Controlling the flow of water around the home is essential in maintaining the structure of the residence.
I have been performing quite a few home inspections of late, which has prevented me from writing as much as I have wanted. During a few of my jobs, I was asked to go over the reports of other inspectors. I noticed a trend that may not always appreciated by others, but it is something that inspectors are doing to provide the best information to their clients. We are commenting on how to improve certain aspects of a home that are not typically handled by builders. This becomes problematic because many feel that we are adding items to our reports to “fail” a house. We do not “fail” houses though; we inform our clients of our opinions about the condition of a home and how it could be better. One area of concern that never seems to be quite right on most inspection reports is the gutters.
Gutters can be the bane of our existence when we are cleaning them, or they can be the source of so many problems when we ignore them. I can tell you that most people ignore them. If there is a pine tree in the yard, the gutters are most assuredly stuffed with pine needles, causing them not to work. So do we need gutters? If water will drain away from the house when it falls off of the roof, we would not need gutters, but this does not always happen. Raised garden beds, porches, walkways, and the topography of our yards frequently splash water back onto the home or keep it along the foundation. This leads to damage to wood elements in our home to rot, to our foundation by rising and falling, and to creating a conducive environment for pests or molds.
First Improvement: add more gutters to the home to prevent water ponding. Most homes have gutters around the front entrance area, so the water does not drop down on the heads of people coming to the front door. If water ponds in the yard near the home, you should consider adding a gutter to collect the water from the roof to direct it away from the house.
Second Improvement: make sure your downspouts are not damaged, and that they direct water away from the home. The downspout is the section of the gutter that the water comes out. Lawnmowers do the most damage, but you want these to be in good condition to allow any debris in the gutter to flow out of the system. A splashguard that allows the water to flow away is the basic step in having the water diverted from the home. I often see splashguards turned around to keep water by the house. A better solution is a extendable tube which could really move the water further away from the home.
Third Improvement: add a leaf guard feature to your gutter. First let me note that no product that prevents debris from entering the gutter is one hundred percent perfect. You will need to clean out your gutters at least once a year. Most leaf guards are screens. They fit into the gutter. Leaves and most other debris cannot fit through the holes, so they will sit on top of the screen. Hopefully these leaves will either be washed or blown over the edge of the gutter. I find that I have to go and brush the leaves off of the screen. A new system looks like a brush. Screens sometimes do not sit well in the gutter openings, so leaves can get in underneath. The brush system prevents this from happening, and it is easier to pull out and clean. The gutters that have the solid top do push most leaves away from the gutter, but smaller debris still ends up in them, so they do need some cleaning as well.
Fourth Improvement: adjust the level of the gutter to prevent standing water in the gutter. Even newly installed gutters will have spots where water sits, but I see that over time the anchor system for a gutter will become loose, causing a gutter to sag. When this happens, gravity does not allow the water to flow towards the downspout. There are clips that can be attached, so you could lift the gutter at that point where it is sagging. With these clips, you may have to remove part of the gutter. A simpler solution is to force the gutter up, and nail through the gutter to hold it in that position. Failing that, a nail or a piece of wood trim could possibly hold the gutter from underneath.
Fifth Improvement: prevent the gutter from dumping its water onto a lower roof. Here we are getting into an area that most builders do not do. Consider a two story home with an upper and lower roof. The upper roof has a gutter. Instead of bringing the water in a downspout to a lower gutter, the water is shunted to one spot on the lower roof. All of the water collected is now hitting the shingles in one particular spot. Those shingles will fail faster, allowing the water to come into the building. The photo with this post demonstrates this set up. What I notice in my inspections is that all of the shingles following the water’s path have damage. I believe that these extended downspouts are not placed on roofs, because people think they look bad. I do not see that, and I would rather not have a leak in my roof.
Sixth Improvement: direct downspouts away from walkways and paths. I think of this as a no-brainer, but it happens all to often. The entry sidewalk runs along the side of a garage to the front door. The gutter is angled so the water runs to the front of the home (the corner of the garage). The downspout comes down right where the walkway begins. This poses a safety hazard for the residents as they walk to the front door during a rain. With a little thought, downspouts can come down in areas that are more appropriate.
Seventh Improvement: divert the water into a water catchment system. Rain barrels can be great sources for watering your garden. This method ensures that water is not left standing near the house, and it helps cut down on your water bill.
Even with these improvements you still need to clean the gutters. There are tools for assisting you in this gutter cleaning venture, but I use a garden hose with a nozzle to focus the stream to push debris into the downspout. Most leaves are caught by my leaf guard, so I do sweep the tops of these screens every so often. I do have my own rain barrel set up, and it helps. I do not have gutters all the way around my house, so I make sure that the grading helps divert water from the home. If you cannot clean your gutters (or hire some one to do so), I think it is better to remove them. Gutters that are stuffed with leaves will let water stay by the fascia, causing more problems for you.