Need to clean your gutters? Here’s what to know.



Cleaning your house’s gutters is a messy job, but someone has to do it. Leaf-clogged, stopped-up gutters can cause major problems, including wet basements, ruined siding or trim, and water-damaged indoor walls.

If you want to do your own gunk removal, there are several general guidelines you should follow.

  • How often you need to deal with the mess depends on what tree cover you have near your house. If your roof gets a lot of leafy shade, you might have to clean in both fall and spring. But if your house has few nearby trees more than roof-high, you might just need an inspection and cleaning once every couple of years. However, if you’re surrounded by large overhanging deciduous trees, you may need to clean throughout the fall, then again in mid- to late spring.
  • If you install gutter screens or guards, you can inspect and clean less frequently. But these systems won’t nab everything, and they can also become clogged, so they still need attention at least every few years.
  • The usual way to clean gutters is to climb a ladder and, using heavy work gloves to protect your hands from sharp edges and nails, scoop out as much debris as possible. If your gutters are covered with screens or another guard system, get rid of debris that has accumulated, then carefully lift the guards to remove the dirt in the gutters themselves.

What questions do you have about taking care of your home?

  • Once the gutters are clean, use a garden hose to run water through them and verify that liquid flows properly, with no sags or blockages. Then look for leaks, and check that all downspouts are draining properly, spilling water several feet away from the base of the house’s exterior walls. If you find a leak at a joint, caulk it with gutter sealant. There are several ways to patch other holes. One option is to remove the section of gutter and create a patch inside, using material that matches the gutter (an aluminum patch for an aluminum gutter, for example). Glue the patch in place with epoxy, then coat it with roofing cement, being careful to not create buildup that will block the flow of the water.
  • If any nails or screws that hold the gutters in place are loose, replace them with longer galvanized-metal screws. You may be able to bend distorted hangers back into their original form; if not, replace them.
  • Unless your roof is flat, perform all work from a ladder, not by perching on the roof and leaning over. Lift your ladder carefully, and position it properly. Put the bottom end against the house; from the top end, walk toward the house, lifting the ladder over your head until you reach the house and the ladder is upright. Then move the bottom end away from the house about ¼ of the ladder’s length. The top of the ladder should extend at least three feet above the edge of the roof. Climb the ladder by stepping onto the center of each rung and using both hands on the sides. If you can’t easily reach out laterally to collect debris from your position on the ladder, go back down and move it, rather than risking a fall by stretching too far.
  • Give power lines a wide berth while you work. They may not be properly insulated; touching one, particularly with a metal ladder or while standing on one, might bring a permanent end to your gutter-cleaning responsibilities.

It may be worth considering hiring a pro to do the job, because gutter-cleaning work is dirty, physically demanding and potentially dangerous. To choose a company, ask friends and neighbors for references. Checkbook also has unbiased ratings of local gutter-cleaning services, which are available to readers of The Washington Post free of charge until Nov. 25 via Checkbook.org/WashingtonPost/gutter-cleaners.

Considering that cleaning gutters is relatively straightforward, we’re surprised by the number of complaints we receive from Checkbook subscribers. Common gripes include work not done correctly, leaving a mess, damage to property, missed appointments and poor communication.

Ask each company you’re considering to provide a price estimate over the phone — or, better yet, to inspect your home and provide a written quote. Most companies are willing to do this, and you usually don’t need to be home. Getting several price quotes will probably save you money. When Checkbook’s undercover price shoppers called a sample of companies for their prices to clean the gutters on a two-story, 2,500-square-foot home with a steep roof and gutters that measured 80 linear feet, prices ranged from less than $75 to more than $190.

Because gutter cleaning can be dangerous, ask any company you consider to provide proof that it carries liability and workers’ compensation insurance.

If you don’t already have gutter guards installed, companies you speak with may offer to install them. Among the least expensive options are metal or vinyl screens that let water through while catching leaves and other debris that eventually fall or blow off. These screens usually cost about $5 to $8 per linear foot, installed.

More expensive options are covers, usually made of aluminum or vinyl, which are designed to allow rainwater to flow into gutters while debris is caught on top or washed away. These typically cost about $8 to $12 per linear foot installed.

Even if large trees surround your home, gutter screens or guards are not necessarily a good investment. They probably won’t prevent berries, nuts, seedpods and roof shingle granules from entering your gutters, and they’ll do little to prevent clogging by pine needles. When we asked dozens of area gutter installers and roofing contractors whether they install screens or covers for customers, more than one-third told us they never do so, because they find them to be ineffective and a waste of money. Even if you invest in gutter guards, you’ll need to inspect your gutters at least every couple of years, and if there are leaves and debris to remove, doing so will be more difficult if the gutters have guards on top.

Kevin Brasler is executive editor of Washington Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org, a nonprofit organization supported by consumers that takes no money from the service providers it evaluates. You can access Checkbook’s ratings of local gutter-cleaning services free until Nov. 25 at Checkbook.org/WashingtonPost/gutter-cleaners.



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