Ah, autumn. ’Tis the season for pumpkin shakes, cozy sweaters, the first fire of the season, and — oh, yeah — raking leaves and cleaning out your gutters.

No one likes climbing on the roof to clean out the leaves and debris from the gutters, but a neglected gutter system can cause considerable damage with a clogged and leaking drainage system. A gutter system is one part of a home that is often taken for granted. Many people never think about it until it is not working properly.


While we all know seasonally cleaning out the gutters will help keep them running smoothly, there does come a time to replace the system if you have serious damage or major leaks or if you want to upgrade your exterior curb appeal.


The rain gutter is a trough attached to the edge of the roof designed to catch rain water and channel it away from the house through downspouts and French drains. Leaking or clogged gutters can cause serious water damage to a home.

If you don’t have rain gutters or they aren’t working properly, storm-water runoff can damage the roof, siding, fascia and soffits as it runs over the exterior surfaces of your home. Replacing these elements is much more fun when it is voluntary or in conjunction with an exciting remodeling project and not in response to deterioration brought on by ever-deferred maintenance issues.

Cleaning gutters should be done twice every year, in the spring and fall. It generally requires being on a ladder, so if you are not comfortable with that you should hire someone to do the job. There are attachments to your hose that are meant to clean gutters out while you are standing on the ground, but to do a really good job, you need to see what you are doing. There are several good videos on the Internet that show how to properly clean your gutters and downspouts, as well as how to install leaf screens to keep out the bigger pieces of debris.

In addition to preserving the exterior materials, controlling water also means making sure it is directed away from your home at the ground level. There should never be water running or ponding directly next to the foundation of your home. Hydrostatic pressure can build up in the soil and push against foundation walls, causing concrete cracks and leaky basements. Whether it is by continuing the downspout horizontally to deposit the water away from the foundation, or by properly grading your lot to assure that there is a positive slope away from the house, water must be intentionally channeled away to avoid damage to your home.

While we all know seasonally cleaning out the gutters will help keep them running smoothly, there does come a time to replace the system if you have serious damage or major leaks or if you want to upgrade your exterior curb appeal.

The most common material for gutters and downspouts is aluminum; others include vinyl, copper and cast iron. Gutter sections have to be mechanically joined together and have the seams caulked to prevent leaking. As a solution to the problem of leaking joints, roofers dreamed of creating gutter sections long enough to run the entire length of a roof section without any seams. This was made possible by the invention of a portable machine that can bend metal into a continuous run of gutter to any desired length.

The most common material used for seamless gutters is aluminum, but copper can also be formed on site. Aluminum gutters can be fabricated in a wide range of colors to match or contrast with the color scheme of your house.

Gutters and downspouts are often replaced when a home is re-shingled, but these jobs can be separated. As with any aspect of remodeling, it is important to have a master plan. Every project you do should move you toward completion of your master plan. With a clear vision of what you want your home to become, projects can be scheduled in a sequence that makes the most construction sense.

Unless it is an absolute emergency, you don’t want to replace your roof or gutters if you know you are building an addition next year. Thus, the practice of properly maintaining your home gives you control over scheduling your work. Hopefully, you will not be forced to address an emergency and end up spending more money than necessary by having to repeat projects when the time for your renovation finally comes.

Home remodeling is a delicate balance between project priority, home maintenance and family lifestyle. Thoughtfully planning your projects and upkeep with a master plan will help get you one step closer to your dream house. Even if you plan to move, it is important to keep where you are living in good working order and up to date to maintain the value when it comes time to sell.

Something as simple as replacing the gutters may be a step toward making sure your house functions well. Remember, the best solution for gutter leaks is prevention. Then you can think of updating your siding and soffits when you want to, not when water damage forces you to.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to as*@Re*******************.com

Exterior remodels continued: Gutters