Keeping your gutters clean and well maintained is often overlooked as an important household task. As the guttering is hidden away at the top of your house, it’s easy to forget about them completely. However, blocked, poorly maintained gutters can cause you many more problems in the longer term, including flooding and damp – so it’s well worth taking care of your guttering from time to time.
Why is cleaning your gutters important?
Over time, fallen leaves, debris, and moss growth can cause your gutters to become completely blocked. This can lead to some serious issues with your property, as blocked gutters will not effectively guide water away from your home. Instead, the water will sit in the blocked gutters and overflow towards the home.
If rainwater manages to get in to your property through your roof, it will cause damage to walls, fascia, paint and woodwork. This can also cause brickwork to erode and woodwork to rot. Water in your home can lead to condensation, damp and mould growth, and this can even lead to health issues. However, you can avoid all of this through simple cleaning and maintenance of your gutters.
Clearing a blocked gutter is a simple process; though as it involves working at a height, it does present some risks. You must use safe and secure access equipment, follow safe working practices, and only carry out the work if you are capable of completing work at a height. If you are not sure that this is for you, you can always call in a professional.
Gaining access to clean your gutter
In order to clean your gutter, you will first need to be able to reach it. You can use a range of access equipment to gain access to your gutter; a scaffold tower or a powered access platform will provide the safest and most secure means of access to your gutter. You can also use a ladder to climb up to the height of your gutter, though there are more risks associated with the use of ladders – so it is important to take extra care, and always have someone else around, supporting you as you work.
Working at a height: safety advice for cleaning your gutters
As working at a height presents risks, here are a few safety points to consider when using a ladder to gain access to clean your gutters:
Use the correct piece of access equipment for the job. The tower or ladder must allow you to reach your gutters comfortably, without having to over-reach. You must ensure that the equipment is in proper working order, and that you are comfortable and confident enough to use it.
Wear appropriate footwear, such as trainers or boots with a gripped sole.
Don’t carry tools in your hands as you ascend the ladder or tower. Your hands must be free to allow you to climb the equipment safely. You can carry tools in a bag which you could quickly throw to the ground if you needed to (e.g. if you started to wobble on the ladder), or you can use a tool belt. If you are using a tower, you can assemble a rope or pulley system to pull the tools up to the top of the tower, once you are already safely on to the platform.
When using a ladder, you must not stand on the top rung of the ladder. Four steps from the top is the maximum safe limit.
Don’t lean too far to the side or attempt to over-reach whilst working at a height. If you need to reach further, you should get down and move the access equipment along the ground each time.
Keep the access equipment on a flat and firm surface.
Always have someone ‘footing’ the ladder for you, and observing you whilst you work at a height.
More health and safety information, regarding working at a height, is available on the Health & Safety Executive website.
How to clean a blocked gutter
Once you have gained safe access to clean your gutter, you can use a small trowel or a piece of wood to scrape any leaves, dirt and debris out of the gutter. Work away from the down pipe, to prevent debris being pushed down into it and causing blockages further along the system. Once you have scraped the debris out from the gutter, you can check that the gutter is flowing well - with no leaks or further blockages - by pouring a bucket of water into the gutter, and getting someone to check if the water is flowing properly into the drain on the ground.
Remember, if you can’t easily or safely reach your gutters, or you are unsure of what you are doing, call in some professional help!
How to clear a blocked downpipe
If the test bucket of water doesn’t seem to be flowing properly into the drain, but your gutter is clear, then there could be a blockage in the downpipe.
Before you begin, you should cover the drain at the bottom of the downpipe, as this will prevent any debris you dislodge from going down the drain and causing another blockage further in the drain.
You can use drain cleaning rods to shift and remove debris from a blocked downpipe. Start at the top of the pipe and push the rods down through the pipe. The cleaning tool at the end of the drain rods will dislodge and breakup any debris as the drain rods are pushed down the pipe.
For particularly stubborn blockages, that you can’t seem to dislodge, you can try tapping along the length of the downpipe and listening out for a change in the sound, to a more solid sound. This should give you an idea of where the blockage is in the downpipe.
Once you have located the blockage in the downpipe, you can remove the blocked downpipe section to remove the blockage from within that section. Simply remove the two screws on the lowest pipe clip which holds the blocked pipe section in to place against the property, and carefully remove the section of pipe. You can use a length of wire or a stick to remove the blockage. Once the pipe section has been cleared, you simply put the pipe section back and screw the clip back into the wall.
How to prevent future gutter blockages
You can use tight-fitting wire mesh or plastic caps, which are available to fit most types of downpipe to your gutters, to prevent future gutter blockages. These devices allow water through the gutter and into the downpipe, but trap leaves and dirt. Though, these will still need cleaning occasionally – but the job will be much easier!
If your gutter leads into a ‘hopper’ at the top of the downpipe, this can be covered with mesh or a purpose-built protector to prevent a build-up of leaves and other debris from gaining entry into the downpipe.
Also, it is advisable to cut back any over-hanging trees near the roof of your house, as the autumn leaf-fall will cause problems every year.