Gutters are integral to protecting the foundation and outer walls of a building from water damage and damp. Despite their importance, blocked gutters are seen as an inconvenience and are commonly ignored, even with water pouring out! Homeowners face several problems that can result in blocked drainage and working out the right fix for all of them can be difficult.
In this article, we reveal the main reason why gutters block and how to clean gutters. We will also give you some precautionary measures to keep your gutters clean and safe from blocking in the first place! This guide applies to all types of guttering including plastic guttering. Consider reading through each section to avoid missing out on important information.
If you are looking for an answer to a specific question, please click on any of the summary points below. This will direct you to the preferred part of the article.
- Why Gutters Block?
- How to spot a blocked gutter or drainpipe?
- How to clean gutters?
- How often to clean gutters?
- How to clear a blocked gutter downpipe?
- How to keep Gutters unblocked?
- How to prevent weeds from growing in gutters?
- How to prevent leaves from blocking my gutters?
- Do leaf guards work?
Why do Gutters Block?
There are two main reasons that you will get a blocked gutter: from moss and dirt or larger garden debris like leaves and sticks.
Moss and dirt
Gutters are mainly blocked due to getting clogged up by dirt and moss washed down from the roof. Water and moisture collecting in the underlying edges of tiles create the perfect breeding ground for moss. Spores washed down by the rain will collect in your guttering. Supplied with a steady flow of water these spores will germinate and grow. In damp conditions, the clumps of moss will swell up like a sponge weighing down and blocking gutters.
Leaves and sticks
The secondary cause of blocking is debris from nearby trees collecting in the guttering. A thick barrier of organic waste will form, blocking off drainage for rainwater. Excess water will spill over the outside edge of the gutters and splash on facia boards. Gutters blocked by leaves and sticks can also get very heavy. This can cause a serious strain on Plastic guttering that is prone to cracking and sagging under heavy weights. Using a stronger type of guttering like aluminium guttering will ensure heavier loading but that won’t solve any overflowing.
How to spot a blocked gutter or drainpipe?
There are three ways to spot a blocked gutter (without getting a ladder out!) which are gutters sagging, weeds growing up and the gutter joints or ends leaking.
When debris keeps collecting in Plastic gutters the weight causes them to sag or flex. This can be seen by the whole gutter lengths starting to pull away from the facia board or curve in between fixings. To resolve this problem, the whole rainwater drainage system will need a good clean. Once cleaned, you will need to inspect the gutter brackets and fixings for damage. Some might have snapped or backed out of the facia board giving full gutter lengths next to no support. Also, consider the spacing of the fixings. Incorrectly installed gutter brackets spaced out too much won’t be able to support the guttering. It is also worth considering replacing your gutters with metal guttering as it is more robust and will last longer.
Weeds growing up
Should you spot weeds growing in your gutters, it is time to act. By now, the leaves and moss in the gutters had a chance to decompose and turned into heavy compost. Kept moist by a constant water supply, blown-in seeds found the perfect conditions to germinate and thrive. The compost and roots create a dense barrier for rainwater and puddles will form. All this additional weight will cause serious damage to the fixings, guttering, and facia boards.
Joints or ends leaking
The best way to investigate if joints and end stops are watertight is whilst the whole system is in use. Walk around the house when it is raining and check for drips at each seal. At times, leaking seals can even be spotted after a heavy downpour. Pools of water might collect on the ground underneath the joints or wet patches are visible on the house wall right next to them. The water escaping through joints of a blocked gutter will seep through the house walls and foundation. Over time, this constant dampness can cause serious damage to the structural integrity of the building.
Did you know? Blocked gutters can cause serious long-term issues with your house if not fixed! Common issues caused by clocked gutters include damp, mould inside and a damaged roof structure.
How to clean gutters?
Gutter cleaning is often advertised as an easy DIY job for homeowners, but the risks must not be underestimated. Heavy manual labour many meters up a steep ladder isn’t for everyone. Listed below are a few important points to consider, before deciding if cleaning gutters is the right job for you.
First of all, use a ladder long enough to easily reach up to the roof extending beyond the guttering. Hold on to the extra steps with one hand whilst cleaning with the other. Always position a ladder on a flat, dry, and firm surface. Remember to have your ladder at a safe angle when cleaning gutters. As a rule of thumb, a ladder should be at 75 degrees or a 1-in-4 ratio. The 1 in 4 rule means that for every 4 metres you go up the base of the ladder should be another metre out from the wall, this same ratio still works if you have a small height wall.
- Bucket and trowel
Blocked guttering can collect a lot of waste. Consider how to manoeuvre the heavy load down the ladder. Choose a reasonably sized bucket that’s easy enough to handle and make sure to use a hook to fix it to your ladder. A plastic trowel will work best to clear out blocked gutters. It will reduce the risk of damage especially if you have plastic guttering and avoids scratching long-life aluminium guttering.
- Hose or pressure washer
Make sure not to skip washing out any leftover dirt at the end. Using a pressure washer or hose will clear away thin layers of compost and seeds. Moss spores that might stick to the inner walls of your guttering can only be removed this way. Taking this extra bit of care should keep your gutters clean for longer, as well as make the next maintenance less intense. On some gutter types, it is best to only use a low or medium washing power to avoid blasting the guttering.
- If in doubt get a professional gutter cleaner to do it for you
Should you not feel confident to undertake your gutter cleaning, get a local, qualified gutter cleaner to do the job for you. Look for someone who offers repairs to broken gutter brackets and deteriorating facia boards alongside general gutter cleaning.
How much to clean gutters?
Gutters should be cleaned at least once a year. We recommend considering the surroundings of your home and assessing if certain areas need special attention. Gutters next to trees should be cleaned once every season, maybe even twice in autumn.
Roofing prone to moss growth should be maintained as well as the gutters to keep your drainage clear for longer. Having a gutter cleaning plan can help to stay on top of all these issues.
How to clear a blocked gutter downpipe?
Drain pipes are often forgotten and won’t get cleaned as consistently as gutters. Leaves or dead clumps of moss will collect at the outlet resulting in very slow drainage. Water will build up within the pipe, putting a big strain on any seals and joints.
Blocked drain pipes can be very dangerous in winter. If you have a plastic gutter downpipe, cold conditions will freeze the water within causing the plastic to crack and brittle fixings to snap.
To avoid a blocked drain pipe causing serious damage to the whole guttering system, include it in your regular gutter cleaning. One way to clear out any debris is to unscrew the clips and remove the drain pipe. Use a jet wash to ensure a thorough clean before re-installing. If the drain pipe can’t be removed then use a stiff wire to clean inside. Move it back and forward to drain any water in the pipe and finish off using the jet wash to blast out built-up dirt.
Be careful with this approach, the extra pressure might blow off and snap fixings. If in doubt, consider hiring a professional gutter cleaner to take care of any major blocks.
Stopping Gutters Blocking
How to keep Gutters unblocked?
So far, we discussed how to spot and clean blocked gutters. Now that all issues are resolved, the maintenance checklist below includes tips to upkeep this standard.
- Install your guttering with the correct slope to ensure proper rainwater drainage and clearance of sludge. This will help reduce the risk of sagging and keep your gutter flowing!
- Plan regular maintenance during your big garden tidy day. Even just an occasional washout with the garden hose can decrease the risk of blocked gutters.
- Use a local gutter cleaner if you are not confident to do the job yourself. If you are facing problems with blocked guttering, have them cleaned and maintained by a professional, to begin with. Once all issues are resolved it will be easier to stay on top of your gutter cleaning without any help.
- Prevent moss growing on the roof to significantly reduce moss spores germinating in your guttering.
- Install strong aluminium gutters than can be cleaned without risk of damage or brittleness with age.
Furthermore, consider the following steps to prevent leaves or growing weeds in your gutters in the first place.
How to prevent weeds from growing in gutters?
If weeds growing in your gutters is a reoccurring issue, the amount of maintenance and cleaning sessions needs to be increased. Even just an occasional clear-out with a pressure washer can make a massive difference. The idea is to make it difficult for debris to sit in your gutters long enough to turn into a build-up of sludge or blockage.
Also, check your downpipe regularly to ensure it is draining well and not blocked. Blocked downpipes will stop water draining and also can easily clog right back up to the gutter!
How do I prevent leaves from blocking my gutters?
Even regular cleaning might not suffice to keep gutters clean from leaves and sticks. Extra care must be taken if your gutters are close to surrounding trees. Trim back any trees or hedges that are close to your house and overhanging branches should be trimmed back. Try to plan short but regular gutter cleaning sessions in Autumn, even if it's just a quick clear-out with a leave blower, to remove the main bulk of leaves.
Installing a leaf guard can help but be careful not to use a heavy one that might weigh down your guttering if plastic.
Do leaf guards work?
Yes and no! Leaf guards can help keep gutters clear for longer. However, they can sometimes just make the problem worse! Leaf guards are designed as a handy add-on to prevent your rainwater system from blocking up by stopping leaves from gathering on top and maintaining a flow of water down the gutter, below the guard. However, there are some disadvantages to leaf guards
Disadvantages of leaf guards:
- They don’t stop dirt, sludge and moss build-up which is the main cause of blocked gutter
- It is often cheaper to maintain a regular gutter cleaning schedule
- The appearance isn’t always that pleasing and can make your house look uglier.
- They can sometimes just deflect any moss/leaves coming down the roof onto the path or driveway below, which becomes another mess problem to deal with
- Depending on the design, they can be awkward to remove and clean for maintenance
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