By Mike McClintock
Special to Tribune Newspapers
October 13, 2012
Gutters are crucial in wet climates to move deluges that would fall along the foundation and foster leaks. But they're also on the eaves in dry climates — often to collect water instead of carry it away.
Wet or dry, gutters develop problems, or come with them from the start. Seamless systems have eliminated one source of trouble — leaking joints. Formed on-site from a roll of sheet metal, the only caulked connections are at the ends where caps and downspouts are installed. Here are a few of the other problem areas — and how to fix them.
Two-story drains: One option is to treat two roofs covering different stories individually, each with gutters and leaders, the upper story version being twice as long. But to save time and material, second-story water is often dumped on the roof below. You might not like the look of it, but a downspout from second-story gutters should connect to a sloping leader on the roof that carries the flow to a gutter at the first-floor eaves. Shingles are designed to shed rain, not a concentrated torrent from a downspout. Another pitfall is making all gutters the same size. It makes fabrication and installation easier, but if the top roof needs 5-inch troughs, larger gutters probably are needed for the lower roof that's draining itself plus the second story. If not, heavy rains often produce a first-floor waterfall.
Slope: Having trouble when gutters are clear? It's probably the slope, or lack of. It might look wrong against a level facia on the eaves, but troughs should slope toward outlets about one inch per 10 linear feet. If that looks like an error on a long run, split the slope in half. Make the center the high point and create two slopes to outlets at each end.
Offset fittings: When gutter troughs are clear but the system is sluggish, the problem is usually the offset fitting. That's the S-shaped piece under the gutter outlet that connects to the downspout against the house. They ought to have a clean-out plug like a plumbing trap under the sink because clearing offset clogs is a pain. Inserting a flexible snake at the gutter outlet might work. More often you need to remove a few screws holding the pieces together and reassemble after cleaning.
Gutter protectors: To prevent S-fitting clogs and the job of cleaning mucky leaves every fall, consider a gutter cover. There are many brands, including Gutter Helmut, Rhino and Leafguard, all moving water into the trough but not leaves and other debris. I tried Smart Screen, a perforated aluminum panel that installs easily on a standard 5-inch trough. Supplied screws fasten the front edge to the trough and the back edge to the facia board. You don't have to disrupt shingles. The 6-foot lengths come with cut-out guides at each end to create smooth overlaps. So far, leaf problems have disappeared, and only a few pine needles slip through — not enough to cause problems. We'll see about snow and ice in a few months — and what happens in a sunny stretch when 13 inches of snow melts to one inch of water.
Releasing water over large areas, such as 60-by-40 feet, an inch of rain shoots 1,500 gallons out the downspout. That's about the worst spot, right next to the foundation, where it erodes masonry, creates gullies and causes leaks. However you do it, with underground drains or downspout extensions, the final piece of the gutter puzzle should release water where it can't flow back against the building.