in.

Gutter guards come in many varieties, but the gist is this: They cover or fill up the gutters, allowing water to come through but keeping the debris out. You can opt for metal gutter guards that fit perfectly into the gutters, go with flexible plastic guards that are held in place by the last row of shingles, or choose guards that are wide flexible mesh that fits directly into the gutter. There are other options out there too, but these are by far the most popular and easiest to install. A good set of gutter guards can cost only a few hundred dollars, which is a great value when you consider the safety issues of cleaning out the gutters by hand a few times each year.

Once the gutter guards are in place, all you have to do is inspect them on a regular basis to make sure that they are doing the job. Sometimes wind can pick up a piece of the guard and blow it away, or it might otherwise become damaged. Keep some extra material on hand just in case, and fix the problem as soon as possible.

You might have to clean out those gutters one more time, but if you choose to go with gutter guards, your safety and water leak worries are lessened. Those are excellent reasons to get your mind out of the gutter and onto other old house things.