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Gutters - It's That Time of the Year

It’s that time of the year again ... the hot humid days are replaced by cool dry breezes with nights free of biting bugs. Autumn is the most gorgeous time to view Mother Nature at its best as the leaves and plants change into multicolored works of art. I don’t recall ever hearing anyone complain about fall weather except for the litter provided by the falling leaves. Time to break out the rakes, blowers and ladders to clean around the shelters we live in. It’s gutter-cleaning time.

Often, when we find an area of a home that has a moisture problem, we are asked if gutters would have helped prevent the problem. The long and the short answer is maybe but probably not. It is usually not roof runoff that causes wall issues. It’s that window, accent band, deck, etc. that has failed, allowing water into the wall cavity. If the area is exposed to rain, gutters will only postpone the inevitable.

So, should a home have gutters installed? The purpose of the gutter is to collect roof water and drain it away from the homes foundation or basement. They should drain either into an underground drainage system, not the sewer line, or into gutter extensions. If the gutter extensions are not 10 feet in length, they may be a direct cause of water in the basement if the slope of the grade is not sufficient. Those 10-foot extensions always seem to be in the way when mowing and are usually not attached properly to the downspout. They eventually become an unused item. Without the extensions, the gutter is collecting all that roof runoff into a foundation corner. Not a good idea. Additionally, those extensions tend to make neighbors very angry when they are directed at their basement. Where you direct the water needs to be fool proof or you might be better off with just roof runoff.

Gutters come with risks. They require lots of maintenance, especially if you live in the forest. Gutter cleaning then becomes an accident waiting to happen or a significant maintenance expense. In recent years, many new gutter designs help prevent leaf collection in gutters, but none are perfect. Their ability to collect the roof runoff during a heavy rain, when you most need the gutter to function, is limited, especially on steep roofs.

Other times, just the design or installation of the gutter system will be problematic. Gutters draining onto a roof is also never a good thing. Spreading roof runoff over a given area will provide longevity to the roof.

The gutters also need to be of sufficient size to handle the roof runoff. The gutter system needs to be designed large enough to catch the runoff and quickly drain it away from the home. Larger is better, but then aesthetics can become an issue. Grade and landscaping then become the gutter system. 

You will hear many inspectors, engineers and insurance adjustors say that gutters do not cause ice dams. They always want to blame heat loss into the attic as causing the ice dams. The heat loss melts the snow on the attic portion of the roof and the water refreezes over the cold, nonheated soffit area, creating an ice dam. If you don’t have an ice dam, melting snow is just roof runoff. While heat loss into an attic is a true cause, there are times when the gutter creates the ice dams. Usually, at the beginning of winter, when temperatures are just at or below the freezing level, those metal gutters will be colder than the roof deck. Should a rain occur at that time, it will freeze in the gutter and begin the ice buildup that may last till spring. Especially, if the gutters have not had the newly fallen leaves removed.

Another scenario occurred last year, we all had snow on our roofs and then in January we had a few days of spring. It made us begin to dream, plan gardens and get the golf clubs out. The warm temperatures began melting the snow but those metal gutters froze solid and started the ice dams. To say that gutters are not the cause of ice dams, is like saying the stucco is the cause of moisture problems. Most of the time gutters don’t cause the problem but they can and will definitely aggravate
the situation.

While there are many other considerations that need to be addressed with gutters, the answer is, they are usually useful and provide additional protection to the home. They need to be designed, installed and maintained correctly to do their job adequately, so consult with a professional gutter company. Their services will allow you to get your mind out of the gutter to enjoy the beauty the fall season has to offer.

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Moisture & Structural Assessments in Residential and Commercial Properties

 

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