You've probably seen a few homes with small trees and ferns growing in gutters because the homeowner hasn't cleaned the gutters in the last several years. Over the course of time, an organic muck builds up and creates a wonderful medium for growing all kinds of stuff.
Cleaning your gutters is one of those icky chores that needs to be done twice every year to ensure that rain water is diverted away from your house. Ignoring gutters can result in a host of ills including rotted fascia boards, water damage to the sides of your home, and foundation problems.
To cut down a bit on the amount of debris that gets trapped in your gutters, make sure that trees and tall shrubs are not touching or arching over the house. You'll have less to clean up, and in damper climates, can cut down on moss on the roof, too.
Gutters need to be cleaned at least twice a year if you live in an area with a lot of trees, particularly if they're close to your home. Unfortunately, there is no painless way to clean gutters.
A ladder, preferably an articulating type can be set up so it doesn't rest directly on the gutters. It prevents dents or damage to the gutter. If you don't have one, it's not a show stopper, just be forewarned that it could cause damage. There are attachments available for use with extension ladders.
You'll need gloves, a bucket or plastic bags, and a hose. Gutters are fraught with sharp edges and are no place for unprotected hands. Rubber gloves are flexible and protect you from most things that can poke or slice you. Keep a bucket with you instead of tossing the muck over the side of the gutter to the ground below. It helps keep the periphery of the house tidy. Rather than climb up and down with a bucket, hang a small bucket from the gutter and slide it along until it's 2/3 full. (Make a "gutter bucket" by cutting the bail of a plastic bucket in half. Bend the cut ends so they can be hooked on either side of the gutter edges.) Secure and hook the hose to the gutter so it slides along the gutter, too. The fewer things you carry up and down, the faster the process goes. Keep in mind that gutters are not designed to take any appreciable weight, so don't let your bucket get too full.
Use your hands or a scoop to clean out the muck and leaves in the bottom of the gutter. Inexpensive scoops are sold at home improvement centers or you can easily make your own by cutting the end out of a 1/2 gallon plastic milk jug. Hold the handle to scoop and dump into your bucket. When full, toss the muck in the compost.
Once the gutter is reasonably clean, use the hose to flush out the last of the debris. Look for leaks or holes that need repair and note their location.
To keep your hands free, a tool belt with a hammer, screwdriver, and extra nails is useful for quickly replacing loose or missing fasteners.
As you clean the gutters and hose them out, the downspouts should run freely. If you have blockage in the downspout itself, try dislodging it by running a hose down the spout. The water pressure shouldn't be too strong—you don't want to blow it up. If it's still tight, use a plumbing snake to clear it.
If there are angled joints, you may need to remove the downspout from the gutter to clear it. If you break a seal, clean the old caulk off with a wire brush and then apply silicone caulk to reseal. Reattach the clean, sealed downspout.
Install downspout strainers to trap debris so you can clean it easily and prevent knots of debris from blocking them.
Once your gutters are clean and dry, it's easy to check for leaks or damage. If you consistently clean your gutters in spring and fall, repairs are usually minor and require little more than a hammer, screwdriver, extra fasteners and nails, and a silicone caulk for sealing seams.
If pieces are worn or damaged, replace them as necessary.
Seams between pieces of downspout or where the gutters corner are susceptible to leakage so pay close attention. Leaks left unattended for a couple years can result in rotted fascia, which requires complete removal and replacement ... a project that can suck up the better part of a weekend.
Roofing cement is commonly used in the gutter itself to heal small leaks or holes. Use a putty knife to patch the hole taking care to keep the repair flat. For more substantial damage, repair the whole section with new gutter.
The answer for the most part is probably not. For the cost, which can be quite high, gutter covers seem like they should work. The truth with most is that while they work fine with large leaves, they often don't handle the tiny stuff well. Granules from the composite roof and seeds for instance, build up in the gutters so eventually you have to clean them out anyway, but you have to take off the gutter cover to do that. A few look promising, but when the cost is factored in hiring someone to do a semi-annual gutter cleaning doesn't seem like a bad idea.
If you want to install gutter covers, make sure they are easy to remove for cleaning.
Need new gutters? A professional gutter installation or repair contractor can help. Check ContractorNexus for a qualified installer in your area.