Gutter full of Fall leaves
Fall leaves clog gutters

As a Vancouver Washington home inspection company, we see lots of gutters clogged with debris all times of the year.  However, Fall is especially bad for gutters in general.  The leaves are dropping from deciduous trees, dead pine needles are dropping from trees as the winds and rain set in, and old moss is washed into the gutters from the onsetting rain.

Gutters and downspouts are one of the most important features on a home that help keep it free from water damage.  Proper operation of these items are imperative to keep water flowing off of the roof and away from the structure.  Moving water away from the structure is very important to preserve the stability of the ground around the foundation and prevent water damage to the structure itself.  If water is allowed to spill over from gutters or dump next to the foundation from downspouts, it can cause structural integrity issues with the home.

There are multiple ways water next the foundation is bad.  Saturation of the soil next the foundation can allow the foundation to settle and break.  Saturated soil can cause excessive hydrostatic pressure on the exterior foundation wall.  That's a lot of pressure concentrated against the foundation concrete which could cause it to bow or break inward toward the basement or crawlspace.  Older foundations may not have re-bar in the concrete to give it extra stability.   Settling and movement in foundations can cause many issues including damage to wall and floor structures, windows and doors not operating correctly, and roof structure issues as well.   Soils that have expansive clay can actually expand upward and cause the same kind of issues just in reverse from settling.  Water dumping next to the foundation can end up in crawlspaces and basements which is never a desirable situation and leads to a whole other host of associated issues.

In doing some calculations, in Southwest Washington where we get about an average of 50 inches of rain per year, the average 1600 square foot ranch home with attached garage handles over 40,000 gallons of roof rain runoff per year.   Assuming the standard 4 downspouts, one in each corer for this ranch style house, each downspout handles over 10,000 gallons of rain per year.  So you can imagine the importance of properly operating downspouts and gutters.

So in summary, check gutters and downspouts periodically to see if they need cleaning.  It's a good idea to run a hose down underground drains for a while at least once a year to check the operation and make sure they are not overflowing and clogged.  During heavy rains, put on that raincoat and do a lap around the house once in a while to observe the underground drains, downspouts and gutters to look for any obvious signs of issues like overflowing or clogging.   Take prompt action when issues are discovered.  Do not put it on the back burner and say 'I will get to it pretty soon'.

Trees overhanging a roof
Trees overhanging roof need trimming

If you have trees or vegetation overhanging your roof, have it trimmed well away from the roof.  If you have constant issues with foliage like leaves and pine needles in the gutters, consider having some kind of guard installed to help manage the issue of debris in the gutters and reduce the necessary maintenance.

We recommend in general as a starting point to check and clean gutters at least twice yearly.  Do this in Spring and Fall as a rule of thumb.  It may be necessary to do it significantly more often that that depending on your location and vegetation surrounding your house.  At my house, I have to do it probably 4 times a year because of the large pine trees that drop needles and due to lack of gutter guards.

One last word.  Please be careful if you choose to check and clean gutters and downspouts yourself.  Every year, many people are injured and killed while using ladders and from falls.  Don't over reach while on a ladder.  Use the three points of contact method.  Don't exceed your ability.  The higher the roof, the longer the ladder, the risk also increases.  If you are not able or have the ability to confidently clean gutters and perform roof maintenance, hire it out.  There are many qualified handymen, and other contractors willing and able to do the job for you.

Enjoy the Fall color display, but don't forget about those gutters, downspouts, and drains and keeping them clean so they can protect your home.

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