Fall is the time of year to get your house in order before winter sets in.
For most homeowners, this means it is once again time for a good, old-fashioned gutter cleaning.
According to Robert Lenney, a gutter cleaning expert whose company has cleaned out more than 5 million feet of gutters since 1996, it's the semi-annual project that strikes fear into the heart of all urban and suburban warriors who face that dreaded request, "Honey, it's time to clean out the gutters."
"At its best, gutter cleaning is a tedious and disgusting task. At worst, it can be scary and downright dangerous. One slight misstep and you are heading to the hospital with a broken bone and bruised ego," Lenney said in a statement.
Lenney offers the following tips:
- Ladder Safety: Always let someone know you will using a ladder to work on your roof or gutters. Use a safe and sturdy ladder, preferably with a small shelf strong enough to hold a five-gallon bucket to collect gutter debris. Make sure to secure the bucket with a lanyard. We recommend a four-legged step ladder for a single story home, and an extension ladder for a two-story home. An orchard ladder is not recommended because there are only three legs for support and they can become unbalanced.
A wooden ladder is also not recommended because they are often wobbly and difficult to safely balance. Fiberglass ladders seem to be the sturdiest, but are also the heaviest. If you are cleaning gutters for hours upon hours, muscle fatigue can set in from moving the heavy ladder numerous times. If this is the case, you should try using an aluminum ladder, which is the second-choice option for strength and support.
Before climbing the ladder, lightly jump on the first rung a few times to make sure the ground is secure. Sometimes the soil is soft, or there might be a gopher hole underneath one of the ladder legs. Either condition could cause the ladder to collapse with the combined weight of the ladder and a person. A piece of half-inch plywood can be placed under the ladder legs to keep it level and steady.
When climbing the ladder, always remember the "Three Point Rule." As much as possible try to have both legs and one hand firmly secure on the ladder at all times to provide stability and balance while cleaning. Conversely, do not lean out from the ladder balancing on one leg while using two hands to clean debris from the gutter. Oftentimes, it is this stretching and reaching for that last scoop of debris that lands a person in the hospital.
- Garden Hose: To use a garden hose with normal water pressure (30-40 psi, the standard for municipal water services), simply attach a pistol-grip trigger spray nozzle. This type of spray nozzle allows you to adjust the water pressure with the use of just one hand. This style of spray nozzle comes with a handy pistol-grip trigger, allowing it to be easily hung over the front edge of the gutter while moving the ladder, or while using a gutter scoop. This type of spray nozzle can be purchased at any hardware store.
Spraying out the gutter is generally best when most of the larger debris has already been removed. It's difficult to spray out leaves and pine needles that have piled up over the summer and fall. Spray toward the downspout (leader pipe) so the small, murky debris flows down the downspout. If the downspout is connected to an underground drain that goes out to your street, the base of the downspout needs to be disconnected so the debris can be released at this point, preventing a potential clog further down the system under your lawn or driveway.
- Gutter Scoop: Scooping out the leafy debris seems to be the best overall method for cleaning out the gutter. Stay away from using a metal scooping tool because the bottom of the gutter and seams can be damaged. Scraping the bottom of a steel gutter can introduce areas to rust, and if the bottom of the gutter is already rusting, the rusting process could speed up. Using a metal scooping tool can also damage seams in the gutter because the motion of scraping out the bottom of a gutter with a metal tool can damage the caulking that seals two ends of a gutter together (called a seam).
- Wear Gloves: Gloves can help protect hands against dirty, rotting leaf debris that often contains bird, pigeon and squirrel droppings that are ridden with bacteria. Gloves can also prevent painful cuts from the torn metal shards of an old, ragged gutter. Cotton gloves can soak up dirty water that exposes skin to bacteria. Leather gloves are not as maneuverable and tend to shrivel up when they dry after cleaning. Rubber gloves can get poked or torn by metal shards in the gutter. Thick, suede glove material is recommended because it is superior to cotton, thin leather or rubber gloves.
- Protective Eye Wear: Eye protection is a must because one never knows what might fly out of the downspout when cleaning gutters. People have experienced rats, birds, frogs, wasps and bees leaving at high speeds once they start removing a clog, and the last thing they want to have happen is an eye injury.
- Rake Off Roof: Rake all debris off the roof first. Otherwise, the next rain will wash all the debris down into the clean gutter, clogging it up again. Also, debris left on the roof can lead to water damming up in valleys or around the chimney, which can cause erosion and roof leaks over time.
- Downspouts Unclogged: Make sure the downspouts (leader pipe) are clear. After all the gutters are cleaned out, run the water hose down the downspout at full pressure. If the water backs up out of the top, a clog is present. Normally, it can be unclogged by tapping on the side of the downspout. But if that doesn't work, the downspout and back need to be removed, and it should be flushed from the bottom. If a clog is present, and the downspout is connected to an underground drain, it is best to disconnect the bottom of the downspout from the underground drain. Otherwise, the clog may move to the underground drain.
- Downspout Chain: If the downspout makes an annoying dripping sound during or after a rain storm, a special decorative chain can be installed to hang down in place of a traditional downspout. The rainwater runs down the chain gracefully and looks rather beautiful, like a decorative fountain.
- Clean Gutters Two Times A Year: Make sure gutters are cleaned at least twice a year, once in the fall and again in the spring.