When you think about the many features of your home, the gutters probably aren't among the first items that spring to mind -- but perhaps they should be. These devices perform a critical protective function by diverting water off of your roof and away from your residence. That's why you need to watch out for the presence of these three potential threats to your gutters' performance.
Water can be a powerful force, but it can't move through everything. Leaves, twigs, dirt and other debris in your gutters can build up to form a sort of dam, blocking the passage of water. When this happens, the gutter may fill up until water washes back onto the roof, where it can erode the shingles and destroy the underlying structures that make a roof strong and water resistant. If you want your roof -- and the home it protects -- to last, you need to deal with your gutter debris problems as soon as possible.
Preventative care and maintenance can go a long way toward keeping your gutters clear of debris. Periodic gutter cleaning can prevent organic matter and other potential obstacles from accumulating. The addition of gutters can also help, especially "helmet" covers that extend over the edge of the roof.
2. Ice Dams
Just as debris can clog up the channel that conveys liquid water through your gutter, water itself can block traffic if it turns to ice within that space. Welcome to the troubling world of ice dams. An ice dam occurs when frozen water on your roof starts to melt, then freezes again before it can completely clear the edge of the roof. The result is mass of ice that may fill the gutter and/or create pointed, potentially dangerous icicles hanging off of the structures. Not only do ice dams prevent your gutters from doing their job, but the sheer weight of the accumulated ice [c]an deform the gutters and pull them away from the roof, necessitating costly repairs.
The smartest way to combat ice dam formation is to prevent that ice on the roof from melting unevenly. To achieve a more uniformly cold roof in the winter, you may have to:
- Plug any tiny gaps or holes that are allowing warm air from the interior rooms to waft up into the attic
- Check the roof itself for holes in the chimney flashing or other areas that might allow heat loss
- Add extra insulation in the attic and roof
- Make sure any warm air is being ventilated out through roof and soffit vents instead of radiating through the roof itself
If you've allowed plant matter and other organic debris to pile up in your gutters, trapping moisture in the process, then you've created the perfect "room and board" situation for many kinds of pests, including some that can do substantial damage to your roof. Carpenter ants, for instance, make their homes in damp, decaying wood -- such as the tiny twigs that so frequently collect in gutters. From there, it's all too easy for them to migrate to your roof and start burrowing into the wooden parts of your home. Termites are even more notorious for home destruction because actually consume the wood they destroy for food, potentially causing devastating home damage. Larger pests such as rodents can chew their way through wood, electrical wiring and other components -- and they can use your gutters as a convenient passageway to your home.
If you see these little invaders crawling around in your gutters, of course you need to wash the gutters out immediately (and then keep them clean going forward). But even a vigorous gutter cleaning may not put an end to this problem, especially if you're not sure whether the roof and other structures have been infiltrated. Check for "symptoms" such as channels carved into wood, fecal pellets in the attic and damage to attic wiring. (Don't hesitate to call an exterminator if you need one.) Attach screens to your gutter and downspouts to keep larger pests out.
Take care of your gutters, and your gutters will take care of your home. Ask your local home contractor or a company like Mr. Gutter about gutter cleaning, maintenance and accessories that can help you control repair costs and enjoy a safer, stronger residence.