Maintenance and Cleaning of Gutters and Downspouts

When gutters or downspouts become obstructed, it is a good idea to act immediately to avoid more serious damage.

Obstructed gutter

In case of obstruction, in fact, the rainwater comes out of the gutters and ends up soaking the perimeter walls filtering, eventually, inside the house with the risk of damaging plaster and paint on the walls.

The gutter itself, or the part of the roof to which the gutter is anchored, if it is made of wood, is likely to absorb water and rot.

For these reasons it is important to always keep the rainwater disposal system in good condition by inspecting, at least annually, the gutters and removing any debris, organic and inorganic, that may have accumulated there.

The cleaning of the gutters is one of those jobs at height that should be entrusted to specialized companies because the risk of falling is not at all remote.

If you resort to DIY, then remember to operate in absolute safety, anchoring the ladder or, better, using a scaffold.

The best thing would be to work directly from the roof, anchoring yourself with a special harness that acts as a lifesaver in case of a fall into the void.

clogged gutter

Never proceed with this kind of work unless there are other people present who can help you in case of need.

The best way to check the functionality of the gutter would be to run a stream of water through it that simulates a rain shower. The water should flow to the downspout smoothly and not stagnate in the gutter.

However, this step of pure verification can well be replaced if on days of heavy rain or violent downpours we go with the umbrella under the house and, looking up, we will try to see if by chance the water overflows and comes out, and in what points.

If water is leaking, it is a clear sign that something is preventing the normal flow and therefore a cleaning is necessary.

The cleaning of the gutters would be good to carry out after a prolonged period of good weather that has allowed any stagnant water remaining in the gutter to evaporate and leave any deposit inside completely dry.

This will make the cleaning operation much easier, I can guarantee you that there is a big difference between removing a layer of leaves and sand soaked in water and removing the same layer of material but completely dry!

The gutters exposed to the north are those most at risk because enjoying less exposure to the sun, the materials that accumulate inside remain wet for a long time causing the formation of very tenacious moss.

The slope of the gutter

If we notice that, visually, the gutter is dirty, but not so dirty as to cause a blockage of the outflow, we should start to evaluate if the problem is not in the slope of the gutter itself.

In order to guarantee the regularity of the water flow in the downpipes, the gutters are installed with a slight slope, usually 3 mm per linear meter, but a bent gutter bracket or a loose fixing screw is enough to cause a flexion. In this case the slope of the gutter must be restored.

It is quite evident that the variation of the slope may have been determined by the clogging of the gutter itself because, as I explained above, the sum of the weight of the material soaked with water can reach tens of kilos.

So there are factors that affect each other and that must be solved together.

The materials of gutters and downspouts

Today, the most commonly used material for stormwater disposal systems is plastic.

Unfortunately, the color of plastic tends to fade with exposure to sunlight and therefore needs to be refreshed every so often.

An excellent but rather expensive material is copper. Certainly those who can afford it make a good choice. The copper oxidizing is covered with a patina that protects it for a long time without the need for any maintenance.

As we said it is a rather expensive material so much so that even thieves often target it and then resell it on the black market. Certainly in a house that is isolated and frequented only in certain seasons, it would be better to avoid this risk and perhaps resort to materials that are a little less appealing to swindlers.

broken gutter

In some older houses you can still find galvanized sheet metal gutters and downspouts that still do their job very well provided that any rust that may form is promptly removed.

Small rust stains are removed with a wire brush then the surface is treated with a rust inhibitor and finally one or two coats of rust resistant primer or bitumen paint are applied.
If you wish to give a coat of color over the bitumen paint you will need to protect it with a coat of aluminum insulation.

Each element that makes up the gutter and downspout is characterized by being shaped at the ends so that it can connect to the next element.

Each element will therefore have at its end a molded collar, or female, into which the male placed at the end of the next element is inserted.

The joints between the various pieces are usually made with non-hardening plastic mastic.

Both plastic and metal gutters are generally made according to two profiles: semicircular or square, also called framed, and they always rest on squeegees fixed to gutter brackets or to the ends of the rafters.

Personally, I believe that semicircular profiles generate fewer problems with regard to the accumulation of dirt, which instead tends to settle in the narrow corners of square profiles, generating, precisely in those points, a greater risk of corrosion.

Gutter cleaning

The gutter is the horizontal element of the rainwater runoff system and is certainly the most difficult one to work on, primarily because of its height.

Once again: do not endanger yourself by climbing ladders or roofs without having put in place all the necessary safety measures.

To clean the gutter, the best thing would actually be to climb up to its level and then, with gloves and a small dustpan, remove anything that may have obstructed it.

special broom gutter cleaning

The material can be thrown downstairs: it is better to have to clean up the garden or yard at a later stage than to have to handle a bucket, perhaps a heavy one, in which to store what we remove from the gutter.

I have written above that the best thing would be to carry out the cleaning after several days of good weather, so as to find the material inside the gutter well dry.

However, there are also some exceptions: if we have the opportunity to work in absolute safety, the fact that we can remove wet material will make the work more expeditious because any residues of leaves and sand will compact and can be removed more easily. The work will be dirtier and heavier but also quicker.

Otherwise it is better to have to handle dry material.

Those who do not want to go up to the level of the eaves can resort to a whole series of alternative solutions ranging from the most classic to the most technological.

The most classic solution is to operate from the ground using special brooms mounted on extensions.

The limitation of this technique is the impossibility to see inside the gutter and to know if we are really removing all the material. Of course, if someone could have a camera mounted on a small drone and guide us through the cleanup then that would be great.

Here is a link to a  manual floor cleaning systems:

DAISYPOWER GUTTER CLEANING BRUSH

The technological alternative is to use a small robot that, like a sort of mole, runs the length of the gutter throwing out all the materials it encounters on its path thanks to a rotating brush mounted on the front.

The small robot can be operated remotely and runs on rechargeable batteries. Also in this case for an optimal result is good that the robot can intervene on a material not soaked in water otherwise it may fail to remove obstructions.

Below is the video that illustrates its operation.

Cleaning Downspouts

Each downspout before discharging into the wastewater pipe should have an inspectable manhole at ground level.

When cleaning downspouts, it is absolutely good practice to open these sumps before cleaning. It is optimal if there are two people, one working on the roof and the other working on the ground.

As the material obstructing the gutter is drained down from the downpipe, perhaps with the help of a jet of water that we have used a long rubber hose to reach the roof level, it will reach the sump and there it should be immediately extracted to prevent it from clogging the section that leads from the sump to the sewer.

So the thing to do in the upper part of the downpipe is to remove the obstructions with a long pole or a special brush and then clean up with a jet of water.

If, as is likely, the gutter drainage hole connects to the downpipe with two semi-curves, then try inserting a piece of wire so that you can get it through these elbows.

Flushing with water

Once you have removed all the debris that could clog the drainage system it would be good to clean everything with water sprayed with a rubber hose. This will also flush out any remaining sand and dust leaving the gutter perfectly clean.

Intervention with pressure washers and water jets is, except in exceptional cases, absolutely unnecessary.

GUTTER CLEANING TOOL PRESSURE WASHER

Preventing clogging of downpipes

gutter guard

To prevent the downpipe from being clogged by leaves or other debris, you can place a wire or plastic leaf guard in the drain outlet, which is easy to find in building material stores or even directly online at the following link:

GUTTER GUARD STRAINER

Personally I think that the leaf guard cage is very useful in cases where you have the opportunity to intervene often to remove the leaves that have accumulated, otherwise it risks itself to be a plug for the proper flow of rainwater.

Conclusions

Cleaning gutters and downspouts can be a risky job and should be done with caution or entrusted to specialized companies.

Since this operation has a cost, prevention is always better than cure.

One of the major causes of clogged gutters and downspouts is the leaves that in autumn fall from the trees and are deposited inside.

It goes without saying that having trees attached to your home is never a good thing. Any climbers, such as American vines, should also be pruned periodically so that they never reach the level of the gutter.

Some roofs are made of shingles or tiles covered with grit which, over time, will peel off and settle in the gutter. In this case there is little to do but try to intervene with a periodic cleaning that avoids the accumulation of such grit in the gutter.

DIY Editor
Do-it-yourself enthusiast. I started with the renovation of my flat and then I changhed this passion into my job.