Rain gutters help perform the crucial task of diverting water away from your home’s foundation, and they do it while weathering leaves, branches, ice, and snow. It’s wise to inspect your gutters at least twice a year to make sure that they’re free of debris, enduring the elements well, and continuing to do their job.

During each biannual inspection, you should clean your gutters, check the slope of the horizontal sections at the edge of the roof, and evaluate the drainage coming out of the downspouts. The only necessary tools for this project are gloves, a ladder, and a garden hose, but you can make the job even easier with some tools for digging debris out of the gutters as well as a couple of buckets, one for carrying your equipment and one for holding leaves and dirt.

Remember to take care when using a ladder, and don’t forget to check the ladder itself for instruction labels; the proper ways to use it are often printed right on the side. The US Department of Labor provides further tips for ladder safety. If you draw the line at working atop ladders and want an even safer and easier method of inspecting your gutters, hire a professional gutter cleaner who knows what to look for and has all the necessary tools.

Remove Debris

Man using gloves to clean gutters

Extracting leaves and pine needles by hand can be time-consuming; after all, you’ll only be able to clean an arm’s length of gutter on either side of wherever you place your ladder. Make the job quicker by using a long tool to push debris into piles that will be easier to collect. Wear gloves or use a trowel as you remove the unwanted material; the inside of the gutter trough probably has a few sharp edges in it.

Once you’ve handled the biggest potential clogs, the remaining debris can be washed out with a garden hose. Insert the hose into the downspout as well to wash out any material that may have gathered there.

Check the Slope

As the fasteners attaching your gutters loosen over time, the slope of the gutters—also called the pitch or grade—may change, leading to standing water that can spill onto the siding or invite mosquitoes.

With a chalk line and a leveling tool, you can measure the exact pitch of your gutters, which should slope downward at a rate of about one half inch every 20 feet. However, the simplest way to check your gutters’ pitch is intuitive: just pour water into the gutter trough and watch how it moves. If the water is directed toward the downspout, everything’s okay; if it pools or collects, you should adjust the slope. The slope can be easily adjusted by undoing the fasteners and then realigning and reattaching the gutters.

Ensure Good Drainage

Water going through downspout

Your biannual gutter inspection is an occasion to confirm that your downspouts are doing a good job of directing water away from your home’s foundation—at least five feet away, according to the International Code Council’s guidelines on roof drainage.

First, make sure that each downspout ends in an elbow joint. Don’t be surprised if at least one elbow joint is loose or has detached; elbow joints come off easily so that if you collide with one, it won’t yank the entire downspout off the house.

Next, look for erosion beneath the downspouts. If you see signs that the dirt near your home’s foundation is being gradually washed away, place splash blocks—rectangular, angled pieces of concrete or plastic—beneath each downspout both to absorb the impact of discharged water and direct the flow. An even better solution is to fit each downspout with flexible extensions that can guide the water much farther away from your foundation.

The task of cleaning and inspecting your gutter system isn’t glamorous, but it’s a project worth spending a few hours a year on to ensure your home is safe from the dangers of unchecked roof runoff. And if your inspection turns up any problems you can’t handle yourself, there are professional gutter cleaners and gutter installers who can lend a hand.

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