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Repairing and Maintaining Gutter Systems

Your roof’s drainage system diverts thousands of gallons of water away from your house annually, so you can see why it merits a semiannual inspection. Here’s how the drainage system works: All gutters slope slightly toward their outlets. From there two elbows connect to the downspout; at the bottom a third elbow directs the spout outlet away from the wall. Check gutters and downspouts every spring before heavy rains begin and late in the fall after leaves have fallen. Remove all debris logging the system, look for rust or corrosion, and be vigilant in looking for low spots where water may pool. Standing water is the cause of most gutter problems, so check that gutters slope down toward their outlets. Pour or spray water into a gutter and watch what happens. Eliminate sags by lifting the gutter section slightly. Look for and repair loose hangers, or bend up the hanger with a pair of pliers. If this doesn’t do the trick, install an additional hanger.

Tools: Hose and sprayer, wire brush, putty knife, ladder, hammer, hacksaw, pliers, drill.

Clean a gutter. Debris clogs up gutters and downspouts and holds moisture that causes rust, rot, and corrosion. Clear away debris by hand (wear gloves). Finish up by using a wire brush to scrape away caked-on debris.

Gutter hardware. There are three forms of gutter hangers: a spike and a ferrule driven through the gutter into rafter ends, a strap nailed to the roof sheathing, or a fascia bracket attached to the fascia. If a gutter sags, add a strap hanger.

Blast water from a hose. Hose your gutters clean, beginning at the high end of each run—or in the middle of runs having spouts at both ends. Often you can blast out spout blockage with water pressure or a plumber’s snake. Otherwise you may have to dismantle the downspouts.

Make minor repairs. If the inside of a gutter is rusting, scrape and wire-brush it clean, then apply a thin coat of roofing cement. Seal any cracks or gaps at joints using gutter caulk. If sections of a downspout are coming loose, drill pilot holes and drive short sheetmetal screws.

Patch a gutter. Patch a rusted-out gutter with metal flashing. Bend a piece of sheet metal so it can rest in the opening. Spread a layer of roofing cement and set the patch into the cement. Then coat the patch with more roofing cement.

Install a screen guard. Screen guards keep out leaves. Buy guards made to fit your size of gutter. Slip the inner edge under the first course of shingles and bend the screen into place.

Add a wire-cage strainer. Wire-cage strainers eliminate downspout clogging. However, you will still have to clear debris from around the cages.

Replace a downspout section. Cut downspouts with a fine-tooth hacksaw. Mark a line around the circumference so the edges will be square. Use a file or sandpaper to remove any burrs.

Redirect water with a splash block. Splash blocks must be pitched away from the foundation walls. Use gravel to raise and shim a splash block.

Or use an extension. If water puddles near the house, or if your basement leaks during rainfalls, take steps to move the water at least 8 feet away from the house. A corrugated plastic extension stays in place; a perforated roll-up hose extends like a party noisemaker when the water comes down.

Installing Gutters

Gutter downspout systems consist of a series of modular pieces assembled to suit your situation. If your entire gutter system needs replacing, get a quote from a gutter contractor. A pro may be able to do a seamless job for little more than what it would cost you for components. Make a list of the components shown below, then inspect your house and write down how many of each you’ll need. The chart below will help you choose the material that best suits your needs. Don’t mix metal parts or fasteners: Different metals contacting each other can cause rapid corrosion.

Most gutters come in 10-foot lengths and require a downspout every 35 feet. Longer runs should be pitched toward an outlet at either end. Gutters should always be pitched away from valleys and toward comers. Installing even a short run of gutter calls for two ladders and an extra pair of hands. If you’re repairing part of an existing system, dismantle it as little as possible and measure for the new parts. Don’t pass up a chance to paint exposed fascia boards—or install one of the many prefinished fascia products offered by gutter manufacturers.

Cut most metal gutters with tin snips. For heavier-gauge metal or vinyl, use a hacksaw. Assemble the sections with slip-joint connectors, and caulk all joints and nailheads with manufacturer-recommended caulk. Newer gutter types with neoprene-gasketed slip connectors don’t need any caulk. You have a choice of gutter hangers. Strap hangers work only with flexible roofing, such as asphalt shingles, that you can lift up to put the hanger under. If your roof has rigid wood shingles or slate, use fascia brackets or spike-and-ferrule hangers. Spikes are easiest to install, but they may sag under heavy loads.

Tools: Hammer, hacksaw, level, caulking gun, two ladders, pliers, tin snips or metal shears.

Choosing Gutter Materials

Material

Features

Maintenance

Life Span; Cost

Steel

Plain galvanized or enamel finish

Prone to rusting; should be painted

15 years; inexpensive

Aluminum

Enamel or plastic-clad finish; easy to install, but fragile

Resistant to corrosion, but may need occasional repainting; easily dented

15 to 20 years; moderate

Vinyl

Sturdy and durable; can be tricky to install; available in white or brown

Immune to rot and rust; cannot be painted

50 years; expensive

Copper

Durable; not widely used; joints must be soldered

Does not mst or corrode, but leaky joints require soldering

50 years; most expensive

Plan the slope. If the old system drained efficiently, follow the path of the old gutters. Gutters slope toward the spouts. Check the manufacturer’s recommendations for the rate of slope. Don’t assume that your eaves are level: Tape a level to a long, straight 2 x4 to check for the correct slope, and tack up a string for a guide.

Gut the gutters. For stability insert a 2x4 when sawing gutter sections. Always file cut edges to smooth off sharp burrs. Assemble gutter runs on the ground first, caulking and screwing or riveting all joints, except those at the corners.

Attach the end caps. Most end caps simply snap onto gutter sections. Test-fit each joint to make sure it will go together. Apply a bead of gutter caulk or joint sealer to prevent leaking. Push the pieces together and drive any recommended fasteners.

Assemble end-to-end connectors. Unless they come with gaskets, caulk slip-joint connectors just prior to assembly. These important components are the most susceptible to leaking. Take care when lifting a long run made up of two or more gutter sections; if you bend the run, the parts may disassemble.

Hang the gutters. Have a helper hold the pieces while you drive fasteners. Continually double-check with a level to see that the gutter slopes toward the downspout. Space hangers 24 or 32 inches apart. Spikes must go into rafter ends, and not just into the fascia board.

Connect at a corner. Connect two runs with corner sections. Caulk, then fasten with rivets or sheetmetal screws. Once the system is installed, go back and check all the joints. Apply gutter caulk at every joint you are not sure of, smoothing it with a finger. Run a hose on the roof to test the system.

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