If more homeowners knew the proper way to clean out their roof gutters, there would be less deaths and injuries. Fall is the season when gutters are cleaned out in preparation for the rainy season ahead. If the rainwater doesn’t flow properly through the gutter and downspout system, costly home repairs can add up from rainwater damage. It’s time to clean out those clogged gutters, and to do it safely.
According to Robert Lenney, Gutterglove gutter guard inventor and gutter cleaning expert whose company has cleaned out more than six million feet of gutter since 1995, being properly educated in the art of gutter cleaning is the key to a successful and safe cleaning experience.
“Cleaning out gutters is pretty easy as long as you know what you are doing,” said Lenney. “Every time I hear of someone getting hurt from cleaning their gutters makes me cringe, because it could most likely have been avoided had they followed proper cleaning procedures.”
There are a variety of gutter cleaning tips that can bring sanity into this tedious task. Lenney recommends eight of the basics listed below.
Ladder Safety: Always let someone know you will be using a ladder to work on your roof or gutters. Use a safe and sturdy ladder, preferably with a small shelf strong enough to hold a five-gallon bucket to collect gutter debris. Make sure to secure the bucket with a lanyard. A four-legged step ladder is recommended for a single story home, and an extension ladder for a two-story home. An orchard ladder is not recommended because there are only three legs for support and they can become unbalanced.
Wooden ladders are often wobbly and difficult to safely balance. Fiberglass ladders seem to be the sturdiest, but are also the heaviest, leading to muscle fatigue from moving the heavy ladder numerous times. Try using an aluminum ladder, the second-choice option for strength and support. Inspect the ladder for defects, dents or loose parts before climbing. Make sure all screws and bolts are tightened. When opening up a step ladder, make sure the extension-hinge arms are fully extended and locked in place.
Garden Hose: Use a garden hose with a pistol-grip trigger spray nozzle. This type of spray nozzle allows adjustment of water pressure with the use of just one hand. This style with a pistol-grip trigger, allows it to be easily hung over the front edge of the gutter while moving the ladder, or while using a gutter scoop.
Gutter Scoop: Scooping out the leafy debris seems to be the best overall method for cleaning out the gutter. The bright orange plastic scoop can be purchased at most hardware stores and is unique because the front scooping edge is very thin and it forms itself to the bottom of the gutter trough, making it easy to scoop out even the toughest of debris in any size gutter system.
Stay away from using a metal scooping tool because the bottom of the gutter and seams can be damaged and scratched. Scraping the bottom of a steel gutter can introduce areas to rust, and if the bottom of the gutter is already rusting, the rusting process could speed up.
Wear Gloves: They help protect hands against dirty, rotting leaf debris that often contains bird, pigeon and squirrel droppings that are ridden with bacteria. Gloves can also prevent painful cuts from the torn metal shards of an old, ragged gutter. Cotton gloves can soak up dirty water that exposes skin to bacteria. Leather gloves are not as maneuverable and tend to shrivel up when they dry after cleaning. Rubber gloves can get poked or torn by metal shards in the gutter. Thick, suede glove material is recommended because it is superior to cotton, thin leather or rubber gloves.
Protective Eye Wear: Eye protection is a must because one never knows what might fly out of the downspout when cleaning gutters. People have experienced rats, birds, frogs, wasps and bees leaving at high speeds once they start removing a clog, and the last thing they want to have happen is an eye injury.
Rake Off Roof: Rake all debris off the roof first. Otherwise, the next rain will wash all the debris down into the clean gutter, clogging it up again. Also, debris left on the roof can lead to water damming up in valleys or around the chimney, which can cause erosion and roof leaks over time.
Rubber Shoes: If walking on the roof is necessary to perform gutter cleaning, it is good to use rubber soled shoes. Rubber soles tend to adhere best and prevent slipping and falls. Roof tops tend to be moist in the morning, so it is best to walk on the roof after the sun is well up in the sky and has dried all the moisture. Late mornings or early afternoons are the best times to walk on a roof.
Downspouts Unclogged: Make sure the downspouts (leader pipe) are clear. After all the gutters are cleaned out, run the water hose down the downspout at full pressure. If the water backs up out of the top, a clog is present. Normally, it can be unclogged by tapping on the side of the downspout. But if that doesn’t work, the downspout and back need to be removed, and it should be flushed from the bottom. If a clog is present, and the downspout is connected to an underground drain, it is best to disconnect the bottom of the downspout from the underground drain. Otherwise, the clog may move to the drain.
Clean Gutters Twice A Year: Make sure gutters are cleaned once in the fall and again in the spring. One main reason for cleaning out gutters is to eliminate the possibility of water damage from rainwater runoff due to a clogged gutter. Another reason is to reduce the possibility of rust corrosion. Although it may not rain during the summer, if there is debris in the steel gutters, the rusting process can speed up. It’s difficult for rust to speed up with clean gutters. The faster the rusting process, the sooner new gutters will be needed.
Power Line Hazard: When cleaning gutters around a power line cable that drops from the power pole to the roof of a home, conduct a visual inspection of the electrical cable where it connects to the roof. This is to ensure that the protective wire insulation hasn’t rubbed off through years of wear-and-tear by weather and nearby trees. If the cable appears to have damage, do not attempt to repair it. Call a licensed professional electrical contractor to fix it.
If it’s raining and there is an electrical wire problem, do not attempt to clean out the gutters until the wires are fixed. Water is a dangerous conductor of electricity. Whether it’s raining or not, it would be a good idea to have the electrical wiring repaired before cleaning out your gutters.
Gutter Guards: Using a quality gutter guard can eliminate the need for cleaning out gutters. Consider carefully the manufacturer’s claims before purchasing a gutter protection system that keeps out leaves and pine needles, because many promises are made that can’t be delivered. According to Lenney, he and his staff have found an amazing collection of items while cleaning gutters, including men’s underwear, diapers, socks, pigeon droppings, golf and tennis balls, syringes with sharps, dead animals, aluminum cans, children’s toys, live adult rats with babies in the nest, small and large frogs, wasp and bee nests, snakes in areas like Florida, books, newspapers, nails, and tile pieces. These are in addition, of course, to the usual debris, such as leaves, pine needles, seed pods and sand grit.