The roof gutters that line the overhanging eaves are an important part of the roofing system, especially in climates that experience ample rainfall. Along with the downspouts and extensions, the gutter system ensures the proper flow of water off the roof and away from the home's foundation. The system helps protect against wood rot and failure at the roof fascia boards and siding, and it also helps keep your basement or crawlspace dry by directing water well away from the foundation.
Gutters and downspouts can get clogged with leaves and debris that hinder the proper operation of the system, so keeping them clean and flowing freely is essential. Gutter clogging is especially likely at certain times of the year, such as in the spring when trees are casting seeds, and in the autumn when leaves are falling.
Fortunately, cleaning gutters and downspouts is a pretty easy job, and a couple of cleanings each year should keep them flowing freely. This job does, however, involve working on a ladder. Make sure you have a sturdy extension ladder that is long enough to reach the edge of your roof and always follow safe practices when using a ladder. Make sure the base rests on a solid, level surface, and avoid leaning when working on the ladder. It is better to move the ladder frequently rather than risk a fall because you're reaching.
The first thing you need to decide is how you're going to collect the leaves and other matter you remove from the gutters. The method will vary, depending on if the material in the gutters is damp and soggy, or loose and dry.
Cleaning gutters is less messy when the contents are dry and loose, but sometimes you need to clean them while the debris is wet. When gutter contents are wet, you can either use what might be called the scoop and drop method or the gutter bucket method.
The Scoop and Drop Method
This method involves scooping out the gutter and dropping the contents onto a plastic tarp or drop cloth lying on the ground below. This method is fastest, and all you have to do is move the plastic tarp along the ground with you as you move the ladder. When the tarp gets full, just dump the leaves into your compost bin or trash bag.
The Gutter Bucket Method
The gutter bucket method is fairly common and involves using a plastic bucket with a metal handle. Cut the handle in two at the center. Then, bend the ends of the handle halves into hook shapes that you then hook onto the edge of the gutter. You simply scoop out the debris from the gutter and empty it into the bucket. Be ready to do a lot of climbing up and down the ladder to empty the bucket as you fill it.
The Gutter Bag Method
This method is well suited for cleaning out debis if the gutter is dry. Take a plastic bucket and cut and bend the handle so it can be hooked over the edges of the gutters as you work. Here, you will also cut off the bottom of the bucket, creating a bottomless bucket. Now, fasten a trash bag around the bucket just under the metal handle. You can fasten it tightly with a large rubber band, duct tape or a large Velcro strap.
As you scoop dry leaves into the bucket, they will funnel down into the trash bag. This method works well with dry leaves that are bulky but light, but it will not work with heavy, wet gutter debris. Make sure not to overfill the bag so it is too heavy to easily carry down the ladder. Use good judgment with safety in mind whenever working on a ladder.
Equipment / Tools
- Plastic bucket with wire handle
- Work gloves
- Leaf scooper
- Garden hose
- Plumber's snake (if necessary)
- Garbage bag
Choose a Scoop
After you have chosen your bucket method, now it's time for the productive part—cleaning the gutters. You can use any number of things to scoop the contents out of a gutter and into your bucket. You can fabricate your own scooper from a plastic jug with a handle, but a trowel or garden spade works just as well. You can even use old kitchen tools, such as a spatula.
Position the Ladder
Extension ladders are typically best when working along the edge of the roof, and are the only option when working a two-story house. With a single-story house, you may be able to do this work on a tall stepladder. Whatever ladder you use, never climb above the top level stipulated by the ladder manufacturer. If you don't have a ladder long enough to safely do the job, rent or borrow one that is.
Make sure the ladder is on a flat, stable base. Avoid wet ground, where the legs of the ladder can sink in. With an extension ladder, make sure the top of the ladder is firmly resting on the gutter or on the side of the house, and that the ladder is at an appropriate angle.
Clean the Gutters
Use your chosen method (scoop and drop, bucket, or bag) to scoop out leaves and debris from the gutters. Work in short sections along the gutters, and don't overreach from the ladder. Keep your body upright, and reach only as far as you can without leaning away from the ladder. You will need to move the ladder frequently, but safety is critical here.
This is a good time to inspect your gutters for leaks or damage. Leaks can be fixed by sealing the inside of the gutter with waterproof sealant tape or a spray sealant. Also inspect to make sure all gutter hangers are firmly attached.
Clean the Downspouts
Once the roof gutters are cleared of debris, make sure the downspouts are cleared. If your downspouts have horizontal extension pipes, remove these to clear the downspouts.
Take a hose and place it into the downspout from the top opening where the gutters feed into it. Have a helper turn on the water and check for downspout flow.
If the downspout is clogged, clear it out by packing the downspout opening around the hose with a rag, sealing the hose tight. Turn on the water spigot wide open to create as much pressure as possible. Watch the end of the downspout for the clog to clear. If the clog persists, remove the hose and manually clear it using a plumbing snake. Feed the snake from the top of the downspout until it hits the obstruction, which will usually be found at a curve in the downspout pipe.
Once you think you have the downspout cleared, test the flow by running water through it. If your downspouts have horizontal extension pipes, also check them for clogs and clear any obstructions you find.
Rinse the Gutters and Downspouts
After the gutters and downspouts have been cleaned out, rinse the system to flush it out and remove any remaining debris.
Insert a hose into the gutter at the section furthest from the downspout opening, and turn on the water. If the roof is not too high, you may be able to do this simply by spraying a stream of water up onto the roof near the end of the gutter. Let the water run for several minutes, until the water flowing out of the downspout is clear and free of debris.
A variety of screens, guards, caps, or "helmets" are available that can be installed into your gutters that will allow water to flow into the gutters while preventing leaves and other debris from entering. Some of these products are designed for easy DIY installation, while others must be installed by professionals. If you find it difficult to clean your gutters, consider installing gutter guards.