Rain Gutter Repair: A Quick & Easy Guide

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Rain gutters should be inspected and cleaned at least two times a year. A good time to plan the cleaning is before the beginning of winter and again after spring. If your home is in a heavily wooded area, or surrounded by overhanging trees, then more frequent cleaning may be needed.

Leaves, twigs and seed pods are the most common culprits of clogged gutters and downspouts. If leaves and organic matter are allowed to build up, then rain water has nowhere to go during storms and showers. Then the rain water backs up and cascades over the top of the gutters, washing away top soil and damaging the plants below. An even more serious problem is that standing water in the gutters causes frequent wetting and drying of the fascia boards, which in time will rot the fascia behind the gutters.

Tool List

You'll need the following: whisk broom, gloves, pliers, hammer, putty knife, powered drill motor, steel brush or wire wheel, emery cloth, 3-foot carpenter's level, silicone caulk or roof cement, exterior primer, paint and paint brush, if needed, rivet gun and ladder.

Quick Tips

- Wear gloves. Metal gutter ends are sharp.

- Using several widths of putty knives will make the chore go faster.

- If you're using calk, then buy the style tube that fits a calk gun.

- A carpenter's apron will give you enough pockets to carry all your tools.

- Downspout leaf strainers and leaf gutter guards will reduce debris in the future.

How to Get Started

You will need a ladder long enough to reach the highest rain gutter. Set the ladder in a safe position and, with a putty knife or scraper, clean out the gutter as far as possible, so about two feet in each direction. Push the leaves away from the downspouts. Don't attempt to lean out farther than your normal reach. Descend and move the ladder. It's much quicker to re-position the ladder than to take a trip to the emergency room.

If the downspouts are clogged, then use a plumber's snake to clear the blockage. Then flush them out with a garden hose. The addition of leaf strainers over the downspout openings will reduce the chance of a clog next season.

Leaks and Sagging Gutters

Gutters that sag will also present a dripping problem. Gutters should be pitched or slanted toward the downspouts. A common pitch angle will be 1/16-inch for every running foot of the rain gutter. Frequently a long gutter of 35 feet or more will be slanted toward two downspouts, one at each end with a high spot in the middle. It is easy to check the slant with a 3-foot or longer carpenter's level or use a small torpedo level firmly taped to a longer board. If you don't have a level, then you can pour a bucket of water into the rain gutter and watch the water flow to check the pitch angle. Small adjustments to the gutter pitch can sometimes be corrected by bending the hanger support straps. Or, the addition of another spike and sleeve can raise or lower the pitch of the rain gutter at any low point. When adding supports or spikes, be certain to pre-drill the necessary holes with a power drill motor, and use an appropriately sized drill bit.

Examine the gutter hangers to make certain they are secure. Add additional hangers as needed. If additional hangers are needed, then determine which style you have before going to the hardware store. Typically, there are three styles of gutter hangers: 1) sleeve and spike hangers, where the sleeve fits within the gutter and the spike is driven into the roof board; 2) bracket hangers, where the bracket is nailed or screwed to the fascia board just below the roof; and 3) strap hangers, where the strap is nailed to the roof under the shingles. Loose joints can be sealed with any good exterior calk or black asphalt roof cement.

Most modern rain gutters are aluminum or vinyl. If the gutters are old and there is rust, then the rust needs to be removed by either sanding with emery cloth (sandpaper for metal), a drill motor with a wire wheel or a steel brush. Thoroughly clean the rusted areas and prime with a good outdoor primer. Allow the primer to completely dry, and then cover with weather resistant paint.

Move next to the downspouts. Replace any loose or missing rivets. Loose rivets should be drilled out and replaced. If you need a rivet gun, then you can buy one for less than $20 at most hardware stores. Check to see if the downspouts are still firmly attached to the exterior wall and tighten as needed.

Downspouts will usually empty onto a splash block. Splash blocks should be large enough and high enough to move the water away from the foundation of the house. Inspect the splash blocks to make certain they are not cracked or broken. Splash blocks will protect your house from water damage around the foundation, basement and crawl space.

Last Updated: January 19, 2012
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About Bill Washburn William "Bill" Washburn has a BA in advertising from the Art Center College of Design and has taught at the University of Southern California and Northrup University. Writing from a well-connected studio in the rural foothills of the west coast, he is a frequent speaker at local art associations and has published numerous articles discussing periods of art history and the fundamentals of drawing and painting. William is a master gardener who grows his own culinary herbs, organic heirloom vegetables and a variety of fruits. He writes frequently about his gardening experiences on his website Pioneer Dad. He is an accomplished advertising writer, fine art painter, and art director with more than 20 years' experience. 

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