All About Gutters

When potential buyers scout a home, checking the gutters is probably not at the top of their priorities.  But gutters do serve a very important purpose to homes – they carry rainwater that falls off the edges of roofs away from the house, which is vital to maintain the integrity of a home’s exterior and foundation.  Over time they probably save homeowners a lot of money in repairs, provided they’re well-maintained.

In fact, gutters are so important to home maintenance that November 25 has been unofficially declared “National Gutters Day” in the UK.

And as fall settles in, dire warnings about leaf-clogged gutters can be seen all over social media (mostly by companies selling something to deal with the problem):

So what’s the worry? Why do gutters matter and what kind of maintenance do they need?

Having issues with my own gutters, I saw an opportunity to find out more about them by asking my friend and handyman, Wayne Morse, to see if he can find out what’s wrong.  Morse is a general contractor who has spent decades doing all kinds of construction and maintenance jobs, big and small, from building entire houses to something as minor as patching leaky gutters.

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Gutters available for sale at a Denver-area Home Depot store. Photo credit: Deepan Dutta

When I asked Morse why gutters are important, his explanation is pretty simple. “They carry water away from your house,” he says, “and that keeps your foundation free of moisture and makes sure that it’s not running into your house and damaging your siding, or foundation.”

Morse says a homeowner can tell there’s a problem if they start seeing water leak from under the gutters (like I was seeing with mine) or start seeing water damage outside the home from where roof water drainage is failing.  He put up a ladder and went up to assess what was wrong with mine.

“You’ve got a lot of rust in your gutter,” is the first thing he said after the initial inspection.  He explains it probably got that way because I let leaves sit in there over the years and didn’t clean them out often enough.  The leaves absorbed water and held moisture at the bottom of the gutter, eventually corroding the ‘galvanized’ coating.  It must have been a particularly poor job of maintenance, he said, since these were galvanized metal gutters – which means they are not supposed to rust at all.  Admittedly, I had neglected the gutters over the past few seasons, allowing the corrosion to get worse and worse.

Morse expanded on the possible reasons for the rust, saying water may have also been standing due to an improperly leveled or sagging gutter.  “It could also just be water standing, a lot of times people put gutters in and they don’t put it in with good drainage, and it’s not bad to have two drain spouts, one on each side and that helps keep your water drained.”

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Standing water in a gutter. Photo credit: Deepan Dutta

Miguel, a Home Depot sales associate who declined to give his last name, agreed with that assessment when I asked him what could cause rust in supposedly rust-proof gutters.

“If you get a lot of leaves, dirt, and other stuff in there, it will sit on the bottom and eventually rust out,” he explains.  Miguel recommended using silicone seals and other products to help with small holes should they appear in gutters, but said that eventually you’ll need to replace all of them if they’re already starting to rust.

To keep leaves and other debris out, he also suggested a product called Gutterstuff, which is basically a foam insert that filters leaves and debris while allowing water to flow through.

With my situation, the rust and neglect resulted in at least one visible hole in the gutter running in front of the house, over the garage.  It was visible as a little rust stain underneath the gutter, where water had been dripping through to the concrete driveway below.

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Standing water corroded my gutter, creating a hole.  Photo credit: Deepan Dutta

Morse’s recommendation to fix the hole was to ‘patch it up,’ which basically meant screwing a steel plate over the hole.

First, he measured a piece of stainless steel that would fit over the affected area.

Second, he would drill four holes through the bottom of the gutter where the steel would be placed.

Third, he used a caulking gun to spread silicone sealant over the holes to ensure that water would not leak through.

Finally, he installed the plate in place with four small screws.

Here’s a video of Morse going through these steps to repair the gutter:

The final result will (hopefully) be that the water stops leaking through the gutter.  With Denver seeing its first snow of the season over the past week, the fix couldn’t come soon enough.

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Wayne Morse finishes up his patch job of the gutter. Photo credit: Deepan Dutta

The lesson for homeowners: Don’t neglect your gutters.  Cleaning them out after the leaves drop in the fall is crucial to water irrigation from roofs. Morse estimates that gutters can last 20 years or more if they are properly maintained.  Otherwise, you may see a needless headache in having to replace gutters all around a house far earlier than needed.

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