A rain gutter is a simple metal channel designed to catch rainwater runoff from your roof. But that can’t be all there is to it, can it? Certainly not, given the constant barrage of leaves, pine needles, snow, ice, and other elemental forces that gutter systems must withstand. With a few additional accessories, your gutters will be less susceptible to clogs and more proficient at diverting water away from your home’s foundation.

Gutter protection. Homeowners’ well-known hatred of cleaning debris from their gutters by hand has nourished a crowded gutter protection industry. Gutter protection includes high-tech mesh screens, foam filters, and simple grilles; and most companies selling advanced products make the ambitious claim that, after installation, you’ll never have to clean your gutters by hand again.

Deciding which gutter protection system is right for your home will take some in-depth consumer research as well as an estimate of how much you’re willing to pay and how much post-installation work you’re willing to do. Whichever system you choose, note that a professional installation is costly but may include free maintenance calls if your gutters do require future cleaning.

Downspout strainers. Errant leaves, pine needles, and catkins don’t just clog the gutter trough; they can also make their way into the downspout and eventually build up into a sizable clog. One of the simplest solutions is a cylindrical or bulb-shaped strainer that fits into the outlet at the top of the downspout. An even more effective solution is a wedge-shaped downspout screen that sits on top of the outlet—the angled design will divert leaves around the outlet during a heavy rain, causing the debris to accumulate behind and to the sides of the screen, rather than over the top.

Splash blocks. Splash blocks are rectangular pieces of concrete or plastic placed under the downspout to both channel the water farther away and prevent it from eroding the soil. Depending on the frequency and severity of the rains in your area, you may select narrower, more inconspicuous splash blocks or wider splash blocks capable of dispersing heavy runoff over a broader area. After you situate splash blocks beneath your downspouts, remember to check on them periodically, as they are often knocked askew by foot traffic, lawnmowers, and shifting soil.

Downspout extensions. According to the EPA, which covers moisture control as part of its study of indoor air quality, the best way to augment your downspouts is with extensions that carry the water even farther from your foundation. Extensions can lie on top of the ground or, with a little trenching, be discreetly placed just below the surface—however, make sure they have an unobstructed outlet to an area that can handle the discharge.

Downspout Extensions: Good vs. Better

Rain barrels. If you have a practical use for your roof runoff, like irrigating a vegetable garden, installing a rain barrel to capture and store the water can serve that purpose as well as save you money on your water bills. Many municipalities even offer rebates for installing rain barrels, which can collect over 600 gallons from one inch of rainfall on a 1,000 square-foot catchment area. (However, note that collecting rainwater is restricted in some states and counties. Check with your local water utility to learn about any restrictions your area may have.)

Don’t forget that a thorough survey of your roof drainage—perhaps even grabbing an umbrella and watching your gutters work during a rainstorm—is the first step to enhancing your gutter system’s effectiveness. As you implement some of the solutions listed above, have a local Best Pick in gutter installation work with you to create a custom plan for your home.

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Sources: EPA; The New York Times.

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