Do it yourself gutter repairs offer several advantages to homeowners. It certainly is cheaper and more satisfying than hiring a contractor. Gutter maintenance is important because controlled runoff can prevent severe damage to the foundation and structure.
Since water adheres to any surface, runoff can curl around roof eaves, find structural defects, and enter your house. Falling water can erode the soil around the foundation and saturate the soil. Building pressure causes water to seep through tiny cracks in your foundation and enter the basement. Repairing clogged or damaged gutters will prevent this, help stop roof ice dams from occurring and keep your sidewalks ice-free during winter.
Rain gutters are narrow, shallow channels installed along the edge of a roof designed to control and direct runoff away from the foundation. Downspouts drain the gutters. Both are made of aluminum, galvanized steel, vinyl, wood or copper.
The first step is to perform a visual inspection. If there is no damage and all you see are stains, these can be cleaned by wiping down the outside of the gutters with a soft cloth and a little soap and water.
If there are no sagging or damaged sections, take a closer look inside the channels. Use a ladder that has support struts to keep the ladder away from the gutter to prevent damage and provide stability. Make sure that the ladder base is adequately supported, not standing on soft earth. Test water flows with a hose to see if there are any obstructions in the channels or downspouts. You’ll quickly spot any leaks. Depending upon how long it’s been since the gutters were cleaned, don’t be surprised if plants are growing in the gutter.
Clearing clogs is the next task. Clogged gutters leak as runoff fills the channel. With excess water weight, the gutter can pull away from the eave or worse, come crashing to the ground. Gutters should be cleaned at least twice a year, in spring and fall. In spring, deciduous trees litter roofs with twigs, seed pods, flower petals, buds and small leaves.
Evergreens and pines deposit tiny needles. Birds and animals drop bits of food and nesting material. The wind packs in trash and dirt. In fall, gutters can become clogged with dirt and wind-pulverized piles of leaves and trash. Granulated asphalt particles roll down the roof all year long.
Start at the downspout. Try to blast a hole in the downspout with a hose with a pressure nozzle. But if this doesn’t work, stop immediately, because the water stream might compact debris in the spout and make it even harder to remove. Use gloves because the clog may contain pine needles, thorns, old roofing nails, and other sharp objects. Pull out as much debris as you can reach. A pair of tongs works great to extend your reach. If the blockage is deeper and still packed tight, use a plumber’s snake or auger to loosen the stuff and then flush with water.
Move on to the channel. Start at a spot farthest away from the downspout. Remove debris from the roof edge and leaf or gutter guards. Blasting away with a garden hose and a power nozzle isn’t a good idea.
It’s messy–remember there is decaying organic material in the gutter, and why is risk clogging the downspout you just cleared? Scrape out this stuff using a trowel or a handy scoop-scraper made by cutting the bottom off a half-gallon plastic jug. Use a small putty knife to dislodge stuck stubborn stuff. Once all the gunk is removed, flush the gutter with the hose. Use a whisk broom to sweep debris toward the downspout.
Once the clogs are cleared, you can repair sags and leaks. Fix sagging gutters before patching. Repositioning gutters after patching can cause the patch to leak by putting stress on the patch, or loosen the sealant.
Check fascia boards to insure that they are sound, then check mounting brackets and replace loose spikes, nails, screws and broken rivets. Check for proper pitch by running a small amount of water at the end opposite the downspout. If water pools, raise these sections slightly until the water flows. Some pooling will be inevitable due to house settling. Replace loose spikes with lag screws using a cordless drill with a nut driver bit.
Since corrosion damage occurs from the inside out, examine the channel for holes or rusted areas. Small holes and rusted spots can be patched with fiberglass mesh or metal flashing. Clean around the damaged area with a wire brush and coarse sandpaper. Wipe away loosened rust with a rag. For mesh patches, cut a patch an inch or so larger than the hole.
Use a small putty knife to apply a layer of plastic roofing cement no thicker than 1/8 inch or silicone caulk sealant with a caulk gun. Use the putty knife to smooth the cement around the hole. Position the mesh and add another thin layer of cement. Smooth the cement so water can flow freely. With metal flashing, use tin snips to cut a patch out of the same material and patch using the same technique.
For larger leaks, cut a replacement strip wide enough to overlap the damaged section by two inches. Apply plastic roofing cement with a putty knife around the area to be replaced and smooth. Lay the strip in place and push down to embed it in the cement. Apply cement around the edges of the strip and smooth the cement.
For downspout joint leaks with no rust or dents, begin by removing screws or connecting hardware and pull the joint pieces apart. Clean the ends of the metal pieces by scraping away the old sealant with a putty knife and wire brush. Using a caulk gun, apply a line of silicone caulk sealant just inside the edge of the male piece of the joint. Insert into the female piece. For vinyl gutters, replace rubber gaskets. Replace connecting hardware and secure the joint.
Gutter sections that are dented, crushed, or severely damaged by rust must be replaced. Remove screws or rivets from the damaged section. Put a 2×4 wood block inside the gutter and another as a brace and use a small pry bar to pull spikes. Remove any retainers or ferrule connectors. Cut out the damaged section with a hacksaw.
The woodblock will prevent the gutter from twisting as you cut. Remove the cut section. Use another block to cut a replacement section from the same stock material with a two-inch overlap. Bend the strip to match the angle of the channel. Apply a layer of roofing cement to the inside of the gutter and position the strip.
Drill pilot holes into the overlapping sections and secure with rivets or metal screws. Drill pilot holes for spikes and ferrules. Install spikes or lag screws until the heads are flush with the gutter surface. Replace any other connecting hardware.
Step back and enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done that is cheaper and more satisfying than hiring a contractor. Using these techniques can make the job safe and the repairs durable.