The National Association of Home Builders states that aluminum and steel rain gutters have a lifetime of up to 20 years. Downspouts, which usually suffer less abuse than the gutter troughs, can last even longer—up to 30 years. However, these estimates come with the condition that homeowners tend to their gutters with periodic maintenance.

Gutter maintenance does require climbing up to the roofline on a ladder, but it is not especially challenging otherwise. Thoroughly cleaning out debris and making sure water flows through the system effectively need only be done twice a year; read more about that simple gutter cleaning and inspection process. If during your gutter inspection you encounter maintenance issues—namely rust, holes, and leaky joints—the following tips can help you resolve them yourself.

(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.)

Rusty downspout that needs to be cleaned

Rust: Gutters made of galvanized steel are strong and durable, but they’re no longer as popular as they once were because of their susceptibility to rust. If you happen to find minor rust damage, you can easily scrub it away with a wire brush. Once the area is clean and dry, you should then coat the affected spot with a metal primer designed to inhibit rust.

Holes: Sometimes, rust corrosion can eat all the way through galvanized steel gutters. Aluminum gutters can develop holes, too; although they probably won’t rust, aluminum can be punctured more easily than steel gutters.

You can use the same process for repairing holes in both steel and aluminum gutters. Once the hole is clean and dry, spread roofing cement—the tarry paste used to fix shingles that can be found at most hardware stores—around the edges of the hole and apply a patch of appropriately sized metal flashing. After the patch is situated, cover it completely with another coat of roofing cement.

an replacing guttering on exterior of house

Leaks: In dry weather, it may be difficult to detect compromised seams, but by watching your gutters work during a rainstorm (or by simply pouring a bucketful of water into the gutter trough) you can spot leaks easily enough. Debris caught under a seam is also evidence that a leak is present or developing.

To repair the leak, you’ll have to apply a fresh bead of gutter sealant, another must-have gutter-repair product that can be found at most hardware stores. Begin by detaching the compromised section of gutter so you can have full access to the leaky seam; this may require removing screws or rivets, depending on how your gutters are attached, but in either case it should be easy to free the section you need to work on. Once you’ve fully taken apart the seam, clean off any remaining old sealant with a utility knife or sandpaper. Then, simply apply fresh sealant along one edge of the gutter seam, press the pieces back together, and reattach the gutter troughs to the fascia.

Just remember to fully clean and dry any areas where you’ll be applying roofing cement or gutter sealant, and these repairs should be a cinch. However, if your gutters have more issues than you can handle on your own, or if perching on a ladder gives you vertigo, contact a local gutter installer for help with your project. As your gutters continue to age well, you’ll be glad you took the time to give them the maintenance they need.

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