Sometimes we put jobs off because they seem difficult and dangerous. Gutter cleaning and maintenance is probably at the top of the procrastination list but gutters should be cleaned twice a year if possible. The spring cleaning, after the seeds and helicopters come down, is the most important. Many seeds float and quickly make their way to the downspout where it will become clogged in no time. In the fall the weather can change fast and the cold and wet is miserable and dangerous for ladder climbing. I have been in the gutter repair and maintenance business for more than five years and I can tell you late spring cleaning is critical to yearly gutter maintenance. We’ll look at few simple tools and methods that will make the job a little less scary and a little easier to do.
The biggest tool of course is the ladder. I have found an extension ladder is the best type for gutter cleaning because you can get above the gutter and look down into it. Don’t worry about scratching the gutter. The coatings they use on gutters are very tough and very few people are going to openly criticize you about a couple of mars on your gutters. Safety is your main concern and you don’t want to reach blindly back and over the edge of the gutter. Going up on roof should be avoided too: the pitch of the roof is very difficult to work on and worse if you are leaning over the edge. The shingles are easy to break off and your boots will gouge away the tiny stones decreasing the life of the roof. You will also need flat wedge large enough to rest one foot of the ladder so it will be level; a heavy pair of rubber work gloves and a belt hook to carry a small garden hoe. The local hardware will carry many of these items but go to the Yellow Pages and find a ladder and scaffolding supply store. You’ll be pleased to find many products the big box stores can’t carry. And remember to wear over-the-ankle lace-up boots.
An extension ladder that extends to 14 feet is good for a single story and at least 24 feet for a two story home. The ladders will have instructions on the side which must be followed closely. The small garden hoe should not be more than three inches across and the handle not more than two feet long. This will be easy to carry in a belt hook or other tool belt. The heavy rubber gloves are needed to avoid being cut by numerous sharp screws and edges inside the gutter. The gloves will also keep your hands clean and dry (a real blessing in the cold!).
Start at the end of the gutter opposite the downspout. Work your way along reaching out with the hoe but always keep your shoulders within the vertical rails of the ladder. You should be able to reach three to four feet of gutter from each side at a time safely. Be very careful when cleaning over the downspout. Don’t drag the hoe across the opening, instead use your fingers to gently reach under the leaves and seeds and push them over and remove. I don’t bother with a hose. Hoses are dangerous and difficult to handle on a ladder and only make things slippery. The hose will also wash too much solid material into the upper elbows at one time clogging them. Just leave the small bits that don’t come out by hand for the rain to gently wash away. Remember your gutters are not a surgical operating room. I would never use a leaf blower because these will just force leaves and seeds into the downspout and being on the roof waving a heavy piece of equipment around just sounds like a disaster!
The best thing about using an extension ladder is being able to look down into the downspout. Thump on it a few times and you’ll know if it is plugged. Of all the gutters and downspouts I’ve seen these upper elbows are the worst places for plugs. If the elbows are riveted together (a rivet looks like a small flat disc with a small hole in the center) you’ll have to drill it out with a 1/8 drill bit using a cordless drill/driver. The downspouts may also be screwed together with self drilling screws that have ¼ inch hex heads. The elbows may have several rivets or screws and are sometimes hard to pull apart. In come cases you will have to take the entire downspout down by removing the straps. The elbows and straps can be re-assembled with the self-drilling screws (color matched screws are available at gutter and siding supply houses).
So now you are ready to keep your gutters clean and flowing freely. If you have not spent a lot of time on ladders, start out by leaning the ladder against your house or garage and practicing a little; get the feel of being on a ladder; ladders are flexible and will bounce a little. Start with the easy to reach gutters around the garage and 1st story; then work your way up to the higher levels. Use the flat wedge to shim up the ladder if it is not perpendicular to the ground. Again, follow the directions that come with the ladder.