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Making Raingutters Work!
Why gutter protection should be standard on every home.

Reprinted by permission from the January 2007 Home Perservation Newsletter Copyright 2007 HPS Palo Alto, Inc. All Rights Reserved

At HPS we receive a lot of requests for information about gutters and how to best take care of them. Rain gutters are quiet but critical components of a building’s roofing system. They have the important job of capturing rainwater at the roof edge then controlling and directing it away from the structure. Uncontrolled water running off the roof and blowing back onto the exterior surfaces can be damaging in a whole host of expensive ways including: flooding, foundation settlement, soil erosion, dryrot, paint damage, window, door and siding damage. We did some research on the web recently and found that the cost of the water damage inflicted on US structures every year primarily by defective gutters is greater than the monetary damage caused by fires, earthquakes, tornados and hurricanes combined. So needless to say, properly functioning gutters and downspouts are important. When rain happens, gutters need to work.

Unfortunately, standard gutters do not work! Raingutters live exposed to a messy world that continuously rains debris into them as well as water. In the course of collecting water they also collect leaves, acorns, pine needles, golf balls and other debris causing them to quickly clog up and overflow. Cleaning helps…but it’s dangerous work and you can spend hours cleaning only to learn that pristine gutters today can be clogged gutters overnight with a brisk wind and a shedding tree. A single wayward leaf blown into the gutters and sucked into the downspout can cause the whole thing to fail.

In order for gutters to work when they are needed they must be fitted with a “protection” system that allows water to flow freely through while preventing debris from interrupting the flow. This “debris filtering” is the role of an established but fairly obscure genre of building products called gutter protection systems. In recent years, the interest in maintenance reduction has grown along with an aging population of homeowners. Many competing products have sprung up, all of which are designed to keep the gutters flowing…but with varying degrees of effectiveness and cost.

Gutter protection products are basically passive filters and therefore not “install and forget” systems. Filters require maintenance. Gutter protection systems cannot prevent debris from accumulating on your roof nor can they clean the roof for you. So with or without a gutter protection system roof maintenance is still required. Why clean your roof? Every roofing manufacturer requires maintenance plus loose debris accumulating on the roof and the top of the gutter system will quickly begin to decompose; matting down and compressing into a solid sheet as soon as it becomes damp. Accumulated debris is a fire hazard and is extremely bad for the roof, accelerating wear and backing water up under the shingles. It can also create a solid bridge over the top of the gutters which can send water cascading over the edge. To prevent this, a simple cleaning is necessary within 60-90 days of any noticeable debris accumulation. Most protection systems make it easier to service the roof (see photo above). Loose material will shed over the top of gutters fitted with most protection systems so a quick service with a broom or blower is all that is necessary. Beware of gutter protection systems touting “maintenance-free” claims, or systems that are clearly impossible to clean or dry out once material gets inside them (foams or fixed lid devices). These are best avoided.

Some homeowners may be disappointed at first to learn that gutter protection products cannot totally eliminate maintenance, but this is an unrealistic expectation especially given the fact that debris will continue to accumulate on the roof with or without a gutter protection system. You would not expect your car’s air-filter to continue to work properly without maintaining it now and then. A proper expectation would be that gutter protection systems keep the gutters flowing with the least amount of maintenance at the lowest possible cost.

The great news here is that a good protection system should substantially reduce maintenance efforts needed to clean both the roof and the gutter and be able to keep the gutters flowing between maintenance tasks. A light blowing or brushing is much better than risking ladder falls and cut hands while reaching deep into the gutters to muck them out. At least one company offers a regular service plan to accomplish this so you never have to worry about it. By scheduling, the service tasks can be done when it is convenient (read—affordable) instead of having to perform emergency gutter mucking during a soaking rainstorm.

Gutter protection also helps reduce fire risk by minimizing flammable debris in the gutter. In a recent act the CDF (California Department of Forestry) has required “gutters be provided a means of preventing debris accumulation” in interface areas. If you live in an interface area make sure you have a good system installed and keep it well maintained otherwise fire crews can opt to not defend your home.

There are now many gutter protection products available to the homeowner. They have evolved into several configurations and come in a broad spectrum of materials and prices. So how do you choose? We suggest that you choose a product that combines the best of all these qualities: low installed price, low maintenance requirements, long life expectancy, ease of removal and high environmental friendliness. Beware of companies that do not publish the per foot cost of their product ahead of time. They may practice opportunistic or predatory pricing schemes and are sure to deliver an unpleasant surprise somewhere during the relationship.

Summary:

A well thought out, high quality gutter protection system benefits the property owner in several ways:

  • Reduced maintenance costs
  • Improved durability of gutter and structure
  • Elimination of water damage from uncontrolled rain water
  • Water savings from collected rain water

Thank you Steve of Raintube for providing this article.

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