By Sam Wasson
Updated Oct 12, 2022
Gutters keep your lawn, walls, and foundation from becoming saturated with water, directing runoff and snowmelt away from your home and further into your lawn. If your gutters are overflowing, you can expect more problems later down the road, like pest infestations, mold growth, standing water, and water damage. This article will help reduce those future hardships by looking at what causes gutter overflows and explaining how to prevent these, unfortunately, all too common, occurrences.
Gutter overflows occur when rain runoff is not contained by a gutter’s outer walls or drip edges. Overflows can be the result of many common problems. These can range from temporary weather conditions, like an unusually heavy downpour, to structural failures or a simple lack of maintenance. Before you fix your gutter’s drainage system, you’ll need to determine the cause of the overflow.
The most common cause of overflowing gutters is a general lack of cleaning and maintenance. For a gutter system to function optimally, you must clean it thoroughly twice a year, once at the end of spring and again at the end of fall. If you don’t, your gutters will quickly become clogged with leaves, twigs, bird nests, animal refuse, and roof debris. This gunk will eventually clog up the gutter sections and downspouts, making water flow impossible.
Damage to a gutter section, such as a hanger, downspout, or connector, can lead to overflows. The overflow’s severity will depend on what part of the gutter is damaged and the extent of the damage. The most common instance of this is when a hanger or spike becomes loose, causing the gutter to sag. Gutters that are no longer flush with the fascia of your roof sit at an incorrect angle to the roof, resulting in water being unable to enter or flow through properly, causing overflows.
If a gutter is not installed correctly, be it by using the incorrect sized parts or installing the parts wrong, it will result in improper water flow. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for most homeowners to identify the specific cause of improperly installed gutters. These minor errors in installation can have major impacts and often require the expert eye of a professional to spot. Common errors which result in overflows can include:
Overflow due to ice dams is the most serious entry on this list, as it’s typically a symptom of much larger problems. An ice dam is when ice and snow build up along the roofline, creating a blockage and freezing gutters. As the gutters coat with ice, water can no longer flow, builds up, freezes, and adds to the dam. Ice dams can eventually result in gutter damage or, at worst, complete collapse if left unchecked. These dams can be caused by improperly cleaned gutters, clogged downspouts, poor attic ventilation, or improper roof pitch.
Generally, regular inspection and maintenance is the best way to prevent overflowing gutters. By cleaning your gutters twice yearly and checking them for immediately noticeable weaknesses and damage, you can repair minor problems before they become major ones. Furthermore, you should have a comprehensive roof inspection conducted by a trained and certified professional at least once a year. Roof inspections will not only catch any gutter problems you’re experiencing, but they’ll also help you determine the life expectancy of your roof, find damage to your shingles, leaks, and much more.
Spring cleaning removes all the debris from spring pollination (which creates a layer of acidic plant material that erodes gutters), and fall cleaning removes all fallen leaves and branches. Clogged gutters contain a lot of unpleasant stuff, like animal waste, and you’ll need the proper protective gear, like gloves, a long sleeve shirt, eye protection, and a face mask.
Using your gloved hands or a gutter scoop, slowly work from corner to middle, removing debris as you go – do not work from corner to corner, as this pushes debris into your downspout. Finally, rinse your gutters by hosing them down and carefully watch the flow of water to spot any leaks.
If you’re experiencing higher than average debris in your gutters, you might want to check your landscaping. If trees overhang above your gutters, they’ll drop far more foliage and plant matter into your gutters.
Once every spring, you’ll want to undertake gutter maintenance and inspection after cleaning them. Every year, small incidents of damage from heavy debris or water expansion can occur and should be repaired before the influx of spring pollen. To do this, get on a stable ladder, grab a spotter, and begin your gutter inspection. You’ll want to look for the following:
You’ll want to repair any of these problems if you come across them. Most yearly repairs are simple tasks like tightening spikes, replacing caulk sealant, or attaching new endcaps. However, major damage like repairing larger holes or leaks can be harder to handle. Here is a quick video from Home Depot going over one of the best ways to manage a broken gutter section:
Gutter guards and splash guards are two easy and convenient fixes to clogged and overflowing gutter systems. Gutter guards are screens (typically wire mesh or plastic) that fit over the gutter, keeping pests and debris out. These guards will keep your gutters from getting clogged in the first place and make future cleanings much easier.
As its name suggests, a splash guard is a small shield that stops overflows. It looks like a small metal sheet, typically in an L shape, that screws onto the outside of the gutter. Splash guards are fitted onto the corner sections, where water is most likely to overflow, and keep water inside as it races toward the downspout. Many homes have steep roof valleys that, even with properly functioning gutters and in the event of heavy rain, experience overflows. For homes like these, splash guards are a must and act as a natural extension of the gutter system.
Gutter overflows are not only a noisy, annoying problem, but one that can also cause serious structural damage over time. But, you can keep your gutters in tip-top shape by conducting annual cleanings, inspections, and repairs. If you’re experiencing constant water flow and drainage problems even with these tips, you should contact a professional for an inspection and potential repair job.
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