Gutters are an integral piece of your home’s well-being. They serve to control the flow of rainwater to protect your roof, walls, foundation and landscape.
But when neglected, experts say gutters can turn from a necessity to a nightmare. A gutter clogged with leaves, sticks and other debris can cause a leaky roof or water damage to the interior or exterior of your home. Gunked-up gutters also can house pests, rodents, mold and honeycombs from bee infestations.
“If you let gutter cleaning go by the wayside, it can cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars,” said Jeff Lambert, a supervisor with the Gutter Man in Houston.
How often to clean them depends largely on where you live and, most importantly, how many trees are in your yard. Bob Vecchio, owner of the House Doctors in Cleveland, suggests having gutters maintained in the spring and fall.
“I recommend people call me in the fall when all of their leaves are down or almost down,” Vecchio says. “In the springtime, maple trees get those little helicopters that go everywhere, including into your gutter.”
Lambert advises putting it on your to-do list about every four months.
“In a high-yield environment, leaves fall all year round. You can’t wait until the last leaf falls,” he said.
Vecchio says it’s important to have a professional clean the downspouts as well, because a clogged downspout “makes it hard for the rain to go down, and that causes them to back up and overflow the gutter, which can cause damage to your home.”
Leaf guards significantly decrease the need for gutter maintenance, but they don’t eliminate the need completely, Lambert says.
You may only need to clean gutters with covers or screens every one to three years. The frequency of maintenance will depend on the quality of the cover and the type and quantity of trees in the yard, he says.
Even if you do have gutter covers, it’s still a good idea to do a visual check each year, says Vince Curcio, owner of the Bizzzy Bee in Charlotte, N.C.
Vecchio says a guard will not keep all the debris out, adding: “Up to 15 to 20 percent can still get in, and you still have to remove the guard. Sometimes you need a professional to do so.”
It’s important to purchase good-quality covers and screens if you want to effectively limit the need for gutter maintenance, says Gerry Murray, owner of Gutter Covers of Indiana in Indianapolis.
“You need to look for one that’s strong enough to hold up and suits your type of trees,” he said.
A gutter cover costs on average between $1,500 and $2,500 depending on the size of the home and length of gutters, Murray says.
DIY or hire
Although most homeowners can clean gutters themselves, it can be dangerous. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, falls from ladders sent more than 240,000 Americans to hospital emergency rooms in 2009 (the most recent year available).
Before climbing a ladder, be sure that it’s sturdy and that all the steps are in good condition. Climb the first two steps to determine whether the ground is level. For soft soil, place plywood under the legs of the ladder. Do not to rest the ladder on the gutters themselves. The additional weight can cause them to collapse.
“I had a customer once that smashed both hips from falling off a ladder and received permanent injuries from it,” Curcio said. “That’s one of the biggest things — safety. The second thing is, a professional knows what they’re looking at and can stop the problem before it gets worse. Gutter prevention is measured in pennies, and repairs are measured in dollars.”
During a cleaning, a professional should remove all debris from the roof, gutters and downspouts, while checking and repairing any loose gutter spikes. The cost of gutter cleaning ranges from $75 to $225 for an average home, depending on the length of gutters, height of the home and scope of work. Most companies charge a flat fee per foot of gutter, but the cost can go up depending on the complexity of the work.
Before hiring someone to clean your gutters, check that they carry liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance for any employees they bring to the job.