Anticipate Roof Drainage Problems

Rain pouring on gutterCreating a proactive roof drainage plan is one of the best ways to keep properties in good working order and to avoid costly repairs such as water intrusion, dry rot, premature rusting, foundation challenges, termite infestation and staining.

Almost every week our crews get on jobs that have been neglected and require unnecessary, costly repairs. This damage could have been avoided with regular roof/gutter/drain cleaning, minor repairs, rain gutter replacement and installation of an appropriate gutter cover. The investment to have rain gutters systems working properly will cost less than the damage that poorly maintained systems will cause.

Roof, Gutter and Downspout Cleaning

Annual (or sometimes bi-annual) roof, gutter and downspout cleaning is essential to the well-being of all residential and commercial structures. Debris that is left on roofs and in gutters and downspouts acts like a sponge. It holds water and blocks the flow of water on its path towards the ground, often creating overflow of the gutters. A well maintained system will allow water to pass freely to the ground.

Appropriate water control on the ground is imperative. To avoid drainage going under foundations, use extension hoses or splash blocks. Splash blocks and extension hoses stop rutting and backflow of water under the foundation. Water under the foundation will cause serious structural damage if it is allowed to continue accumulating. In California these extensions and blocks can be removed at the end of the rainy season and put back as the rains return in the fall.

Roof debris is cleared with blowers and hand tools. Gutter debris should be scooped and bagged as apposed to simple hose spraying that usually makes big mess. Once the majority of debris has been scooped, then the gutters and spouts get rinsed with high pressure water until they flow “clear and free.” Ground clean-up is the final step in this process.

Crews will work either from ladders or the roof, depending on roof type, pitch of the roof and the weather. Cleaning from the roof is faster and should be less expensive. Work on tile roofs needs to be completed by crews with tile experience. The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires a rope and harness system for safety for roof work above two building levels. Some projects require the use of a boom or scissor lift to access difficult areas or roofs that cannot be walked on; a certified boom/scissor lift operator is required by OSHA.

Gutter and Downspout Repairs

Identifying and fixing minor problems within a roof drainage system will help to avoid more costly repairs. Some of the most common problems and their solutions are listed below:

  1. Leaking Gutter Seams - Seams are sealed on the inside of the gutter with an appropriate metal sealant, after the gutter has been cleaned. Silicon caulking is often used by on-site maintenance crews, but this does not work effectively. Regular cleaning will help to prevent this problem. Leaks that continue over long periods are likely to lead to premature deterioration of the gutters, dry rot and stains on the gutter and ground surfaces.
  2. Gutter Coming Off – Gutter that is detached presents a safety issue for residents and a liability for property owners and managers. Gutter should be reattached with inside gutter straps secured to the rafter tails with 1.5 to 2.0-inch wood screws. All too often gutters have been quickly installed with nails or spikes that do not hold for long periods of time. Detached gutter also allows water to slip between the gutter and the roof’s edge, which leads to dry rot and staining. Regular gutter cleaning will help to avoid this challenge because the weight of debris and water stresses the hanging devices. Water weighs over 8 pounds per gallon. A property with clogged and overflowing gutters will likely be holding weights in the thousands of pounds.
  3. Crushed Gutters and Spouts - It is common for residents or delivery services to back into gutters and downspouts with their vehicles. If this damage is not fixed, it is also likely to lead to dry rot and stains. Any quality gutter contractor will be able to match the existing gutters and spout size, style, material and color although some types are just too old and not available.
  4. Downspouts Coming Off - Spouts that are not secured properly present a safety concern. It is common for downspouts to have been installed with nails or with screws without anchors on stucco. Downspouts should always be secured with screws; if anchors are not used on stucco structures, the screws will slip out.
  5. Minor Rust - If steel gutters are rusting, as they inevitably do, it may be wise to paint the inside of the gutter with a rust abatement paint. This easy repair will increase the longevity of the gutters by many years.

Gutter and Downspout Replacement

Timely rain gutter replacement with the appropriate style, material, size and color is essential. Most gutters that need replacement are rusted. It is better to replace them before rust holes are visible. Rust can be seen on the inside of most steel gutters; however, if the exterior of the gutter bottom has texturing (little bumps) or orange spots, it is time to replace. Listed below are some considerations for replacing gutters and downspouts:

  1. Material – Pre-painted aluminum and steel gutters are the most common installations. These gutters are extruded at the job site for a precise fit. Steel (bonderized or galvanized) gutter also comes in “stick” form (pre-fabricated in 20-30 foot lengths), but they are inferior in that they are likely to have many seams and the cost to paint them is not included. The pre-painted gutters are often called “seamless,” but they do have seams at corners and at the end caps. Pre-painted gutters are caulked with metal sealants versus stick gutter that is soldered (typically more expensive). Both soldering and sealing are long-lasting processes to seal gutters. Additionally, stick gutter does not have a painted inside, which will lead to premature deterioration (rust). Copper is also available, but it not viable for most multi-family residences because the cost is at least three times that of steel or aluminum.
  2. Style - Most gutters on the west coast (especially at apartments and other multi-family occupancies) are fascia gutters. They look like a wedge and cover most fascia boards and rafter tails. The other common gutters are “OG” or “K” style. These gutters have more of a decorative look with bevels and edges on the face. They typically do not cover the fascia boards or rafter tails. Half-round gutters are becoming more common, but they are used mostly on upscale homes with tile roofs.
  3. Size - The appropriate gutter size will accommodate the amount of water coming off of the roof and fit the décor or the structure. Fascia gutters are measured by the back height and come in 5.5 inch and 7.25 inch sizes. The “OG” gutters are measured by the top opening and are available in 4, 5 and 6 inch sizes.
  4. Color - The pre-painted, “seamless” aluminum and steel gutters come in about 30 color choices. These finishes are of the highest quality, baked-on enamels. Additionally, the coatings contain Kynar resin that helps the paint last in salty air environments, which we have in much of California. It is acceptable to paint these surfaces, but any applied paint coating will not look as sharp as the original baked-on finish. If coordinating a painting project with gutter replacement (a wise decision), choosing gutter and spout colors first will make the paint choice easier. Stick gutter does not come painted, although the bonderized coating acts as a primer.

Gutter Covers

Gutter covers come in a wide variety of styles and costs. A good gutter cover will allow water to pass into the gutter (no overflow), keep large pieces of debris from entering the gutter (small things flush out) and save the property money over time through reduced maintenance and repair costs. If debris (and the water it holds) are not in the gutter, the gutter will simply last longer and not need to be cleaned. Do not use plastics as they will lose their integrity with temperature changes. Plastic and metal mesh screens do not work for more than a couple of seasons. They often end up creating more of a problem than a solution as debris gets through the holes and/or pushes the cover into the gutter.

If there is any uncertainty as to the proper function of a cover, have a tester section installed. Then have the contractor simulate debris and rain conditions to ensure satisfaction or simply observe the tester section over the course of a few weeks during winter or late fall.

Hiring A Contractor or Service

Most contractors and rain gutter maintenance services will offer free estimates. Any good gutter company will easily be able to provide boards and managers with proof of worker’s compensation and liability insurance as well as references and work experience.

Even if you feel that your property does not have funding to do the aforementioned services immediately, free estimates provide a tool for planning for the coming years. Free estimates allow boards and managers to use proactive planning to care for their properties properly. If your property does not budget these services, it is likely that costly repairs and premature replacements will be inevitable.


Chris Seeger is the co-owner and head of sales and operations at All About Gutters, Inc., a company based in Santa Clara.

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