Gutter Cleaning Tips
Important Author’s Note Update: Since this column was written, I have discovered at least two other gutter guards that sport the micro-mesh filtration screen. Testing of these Micro-mesh guards began early Spring of 2008. The results of the test are in! After 10-years of testing various types, a winner has been declared! Click for the gutter guard I installed on my house - Gutter Guard Test Results.
I am somewhat fortunate. My house has a special low pitched ledge that I built for the exclusive purpose of servicing my gutters. I have a Victorian house that has approximately 550 feet of total gutter footage. I can access my gutters from the roof fairly easily and safely. There are only two places where it gets a little hairy. I make sure I don't have a head cold when up on the roof. Why? Because a head cold can really mess up your balance. Be careful on your roof!
Four Times a Year
I have to clean my gutters at least four times a year. It usually takes 1 hour each time. In the late fall, it is miserable work. My hands become numb from handling the cold, wet leaves. You can imagine how I have been interested in the advertised claims of the gutter guard products over the past five years. However, I was always put off by the enormous cost for my roof. I simply couldn't justify a $2,000 plus expense with other things to do around my house. Plus, as I said, I could get to my gutters fairly easily.
During the past two years, I received numerous phone calls and letters about gutter covers. People wanted to know if they worked. I decided to test them for myself after seeing them in a home show in early 1995. I must tell you that I entered the test with negative feelings. I surely would not make a good scientist!
My negative feelings were based upon my home show experience. I saw a nifty setup with water flowing down a roof into a gutter protected by a gutter screen. It was like magic how the water flowed into the gutter. But I knew that my large pine trees could easily defeat the slit where the water went into the gutter. I tested the gutter cover at the home show with tiny "leaves" made from paper. The gutter cover failed.
Certain gutter covers are permanently attached to your gutters. I immediately ruled these out from my testing. Why? Because I could see that pine needles and maple tree flower buds would easily get into the gutters. How would you then clean the gutters in 3 - 4 years?
I decided to test gutter screens to see if the holes or slits would trap leaves by their stems. All of the guards worked well. I found only one leaf that got trapped by its stem. That impressed me.
Small Debris and Flow Rates
My testing showed me that stuff - small tree stuff - gets into gutters. This can cause a big problem. Many gutters do not have sufficient pitch that allows them to readily carry this debris to the downspout. A decent pitch is 1/8 inch per foot. If you install this kind of pitch on a gutter, you will readily run out of gutter or facia board, trust me!
If gutters don't have decent pitch, small debris is often left in the bottom of the gutter to collect. The water flowing down to the downspout doesn't really have enough energy to carry the debris with it. In my case, I had a bunch of mush in my gutters. The gutter covers allowed small roof debris to enter and then the water couldn't transport it to the downspout. It was and is a mess!
Plan to Clean
If you live in an area where the trees do not drop springtime debris like buds, flowers, needles, etc., then you are in great shape. You will enjoy gutter guards. If you live in an area like me that has spring time debris, you will eventually have to deal with your gutter covers.
I suggest that you consider a model that allows you to lift it easily and inspect/wash the gutters. Because the debris within the gutter will be small in size, it should readily flow into the downspout without clogging it or the ground level piping. All you will have to do is lift every other gutter cover to rinse down the debris. It should be a breeze if you have a good ladder.
Most ladder / gutter cleaning accidents happen for two reasons. The first is when people set a ladder that can slide along the gutter. The feet of the ladder must be set level. If the ladder is at a slight left or right angle as you climb it, it can quickly slide. Remember as you add weight to the top of the ladder, it acts like an out of balance sledge hammer held in the air! The ladder is the handle and you are the hammer falling towards the ground!
Overreaching is the second problem. Don't lean your body out beyond the ladder. This upsets the balance of you and the ladder. If you insist on reaching further down the gutter to clean, make a push stick. This is just a broom handle with a little block on the end. The block acts like a ram to push leaves and debris farther down the gutter. You can then move the ladder to get this debris or push it even farther. Be safe and take your time!