How do rain gutters work? Rain gutters are designed to help protect your home from the elements. Without rain gutters, rain races down the slope of your roof, splashes down against your siding, windows, doors, and foundation, erodes soil around your foundation, and gets into basements and crawl spaces. A proper rain gutter system collects water from your roof, goes in through downspouts and out into proper drainage or sewer systems. You'd be amazed how much water is collected by an average size roof during a rainstorm. An inch of rain means your roof is trying to shed over 500 gallons of water -- 500 gallons soaking the siding, windows, doors, and foundation of your home can be a real problem! Most new homes come with a proper gutter and drainage system. If you want to install rain gutters on an existing home, you will want to contract with a professional gutter installation company. The size and placement of gutters, downspouts, and drain systems is a science, and not recommended for the average do it yourselfer.
As a homeowner, your job is to keep your gutter clean and free of debris so water can be collected and drained properly. Clogged gutters lead to overflow which then just pours or drips down the edges of the gutters and onto your siding, windows, etc. How can you clean your gutters? Depending on how high your roof is and how comfortable you are standing on the roof or ladder, some people choose to do it themselves, some people choose to hire a gutter cleaning service. Many roofing companies also do side work cleaning gutters to keep busy throughout the year. For single story roofs, you can get by with a 6 or 8 foot ladder and get access to the tops of your gutters. Work from end to end, scooping out as much leaves, dirt, and debris as you can - use gloves to protect your hands. After the gutters are clean, grab a hose and wash out the gutters, making sure the downspout is clean and draining properly. You can also push the hose partway down the downspout and turn the hose up to flush out any small, loose pieces that may be stuck. Clogged downspouts can also be cleaned using a plumbers snake, coming from either above or below, depending upon where you can get access to the spout. The churning, grinding motion of the snake will usually clear any obstructions in the pipe. You may see tools claiming to let you stand on the ground and magically scoop our debris and leaves from your gutters, but in our experience these don't work very all, sometimes barely at all. First, you cannot see what you are doing. Second, you cannot get much power or leverage to really grab out claws full or gunk. Third, the gutter space is pretty tight, between roof overhang and the spikes holding the gutters in place, there is little room to maneuver, even when standing on a ladder and trying to dig your hands in there. Trying to do it from 15 feet away on the ground is mostly impossible. Of course, people will still be happy to sell you a $30 "rain gutter cleaning kit", but don't expect much. If you have your rain gutters cleaned professionally, expect to pay in the neighborhood of $150-$250 for a good sized home. Professional rain gutter cleaners should remove all debris and flush out the gutters and downspouts.
Types of Rain Gutters
Long ago rain gutters might be made of carved wood or copper or lead. Most modern rain gutter systems are maid from aluminum, although you can buy stainless steel, copper, galvanized steel, vinyl and other materials as well. Most gutters come in sections, with straight pieces, corners, end caps, etc. Some of the most popular gutter styles today are called seamless gutters. They are shaped from long rolls of flattened aluminum, and be made to any length, allowing entire lengths of your roof to be protected by a single long gutter with no leaky seams to worry about. Aluminum is most commonly used since it is much cheaper than copper or steel, and it won't rust -- a big plus when your job involves working in the rain all day! How much do aluminum rain gutters cost? Expect to pay about $7 per linear foot for installed gutters. Vinyl rain gutters can be significantly cheaper - only about $5 for 10 feet sections. Be sure to get several estimates before selecting a contractor for your job.
Best Rain Gutters
Once you have gutters in place, cleaning them can be quite a chore depending on your environment. Some people find their gutters filled and overflowing with leaves and pine needles every few months, and constant maintenance is required. There are a number of lids or shield that be placed over your gutters that still allow rainwater to flow through but that block out leaves, twigs, pine needles, and all larger items. Most of these look like mesh screens or thin metal covers with grooves or holes to let water through. Gutter Helmet and Leaf Guard are two brands that aim to block debris before it ever gets into your gutters. GutterHelmet.com works by sending water through a horizontal 3/8" opening while leaves fall right over the front edge of the gutter. They attach directly to existing gutter systems -- and they've been around for over 25 years. The cost of installing these gutter covers is usually in the range of $8-$12 per linear foot. For some homes, it makes sense just to cover specific trouble areas that are especially prone to clogs and overflows. When installed, these gutter shields usually slide under the first row of overhanging shingles and are then screwed into the upper edge of the gutter - avoid systems that require driving nails or staples through the roofing materials. There have been some complaints that heavy downpours will shoot right over the gutter covers (since the water can't get through the screens or holes fast enough) and come flying off the roof like your own personal Niagara Falls. This can and does happen with many systems, but normally only very heavy torrential rain kind of situations. If you are in an area prone to those kind of cloudbursts, you may want to look into other options.