With autumn upon on us, it seems appropriate to return to a topic that can’t be emphasized enough, especially during this time of year when leaves literally rain from the sky and winter’s ice and snow aren’t far behind:
Don’t neglect your gutters.
This is a particularly important message if you’re in the market for a new home and are thinking about skipping a home inspection because everything looks “perfect.” The gutters are one of many things that can get overlooked by a too-eager buyer during this seller’s market.
A fully functional gutter system that efficiently diverts rainwater and melting snow and ice away from the property is critical to a home’s well-being. Having damaged and clogged gutters and downspouts can lead to a range of repairs, most of them more expensive than the cost of hiring someone to clean your gutters or fix deficiencies caused by age, poor installation practices, impact damage, and harsh weather. Some problems caused by clogged or damaged gutters include soil erosion, foundation cracks and settling, rotting fascia boards that can let moisture inside, expedited deterioration of walkways and driveways, water in the basement, and damage to exterior panels as well as interior walls and ceilings. Simply put, if you don’t take control of water, it can take control of your home—and hit you hard in the wallet.
It’s why gutters and downspouts are an integral part of the roof inspection portion of a comprehensive home checkup. In dry areas of the country with very infrequent rainfall, homes may forego the gutter system and rely on an ample roof overhang instead. Regions that are known for heavy precipitation will need larger-capacity systems to make sure excessive water flow doesn’t damage the home.
Here is a brief checklist of gutter and downspout defects that have been discovered by the certified inspectors at A-Pro over the last 27 years.
Size of System: Even a fully functioning gutter system will fail if its size isn’t adequate to prevent water from running out of its channels, cascading down the home’s exterior, and soaking the ground beneath—a condition that eventually causes wood rot, mold, and other issues once the water finds its way inside the structure. Houses with steep roofs and many roof valleys may require larger-channeled gutters to prevent torrents of rushing rain from jumping the gutter channel and spilling over the edge.
Incorrect Slope: Regardless of the size or variety of gutter type installed (half-rounded and K-style), the channels need to have a proper slope so rainwater flows steadily toward the downspout but not so fast that water runs off at the end of the channel. While inspectors are not required to actually measure the slope to see if it’s too drastic or level, a visual assessment can be used to determine if a slope toward the downspout exists. Pooling water in the center of the channel may offer further evidence that the gutters have been installed in a manner that traps rain rather than allowing it to be moved away from the home.
Downspout Issues: A proper slope won’t mean much if the downspouts aren’t installed properly and are not well-maintained. Your inspector will check to see if the downspouts are:
- Correctly connected to the gutters
- Not hanging loose from the building
- Diverting water away from the home and foundation
- Have properly connected joints that are free from leaks
- Wide open at the termination point (vehicles have been known to crush the extending piece of the downspout, rendering it ineffective)
Clogged Gutters: Your inspector will point out the importance of regular gutter cleanings to keep channels free from leaves, seeds, branches, bird’s nests, plants, and granules from deteriorating shingles. In addition to keeping water flowing properly, clean gutters can lessen the risk of ice dams in the winter. An added advantage of having a periodic up-close encounter with your gutters is that they can be checked for leaks and other damage.
Take every safety precaution possible when climbing a ladder and mounting a roof. If you are not 100% confident in your ability or physically capable of cleaning the gutters yourself and don’t have ALL the proper safety equipment to prevent accidents, call a professional to handle the task. It’s worth the extra expense. Having clean gutters is important, but it’s not worth risking your life over.
Gutter Damage: Your inspector will report gutters that are bending, sagging or have pulled away from the house. A visual look inside the channels, when possible, may reveal cracks, gutter joint defects, missing or broken fasteners, or rusted out spots that demand repair or replacement. Stains on exterior walls may be a red flag that rainwater is leaking out of a channel. Standing water that has been in a gutter for a prolonged period can result in warping and sagging, as well as lead to insect infestations. Ice dams can result in severe damage to gutters. In extreme cases, the weight of ice and snow can cause the gutters to pull away from the house.