Get your mind in the gutter

Proper maintenance can help your home's foundation

Proper maintenance can help your home's foundation

October 04, 2008|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

Usually, the only time anyone thinks about gutters is when it's raining.

But experts say that gutters do more than just keep you dry. They also can protect your home.

Russ Robertson, president of ACCO Home Improvement Inc. in Boonsboro, has been installing gutters since the early 1970s.

In the early days, prior to the introduction of what are called seamless gutters, Robertson says the standard gutter was made of galvanized steel.

"... But they would start to rust out and needed to be replaced," Robertson says.

New vs. old

According to, the Web site for Lowe's Home Improvement, gutters are made of aluminum, steel or vinyl. On older homes, gutters might even be copper or wood. Gutters range in gauge and channel depth and come in the standard profiles of U and K.

Robertson says typically a 5-inch, K style is recommended for a home.

With the introduction of seamless gutters, which are made out of one continuous piece of aluminum, homeowners don't have to put up with the old galvanized steel, Robertson says.


"The best advantage is that they don't rust," he says.

The other advantage, Robertson says, is that steamless gutters don't leak. Previously, gutters would have to be installed in sections. Those sections, he says, are where most of the leaks would occur.

Another advantage of the aluminum is that the gutters can be color-matched to the homeowner's soffit and fascia.

Robertson makes seamless gutters using a special machine in the back of his truck. He says he can do it right on site.

Installation matters

With sectional gutters and with improperly installed newer ones, Robertson says what can happen is that the gutters pull away from the fascia and start leaking.

"When it starts to leak into your foundation, that's when you start having problems," he says.

Gutters are usually mounted to a house using one of four methods: inside hanger method where straps that span the width of the gutter are mounted inside; outside hanger method where hangers are mounted to the fascia board behind the gutters; spike and ferrule method, where the spikes are driven through the gutter and into the fascia and tube-shaped ferrules maintain the proper width of the gutter trough; and the strap hanger method where straps are nailed under the shingles into the roof sheathing.

Robertson says he prefers the screwed inside hanger method because it can hold up better to the cold and ice.

Robertson says leaking water can cause a couple problems: It can rot a house's fascia board; water that isn't taken away from the home can over time cause cracks in the foundation.

In fact, water and foundations don't mix. Robertson says what's usually needed is that the downspout needs to be redirected to get the water away from the foundation.

He says those who don't know how to properly install gutters, homeowners will find that the pitch is incorrect. When the correct pitch isn't achieved, then the water doesn't drain properly.

The Lowe's Web site says that if the rainwater is running over the front of the gutters, homeowners risk erosion damage in the area where the water hits the ground. Over time, concrete can crack from the impact of water.

And if the water backs up severely enough to run over the back of gutters, water can damage roof sheathing, eaves and fascia boards.

Robertson says he recommends seamless aluminum gutters because they tend to last longer.

"I have some jobs that are still up, 30 years later," he says.

Clean out the gutters

Gutters have to be maintained and Robertson says they should be cleaned out at least twice a year.

"In the spring and in the fall after the leaves fallen," he says. "If you don't clean them out, you're asking for nothing but trouble."

If the home is next to a pine tree or another types of tree that drops seeds, he recommends cleaning gutters more often.

Lowe's Web site advises homeowners not to clean gutters from the roof. The site says that working from the roof forces you to reach below your center of gravity, putting homeowners in danger of falling. Instead, always clean gutters from a ladder.

Remove leaves, branches, sticks and, in some cases, caked buildup. When cleaning out your gutters, look for corrosion, holes and leaking joints or loose, missing or bent hangers, according to Lowe's Web site.

To alleviate some of the maintenance hassle, Robertson says the best thing a homeowner could do is use a gutter cover. There are several kinds of gutter covers or cover guards. One can be as simple as a screen, which mounts on top of a gutter. He says the older kinds would collapse, but the newer ones work even better.

There are also high-tech gutters designed to let leaves and seeds roll off the roof, while the water drains into the gutters.

Robertson says gutter covers can run from $7 to $12 a foot.

"You really shouldn't have to ever clean your gutters," he says.

Get the right person

For those who hire a firm to install gutters or gutter covers, Robertson says make sure to check out the business.

First, look for experience. "Don't be afraid to ask for referrals," he says. Also, shop around for prices.

Most importantly, make sure the person is licensed. The license number should be listed with all advertising. "Always look for the number," Robertson says. "It's required by law."

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