Gutters are an integral piece of your home’s well being. They serve to control the flow of rainwater to protect your roof, walls, foundation and landscape.
But when neglected, experts say gutters can turn from a necessity to a nightmare. A gutter clogged with leaves, sticks and other debris can cause a leaky roof or water damage to the interior or exterior of your home. Contractors say gunked-up gutters also make nice homes for pests, rodents, mold and honeycombs from bee infestations.
“If you let gutter cleaning go by the wayside, it can cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars,” says Jeff Lambert, a supervisor with The Gutter Man in Houston.
“Gutters are a potential bomb above your head full of insects and critters, if you let them stay out of sight, out of mind,” Lambert added.
It depends largely on where you live and, most importantly, how many trees are in your yard. Bob Vecchio, owner of The House Doctors in Cleveland, recommends having gutters maintained in the spring and fall.
“I recommend people calling me in the fall when all of their leaves are down or almost down, Vecchio says. “In the springtime, maple trees get those little helicopters that go everywhere, including into your gutter.”
Vecchio says it’s important to have a professional clean the downspouts as well because a clogged downspout “makes it hard for the rain to go down and that causes them to back up and overflow the gutter, which can cause damage to your home.”
You can judge how often to clean your gutters based on how often leaves in your area fall and the types of leaves, Lambert says.
“It should be on everyone’s to-do list about every four months, depending on the tree climate,” he says. “In a high-yield environment, leaves fall all year-round. You can’t wait until the last leaf falls.”
Leaf guards significantly decrease the need for gutter maintenance, but they don’t eliminate the need completely, Lambert says.
Instead of every four to six months, you may only need to maintenance gutters with covers or screens every one to three years. The frequency of maintenance will depend on the quality of the cover and the type and quantity of trees in the yard, he says.
Even if you do have gutter covers, it’s still a good idea to do a visual check each year, says Vince Curcio, owner of The Bizzzy Bee in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Vecchio says a guard will not keep all the debris out, adding: “Up to 15 to 20 percent can still get in, and you still have to remove the guard. Sometimes you need a professional to do so.”
It’s important to purchase quality covers and screens if you want to effectively limit the need for gutter maintenance, says Gerry Murray, owner of Gutter Covers of Indiana in Indianapolis.
“You need to look for one that’s strong enough to hold up and suits your type of trees,” he says.
A gutter cover costs on average between $1,500 to $2,500 depending on the size of the home and length of gutters, Murray says.
Although cleaning gutters is a task most homeowners can do themselves, it can be dangerous work. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, falls from ladders sent more than 240,000 Americans to hospital emergency rooms in 2009 (the most recent year available).
Before climbing a ladder, be sure it’s sturdy and all the steps are in good condition. Climb the first two steps to determine if the ground is level. For soft soil, place plywood under the legs of the ladder. You should also make sure not to rest the ladder on the gutters themselves because the additional weight can cause them to collapse.
“I had a customer once that smashed both hips from falling off a ladder and received permanent injuries from it,” Curcio says. “That’s one of the biggest things; safety. The second thing is a professional knows what they’re looking at and can stop the problem before it gets worse. Gutter prevention is measured in pennies, and repairs are measured in dollars.”
During a cleaning, a professional should remove of all debris from the roof, gutters and downspouts, while checking and repairing any loose gutter spikes. The cost of gutter cleaning ranges from $75 to $225 for an average home, depending on the length of gutters, height of the home and scope of work. Most companies charge a flat fee per foot of gutter, but the cost can go up depending on the complexity of the work.
For example, The Gutter Man charges 85 cents per foot of gutter but will charge more for labor-intensive jobs, Lambert says.
Before hiring someone to clean your gutters, check that they carry liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance for any employees they bring to the job.
This article was originally published at Angie’s List.