With summer on it's way, it is important to pay attention to a component that is many times neglected - the gutter system. During our home inspections, we commonly find gutters that are clogged with debris causing water to accumulate. This increased weight often causes gutters to detach or fall off completely.
The job of a well designed and maintained gutter system is to collect the rainwater that falls onto the roof and then direct it to downspouts which carry the runoff away from the house. This keeps the foundation dry and safe from the effects of prolonged dampness and frost.
The main problem with gutters is that they collect other things than rainwater such as falling leaves. When leaves and other material gather and decay they can build up and impede the smooth flow of water through the gutter. In the worst cases, debris blocks the downspouts. The easy channels for water runoff now become dams. The water, instead of being guided safely away from the house, builds up and spills right over collecting next to the house where it seeps in and creates dampness at the foundation. In winter, water which has found its way into tiny cracks and pits in the foundation surfaces freezes and expands, making the cracks and pits bigger, stressing and shortening the life of the foundation and the house on top of it.
Keeping gutters clean is an often overlooked (or perhaps undesired) home maintenance job. It is a job that can be hired out or it may be a task a homeowner may do himself. It can be dirty, messy, and as there are usually ladders and heights involved.
Gutter guards are often sought as a way to reduce this maintenance. There are a few different types:
Clip-on types are a metal or plastic screen with about a one-quarter inch mesh. They have a little hinged spring clip that fastens directly to the gutter and the screen lays directly against the roof surface. They can be disturbed by high winds or animals, but overall they are fairly effective in cutting down much of the debris that falls into the gutter. While they do not entirely eliminate the need for maintenance, they increase the time between cleanouts significantly.
There are also gutter guards that utilize a screen in a frame that fastens on all sides securely to the gutter top to make an enclosed system. There are typically two layers of screen – an upper, coarser layer which is made of a strong material, and a lower fine mesh screen to collect the very small debris. These gutter guards perform well against wind, animals, torrential rains, and winter ice. They are the most expensive but they are virtually maintenance free.
Another type is a full coverage flashing mounted to the roof. These types also come in plastic. With this type of gutter guard, water runoff from the roof hits the guard, is slowed down, and then surface tension of the water makes it roll over the front edge of the guard and drop into the gutter. The solid metal is very effective in keeping debris out of the gutter and it holds up well against wind and critters. The shortcomings of this type of guard are twofold: First, torrential rains may run off so fast that surface tension is broken and the water can spill over to the ground below, next to the house. The second problem is that in winter they can help to create “ice-dams” and lead to increased wear on the shingles nearby.
Every Columbus Advanced Inspections (CAI) home inspection includes an examination of the home gutters and downspouts. The simple task of keeping the gutter system working well has a very big impact on keeping the foundation wall dry and eliminating water intrusion into the basement.