Are Your Gutters Contributing to Roof Damage?

A gutter full of fir needles

When was the last time you took a look at your gutters? Are they clear of debris or overflowing with leaves and branches? My yearly ritual of cleaning out the gutters is a job I hate, but I know it's an easy way to keep my roof ship shape.

The Purpose of Gutters

There's nothing super special about house gutters. Their primary job is to collect rainwater as it flows down your roof and then direct it to the downspout where it is harmlessly deposited in your yard or into the storm sewer.

Water will always follow the path of least resistance. The gutters are installed at a grade to help the water flow to the downspout. If this simple system isn't working properly, water can backup onto your roof. There is no easier way to damage your roof than to allow water to pool on top of the shingles. If the shingles aren't already damaged by wind, weather and time, then having puddles of standing water on top of them is a surefire way to shorten their lifespans. This is where proper maintenance of your gutters comes into play.

Interference of Mother Nature

Mother Nature certainly enjoys her cycles, and every year trees shed their leaves for winter so they can grow them again come spring. The majority of the leaves fall to the ground, but some fall onto the roof and into the gutters. The water now has resistance to flow. When enough leaves fall into the gutter, it can't keep up with the flow of water and this can lead to pooling.

It doesn't take long for leaves to completely obstruct water flow, and they can even clog the downspout, which means no water is leaving the roof as it should. At best, the water now flows over the edge of the gutters, which can be terrible for your foundation, but that's another article. At worst, the water now flows the other way and begins to pool on the roof. In winter time, this can lead to an ice dam, with each successive wave of freezing and thawing shoving a wedge of ice deeper under your shingles.

Every year, I take a look at my gutters. I'm lucky in that I can see them through the windows of my second story, but for those in ranch style homes, then you may have to get out the ladder and make a visual inspection. Don't wait until the gutters are completely clogged before cleaning. Instead, make it a regular part of your yearly maintenance.

Some heavily wooded areas may required cleaning at least twice per year.

Cleaning the Gutter

If the gutters haven't been cleaned in a long time, then the first time is going to be back breaking work. You'll need a pair of heavy work gloves, a study ladder, garden trowel, box of garbage bags and at least one free afternoon.

Start on the corner of the home and set the open box of garbage bags on the roof. Pull out one of the bags and begin to fill it with debris. If it's just leaves, then use your hands. If the debris is heavy and soaked with water, then use the trowel to dig out the debris.

Place it in the garbage bags until they are about half full or fill plastic shopping bags instead. Throw down the bags into the yard and pick them up when you're done. This keeps you from constantly going up and down the ladder. If the debris is light, then the cleaning won't take long to do.

The gutters are an often neglected part of yearly maintenance, but they directly contribute to the lifespan of the roof, not to mention your foundation, so keep them in mind.