You are at home or at your business, you hear the rumbling of thunder off in the distance and the sky starts to darken as the clouds start rolling in. The rain starts, it gets heavier and heavier. You look outside just to see a torrent of water cascading off your roofs edge. You think to yourself I have gutters and I may have had them cleaned before….. you think a bit and realize it has been a year maybe 2 years?? or more.
The importance of keeping your gutters clean and free of any debris is not just important, it is almost critical. When your gutters get overwhelmed with water from a clogged downspout or they are packed to the max with leaves or pine needles or other debris. Just the weight alone is enough to separate the gutters from your fascia. I see it all the time, not only do I see separation I also see where they are unbalanced from all the weight accumulating to one section and sometimes it is opposite of where the downspouts are located. When that occurs and water runs over the edge it starts to cause staining and oxidation (the grey streaks you see that scrubbing does not remove) from the constant runoff water that is mixed with the acidity of the leaves, the metal from the aluminum gutters and foreign materials i.e. pieces of mortar or tiles if you have a tile roof or granules and roofing nails if you have a shingle roof.
It is important to also keep debris from accumulating on the roofs tiles or shingles and critical to keep valleys free of heavy debris build up. Debris in valleys causes water to pool up and go over the flashing during heavy rains and cause water damage to the decking especially on roofs built prior to the new standards set after the trifecta of Hurricanes in 2004. A lot of homeowners with tile roofs that have leaks are usually caused by blocked up valleys or piles of leaves in dead valleys that they cannot see from the ground and prevents proper channeling of rainwater.
These are some of the things that I notice when doing a full service gutter cleaning. Leaves that have sat in the gutter for so long that there are sediment layers. The top layer is dry leaves and twigs, under that there are damp leaves, under that there are leaves that are starting to decay, under that there are leaves that have decayed and finally the bottom layer is just straight mud and water. That is from just 1 year of leaves in gutters that are underneath heavy trees, especially oaks. What happens to the gutters? The acid from the leaves will cause the aluminum to start pitting and after time leaking. A gutter run or span by itself will cost a bit but not much to replace. Now a gutter that needs to be replaced that is in between a screen enclosure and a roof becomes a construction project and will cost thousands to rebuild. You cannot patch gutters for a permanent fix, it is just a band aid and will leak again before you know it.
Another cause of shortening the lifespan of your gutters is roofing granules from a few ways. Your house may not have a tree for miles nearby, but you notice pin holes on the bottom of your gutters. You can see light through them! You are baffled… That is caused from excess granules in the gutters sloshing around during wind and rains and acts almost like sandpaper or a slow speed sandblast. Over time the holes will appear. When a new shingle roof is built and you have gutters, the roofing contractor will usually have his/her guys blow out the granules inside the gutters after the build is complete. After that you are on your own, new shingles will still have loose granules for a few rains until the loose granules have all pretty much come down. So after a month or so it is a good idea to get up there and either rinse or blow out what is there or call a reputable company to do so. Another way granules build up heavily, is from a shingle roof that has unfortunately been pressure washed and the same heavy accumulation I notice a lot is from roofs that have met their lifespans or have been severely weathered by storms or hail. I have seen on a few occasions gutters with granules that are 2 to 6 inches deep!
Clogged downspouts are another problem I see more than usual. Maybe all but 1 are flowing good but all it takes is 1 that is backed up and a torrent of rain to cause damage. Downspouts almost always have 90 degree turns going towards the vertical walls against the house and are strapped to the walls and another 90 that connects to a run that goes down into either a French drain or another 90 that directs water away from the house. Some installers will use self tapping screws and others rivets. Rivets in my opinion are a better option as they do not stick out inside the pipes too far to where they catch sticks or twigs with a few leaves on them that cause the beginning of the pile up. Some may pile up at the top, some midway and some at the bottom turns. When this happens the water will build up and weigh down the verticals and stress the fasteners that in turn will loosen the system away from the house and after time the damage is done and you will need to replace or repair.
Here is a run down on my process on gutter cleaning. All of our gutter cleanings are full service clean out, inspect and clean up and bag all debris.
First, I will look to see if there is minor or major debris on the roof itself which can add to the total cost depending on the severity of the debris. If it is minimal and only takes 20 minutes or less to blow down there is no added cost. If it is heavy and will add more time to the initial job then I will charge accordingly. I will blow everything down to the edge and then start on the side of the house where the wind is blowing into or if there is no or very light winds I will just start in the back on one side and work my way around. I use a handheld blower instead of a backpack blower. I use an Echo PB250 now and have always used Echo blowers for their reliability and easy maintenance for over 20 years. Backpack blowers are unsafe and can cause you to lose your balance on pitchy roofs and are not a good idea to wear when climbing a ladder especially a 32 or 40 foot. Most cases I just hold the blower in one hand and walk up, if I am using my 32 or 40 I will bring up my 100′ long paracord with a d-ring tied to both ends and either connect it to my blower and climb up or drop one end down and have one of my guys clip it on for me and will pull it up and lower it the same way for refueling or when I am done.
If there is a gutter between a roof and pool enclosure I always start there and have my guys on the ground with water hoses (to quickly rinse off any muddy spray from heavily packed gutters before it dries), blowers, wide rakes and 3 mil Heavy Duty 50 gallon bags so when I proceed after that area is finished they can start to tidy up the mess and rinse off the outside of the gutters. I will work my around and as I get to each downspout I will point the blower into it and have one of my guys on the ground let me know if the air is flowing good or not if I cannot see the end of the downspout. If there is a blockage I will make note and take care of it after I have finished the whole gutter system and any others that are blocked.
Blocked downspouts can be caused by several ways. The most common is just a few inches of debris in one of the turns either at the top or bottom. Depending on how packed will determine if I have to remove the turns or entire downspout from the gutter or just a simple few taps to dislodge whatever is blocking the way. After I have cleared all the downspouts and debris has been picked up I will go around with a water hose that has a brass Y-valve with a sweeper nozzle aka a stream tip and I will flush out and rinse any mud or crud that the blower did not get and check the flow pattern and direction to make sure the water flows to and not away from the downspouts as well as look for any dips or low areas where water pools up. I will let the homeowner know if there are any issues that need to be addressed and I will offer to adjust and fix any for an additional fee if it is a major fix and will take time to correct it. If it is minimal and only a slight quick adjustment I usually do it for free.
We do 2 things with the debris we can take it with us and dispose it at no cost (if it is 1 or 2 bags) or we can in most cases put it on the curb for the yard waste to collect. Especially when there are several bags filled to the top that weigh up to and over 100 pounds. On one home we literally had 89 (50 Gallon 3 mil bags) filled to the tops.
Now you may ask: How often should I have my gutters cleaned?
It depends on the surroundings, if your home is tucked underneath trees like pine, oak, camphor, maple or any other tree that sheds a lot then I recommend every 3 to 4 months. If you have neighbors with those same trees I would say 1 to 2 times a year. When you get a chance to, during a heavy rain try and look at the flow of the downspouts and check for any spilling over on the main horizontal runs and address them pretty quickly.
What else could happen with gutters that are not flowing as they should? Well, you can get wet rot to the fascia, water backing up over the flashing into the house or porch, you can also create a perfect place for subterranean termites to get moisture for their mud tubes they build while they snack on wood that is behind the stucco, also a gutter that is clogged can cause rain water to pour over the ends or corners and cause erosion in the direct spot where the water lands.
What is the cost? The cost varies from several factors like: Type of roof, height, amount of debris, is there plants and trees growing in the gutters, the length span of the system, space between the roof and gutter (accessibility) (YES I have seen gutters with less than an inch of space with a splash guard) very very time consuming any blockage that needs extraction and other factors. The cost starts at our minimum fee of 250.00 and goes up. Some may charge less, I have seen the work they do too and it shows with the price because I am there after the next rainstorm finishing and fixing their work.
We only do work one way. High quality, correctly and we do not mislead or lie to make more money. Some are in business to make more money. I started my business also to earn a good living but what sparked me into it was seeing all the horror stories and absolutely terrible contractors of all trades ripping off homeowners and other entities. I took care of homeowners when I worked for someone else before I started Tropical Roof and Exterior and I took my work ethic away from that sinking ship and built my own ship that is water tight and the wind in our sails is strong.
Thanks for reading, Jeffrey H Worth President of Tropical Roof and Exterior Cleaning Systems and USCG Licensed Nautical Captain and owner of 1197FISHINGADVENTURES