It’s that time of the year. Trees have shed their leaves onto your roof and into your rain gutters. Now it’s time to get out the ladder. 

Gutters help to protect a building’s most important feature, its foundation, and according to Dr. John Buchanan, associate professor of biosystems engineering with University of Tennessee Extension, when stormwater is allowed to pond around the sides of a building, the soil becomes saturated and is less able to provide support to your home. "As the soil weakens, the building settles – causing cracks to form in walls and in the foundation. As the structure moves, windows and doors can become difficult to open and close. Additionally, clogged gutters can lead to wet basements and moldy crawlspaces," said Buchanan. 

Although cleaning your gutters is necessary to protect your house, you must also protect yourself. Falling while cleaning the gutters is a very common reason for emergency room visits. "If you do feel secure on a ladder or are uncomfortable with heights, then hire a handyman service to complete this task for you," recommends Buchanan. 

For the do-it-yourselfer, Buchanan recommends these important guidelines for a safe and productive gutter-cleaning experience: 

*It is generally recommended to clean the gutters from a ladder rather than getting on to the roof. This process requires the ladder to be moved as you work your way along the gutter. If the ground around your house is not level then use a ladder that has one adjustable leg. Do not use bricks or blocks to support a ladder on uneven ground. Your ladder should be long enough to extend above the gutters so that you can support yourself as you work. When working with aluminum gutters, make sure to place the ladder near the gutter nails to prevent the gutter from crushing inward under the weight of the ladder. 

*Once clogged, the gutters will likely be filled with wet, moldy leaves. Simply scooping out this wet mixture and dumping it on the ground can create quite a mess. Plan ahead and attach a bucket or garbage bag to the ladder to collect the wet leaves. 

*A pair of heavy-duty gloves is a must. Most gutters are made from thin sheet aluminum. During installation, sharp and jagged edges are often created in the corners and at the attachment for the downspouts. Gloves also help to protect your hands from unexpected critters that may have taken up residence in your gutters. Stinging insects and biting rodents are common occupants. 

*If you have asphalt shingles and you find large quantities of sand in the gutter, you may need to have your roof evaluated. The loss of sand from the shingles can indicate that they are near the end of their functional life. Also, look for any wood rot where the gutters are attached to the facial board. 

*Expanded-metal screens can be placed over gutters to block leaves and other debris. While screens will reduce the frequency of gutter cleaning, they do not make for maintenance-free gutters. Leaves often become attached to the screen material and can prevent water from entering the gutter. And when the gutters do become clogged, the screens have to be removed before the gutter can be cleaned. 

*After removing the leaves and other debris, use a garden hose to flush out the gutters and downspouts. The downspouts should direct stormwater away from the house and where the water can infiltrate into the soil. Splash boxes are commonly used to prevent soil erosion at the discharge of the downspout. Downspouts must not be allowed to discharge into septic systems or to a sanitary sewer. This extra water will overflow the wastewater system. 

Buchanan warns homeowners that water is not always your friend. "Your roof keeps rain out of your house, but that water has to go somewhere. Your gutters are designed to move the roof water away from the foundation and from walls. As the seasons change, leaves, seeds, and other debris will be held in the rain gutters and cause them to clog," he said. "Cleaning the gutters is an important task and is part of the joy of homeownership." 


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