Regular maintenance is essential to keeping your gutters flowing

Dear James:

From the ground, the gutters don’t look dirty, but when it rains, water overflows and runs down the walls. I think it may discolor the siding. What is causing them to overflow and how can I fix it?

– Karen J.

Dear Karen:

There are several causes of overflowing gutters. They are either clogged, rusted and leaking at the seams, loose or sloped the incorrect direction or some combination. You will not know which of the problems you have until you get up on a ladder to clean and actually inspect the gutters.

Overflowing gutters can cause more problems than just staining the siding. The repeated dampness may cause wood siding to rot. A more serious problem is when the gutters overflow and the water backs up under the shingles and gets inside the wall cavity. The likelihood of termite infestation also increases.

You really should clean and inspect your gutters twice a year, in autumn and spring. If you cannot do it yourself and cannot afford two cleanings per year, clean it once after the last of the leaves have fallen in late autumn. Don’t wait until spring, because seeds will have sprouted, and it will be much more difficult to clean out.

If you have a single-story house, first use a gutter-cleaning attachment for a leaf blower/vacuum or a wet/dry vacuum. These attachments have a long tube with a U-shaped bend on the end to reach into the gutters. Do this when it has not rained for several days so the debris in the gutters will be dry and more easily sucked into the tube.

Next, or if you have a two-story home, climb up on a ladder near the downspout end. Always have a helper to steady the ladder. Move the ladder often and don’t try to stretch, as it is easy to lose your balance. Wearing gloves, clean out the downspout opening and stuff a rag in the opening so debris will not fall into it. A garden trowel works well for scooping out the debris.

After you have the gutters cleaned out, remove the rag from the downspout opening. Move the ladder to the other end of the gutter. Flush the gutter with a garden hose and observe the flow of the water. It should flow toward the downspout, and there should be very little standing water when you turn off the water. Also, check for leaks from beneath the gutters.

If you notice some leaky spots, hopefully they are at the seams. You can repair these with caulk and probably get many more years of service before the gutters need to be replaced. If the leaks are from a non-seam section, the gutters likely need to be replaced.

When water is left standing in the gutter, this means the slope of the gutter is incorrect or it is sagging. Changing the slope is a major job — one you may not want to tackle yourself. If there is a just a sagging spot, several of the mounting nails have pulled out.

Don’t just drive the nails back into the holes. They may feel tight, but they will pull out during the next rain. Go to your home center and get some long gutter screws made for this purpose. They screw into the old mounting holes and support the gutter.•

Send your questions to Here’s How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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