One of the most common problems we find when performing home inspections in the North-Central Maryland and Southern-Central Pennsylvania areas in and around Westminster is issues with the home’s gutters and downspouts. This often overlooked part of the home is a CRITICAL system in controlling moisture intrusion into the structure, but many people underestimate the importance of a properly functioning gutter and downspout system. This article can help you understand more about the need for gutters and downspouts and gives you some tips for maintaining them.
Spring will bring rain!
Although recent snow and ice may have you still thinking of winter and the dreaded cold, rest assured that Spring is right around the corner! Spring inevitably will bring rain – potentially LOTS OF RAIN, too! Now is the time to check your gutters and downspouts on your home to make sure they are properly functioning before the rains come! How important can gutters and downspouts be you say? Well, just a few inches of rain falling on the roof of a house can produce several thousand gallons of water runoff! If this runoff is not properly channeled away from the home’s foundation, it can quickly saturate the soil surrounding the building and wick through the foundation and into the interior. (See Figure 1 below.) Once inside, this moisture can lead to a variety of problems in your home including indoor air quality problems, mold, and even wood rot.
Gutter and Downspout Maintenance Tips
As the old proverb says, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This could not be more true when it comes to your home’s gutters and downspouts. It is much easier (and cheaper) to stop something from happening in the first place than to repair the damage after it has happened! Here are some tips for ensuring your gutters and downspouts are ready to do their jobs:
- Check and clear all gutters for debris. Leaves, twigs, moss, excessive asphalt granules, etc. can all lead to clogs which will back water up into the gutters and cause it to overflow. This in turn can cause soffit/fascia damage, moisture intrusion, and excessive water at the base/foundation of the structure. If you have a gutter screen system, do NOT assume that you have no issues with gutter debris – these can help prevent excessive debris build-up but they are not maintenance free. Even if you do not have trees in direct proximity to your home, you would be surprised at how many leaves end up in your gutters just from the wind!
- During a light rain or snow melt, check your gutter seams for any leaks and make repairs as soon as possible and safe to do so. Check the connections at the gutter-downspout joints for leaks as well and make sure they are well-connected.
- Check all gutters and downspouts for damage (major dents, crushing, sagging, cracks, holes, etc.) and make appropriate repairs.
- Check the downspout attachment points to the home and make sure they are properly anchored.
- Check downspout joints – sometimes these are installed upside-down and this will cause leakage. The top section/piece of the downspout material should insert into the bottom section/piece, not vice-versa. Check any attachment points between downspout sections and downspout extensions and make sure they are positively and securely connected. Water is heavy and can force joints to separate if only using slip-fit or friction connections.
- Make sure downspouts do not terminate at the wall of the building/foundation. We recommend every downspout be extended a minimum of 4-6 feet away from the home’s exterior wall. Many home builders will often terminate the downspouts improperly at the exterior wall and the homeowner will think it is correct because the “builder did it and it must be right”. EXTENDING YOUR DOWNSPOUTS IS ONE OF THE BEST WAYS (AND EASIEST AND CHEAPEST WAYS) TO CONTROL MOISTURE IN YOUR BASEMENT OR CRAWLSPACE OR FOUNDATION!
- SAFETY FIRST! Cleaning gutters can downright be a dangerous task. If you are going to tackle this on your own, be sure to use proper safety techniques for ladders and mounting the roof. If you feel the slightest bit uncomfortable, hire a professional or handyman to do this important task for you! Do not be cheap when it comes to maintaining the biggest investment of your life (your home) and protecting your life and health!
As home inspectors, we regularly impress upon our clients that regular gutter system maintenance is absolutely necessary to prevent moisture intrusion problems in the home. A properly designed and functional gutter system not only protects your home from water-related damage, it also protects you and your family’s health and safety by keeping your home environment dry and not allowing harmful molds, mildew, and the like from taking a foothold in your home. Get out there early and do a little gutter/downspout maintenance now so that you are ready for the Spring rains when they come!
Portions of this article are not the author’s original work and were sourced under copyright permission from the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI).
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