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How-To: Clean Out Your Gutters Safely

Cleaning your gutters is one of the most important things you can do to maintain your home. Your roof act like a net, catching everything from rain to falling leaves, and it all has to pass through the gutters. Neglecting this task can result in clogged gutters, which can lead to water seeping into your home.

It is recommended that you clean your gutters three times a year: summer, fall, and spring.

In August or September, blow all the small debris out of the gutters. There will often times be sand and grit that comes from the sediment that’s naturally lost from a composite roof. It’s important to clear things out before fall kicks into gear, when more debris fall from the trees.

Sometime between October and January – depending on when the leaves turn and fall in your area, clean your gutters again to clear out the debris from the trees. This is important to get done before spring showers arrive.

And with the spring comes showers, which bring more debris. Perform another cleaning before summer kicks off.

Safety Considerations for Cleaning Gutters

Set up your ladder in a proper and safe position, the ladder should be leaning against a secure part of the home. The top the ladder should also extend at least 3 feet above the landing zone, to give you something to hold on to when climbing up/down. When standing on your roof, don’t turn your back to the edge, if you can’t see the edge you are more likely to fall off of it. You can consider purchasing safety equipment like a rope, harness, and carabineers to ensure you’re secure, especially if you have a two story house.

Cleaning Your Gutters

To clean a stretch of gutter while standing on a ladder, work at chest height with your body facing the house. Gather the debris into piles, reaching only as far as you’re comfortable. You don’t want to lean too far outside of your ladder. If you don’t have the option of using a pole – or there is a lot of debris in your gutters – use gloves. It will take more time, but nothing is more important than your safety.

To avoid debris sliding into the downspout, stop six inches short of the downspout and remove as much of the debris as you can. Keep a bucket handy for the debris.

You can also sit on your roof while cleaning the gutters. Once you have made piles of debris, begin collecting them and putting them in the bucket. Stop when the bucket is 3/4 of the way full – especially if the debris is wet – it can get heavy. If you’re not comfortable with transporting the bucket up and down the ladder while full, you can leave it on the ground and toss the debris in it.

Another option only works if the debris are dry. You can walk along the gutter line with a blower and blow the debris out onto your driveway or lawn. This option takes the least amount of time, and it also gets all the tiny pieces of sand and grit removed. It is not recommended to walk on metal, ceramic tile, or cedar shake roofs, as these can require special knowledge and even tools to navigate safely.

After you’ve cleaned out your gutters, it’s time to move on to the downspouts, which drain the water and prevent overflowing.

Check elbows and downspouts. Start by removing the elbow, to do this, you’ll need a flat head screwdriver or an unbeveled quarter-inch nut driver to remove the bolt that connects the elbow to the gutter. Gutters can have sharp edges, so use caution when removing pieces. And don’t put your hand in the hole created by the removed elbow – there may be exposed screws in there.

If something is clogged, you may have to do some additional cleanup. Before you open a downspout, put a five gallon bucket beneath it and use a hose to clean out any remaining debris. To remove a stubborn clog, work a plumber’s snake into the downspout to loosen the debris, then flush it again.

After you’ve re-attached everything, do one final test with a hose, jetting water through the system.  Taking time to clean your gutters a few times a year will save a lot of stress and frustration in the future. It is possible to DIY this one – but if you’d rather have some professional help, there are many options in most areas.

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