Keeping your guttering well maintained

If you don’t think your property needs well maintained gutters – then picture the following scenario.

It’s raining heavily and the forecast is for more rain. You’d like to leave the house but there is a cascade of water running down your windows and doors, meaning your family are trapped inside.

Then, after a few weeks or months of wet weather, nasty damp conditions seep in and cause havoc to roof tiles, interior decorating and the internal structure of your home – which will take thousands of pounds to put right.

If this sounds like a nightmare then you’ll be pleased to know that good, solid and effective guttering can prevent all this happening, with very little time and money from you.

As well as everything you need to know about getting or replacing gutters, we have tons of handy tips that will easily maintain the effectiveness of your guttering, whatever kind you have, meaning you can keep a tight ship at home whenever it rains!

What are gutters?

Gutters are channels or small troughs put around the edge of roofs in order to collect rain water. These troughs then dispose the gathered rain water to a downpipe where it is eventually deposited into a drain.

Gutters are generally made of simple half-piping that are then positioned just underneath the edges of your roof to allow the water to easily collect as it runs off your roof.

As it is an open pipe, one of the main problems with guttering is that they can become blocked by leaves and other debris which, if left un-cleared, can cause major problems to your home.

When a gutter becomes blocked the water builds up and overflows from the gutter, damaging bricks and mortar on your outside walls. It can also seep through the bricks causing damage to your household furnishings and paintwork.

One other common problem caused by the build up of leaves and rubbish in a gutter is that it can often provide a home for windblown seeds to lay root, meaning that weeds start to grow naturally in your gutter. This also leads to a blockage.

What types of gutters are there?

Cast iron gutters

If your house is quite old, the chances are it has cast iron gutters and downpipes. You will be able to tell if your gutters are cast iron if they are painted on the outside, as plastic or PVC gutters are not painted.

Cast iron gutters can last an extremely long time provided they are maintained properly. This involves painting them regularly, preferably with a bituminous paint, which will prevent against moisture and corrosive erosion or rust.

Cast iron gutters are also extremely heavy so their fastenings need to be checked regularly so that they have not come loose. If they have come loose they need to be securely fastened otherwise they may become irreparably damaged.

PVC gutters

PVC gutters are the most common type of guttering found on any new houses or structures built today.

Generally, they are grey or black and are made from un-plasticised polyvinyl chloride.

The reason they have become more popular than their cast-iron counterparts is that they are cheaper, lighter, easy to attach to your roof and do not require painting.

Pressed steel gutters

Pressed steel gutters are rarer than PVC or cast iron gutters, but can still be found occasionally. They are lighter and stronger than cast iron ones and usually come galvanised or primed ready for painting.

How do I look after my gutters?

No matter what type of guttering you have, the troughs will need clearing at yearly intervals.

It is not a particularly difficult job, but it is essential if you wish to avoid problems further down the line.

Removing unwanted debris from your gutters is ideally undertaken at the beginning of winter. This will clear away the leaves that have fallen during autumn. It is vital to do this at this time of year as most parts of the UK experience very high rainfall during winter.

How should I clear the gutter?

As we’ve already mentioned, built up leaves, dirt or other debris that has run down your roof and into your gutter can lead to a blockage in the system which in turn could lead to major problems.

The good news is most of these blockages are just dead leaves, or seeds, or bits of rubbish which can be easily cleared – but it must be done often or they can create much bigger problems!

The easiest way to give your gutters a once-over is to get a ladder and climb up for a thorough examination of the gutters. Once you have identified problem areas you can then clear any build up using a scraper or a trowel.

If you can’t reach your gutters easily then type ‘guttering’ into Yellow Pages, followed by your postcode, for a list of professionals in your area who will have all the equipment necessary for the job.

Should you decide to go the DIY route when clearing your gutters, however, take note that the most difficult challenge is if a blockade occurs within the downpipe where you can’t see.

A handy tip to prevent this from happening is to place a rolled up ball of chicken wire, or a wire balloon at the point where the gutter meets the downpipe.

This will allow the water the run freely into the drainpipe, but will stop any leaves or debris from going down.

You will need to clear this chicken wire or wire balloon more regularly than once a year as a significant build up of leaves and debris will also take place here.

How do I clear my downpipe?

If your downpipe is already blocked, however, then you will need drainage rods to push through the blockage from above.

These drainage rods can be bought at most DIY stores like B&Q

Simply push the rod down through the downpipe and whatever leaves or debris are causing the blockage will be dispensed at the bottom of the pipe.

How do I clear the angles in my downpipe?

If you need to clear an angled pipe simply use a stiff wire from the top and push downward through the pipe to remove the blockage.

What if my gutters are sagging?

Another sticky problem is if your gutter is overflowing and water spills over the edge when it’s raining.

First check the gutters and downpipe thoroughly for blockages. Once you’re satisfied that the pipes can run clear you need to examine the actual structure of the gutters.

More than likely you will find that the gutter is sagging in certain places and this means that it is most likely be the result on one of two things.

  • It may be the simple matter of making sure that the screws, which hold the brackets that support the gutter, haven’t come loose. If they have they will need to be screwed in tight to prevent water gathering if there is a dip in the channel or being pushed out if the gutters buck at a join.
  • The other likely problem is that there’s a fault with one of the brackets which will need replacing. This is a fairly simple operation and will require getting a new bracket from a hardware store and attaching it to the wall with appropriate screws.

These two explanations are the most likely if you are having problems with a sagging gutter. But if you have replaced the bracket and tightened all the screws, and the spillage is still occurring, then you may have a problem with the slope of the gutter. Use a spirit level to check that the gutter is sloping toward the downpipe and not away from it.

If your gutter is not sloping toward the downpipe then you will need to reattach your brackets so that you get the correct angle. You can do this easily by unscrewing the brackets and reattaching the bracket at the outlet end to a higher position and the bracket at the other end to a lower position.

Bear in mind the higher end of the gutter can be slightly lifted by placing a small strip of lead under the gutter, which should be located just between the bracket and gutter.

What if my PVC gutters are cracked or leaking?

PVC gutters tend not to last as long as cast iron or pressed steel gutters. If the lifespan of your PVC gutters is coming to an end then you may noticed cracks, or leaks, or buckled segments of your pipes.

Some of these problems are obviously beyond repair. But if you do need to replace a section then this is easily done by simply squeezing the top edges of the gutter together with your hands, so that the gutter comes away from the clips which are holding it to the wall.

You can then inspect not only the gutter but the outlets and joints where it connects to the outlets.

Many leaks can be simply repaired by using mastic sealer, which is available from any hardware store. If mastic sealer will not do the job then you may need to replace the section of guttering where the problem lies.

What if my cast iron gutters are leaking or rusted?

Cast iron gutters should be extremely long lasting provided they are painted regularly to avoid rusting. This is done by painting the insides with a primer of special zinc chromate paint. The finishing coat on the outsides should be bituminous paint.

If you find that the joints of your cast iron guttering are leaking and that water has been seeping through for some time you may find that the joint is too rusty to unbolt. If this is the case use a hacksaw to remove the bolt and a drill if there are any further pieces remaining.

Using a chisel you should now be able to lever the two sections of gutter away from each other. Remove all traces of the previous sealant and clean the area with a wire brush.

Then attach the two pieces of guttering back together and bolt them together using a new nut and bolt. Use fresh sealant to seal the joint.

What if I discover holes in my gutters?

Small holes in a piece of guttering are not good news but you needn’t open your wallet yet.

Repairs can be made using kit available from most hardware stores. The kits consist of metal sticky tape, which is applied to the inside of the guttering over the problem area with bitumen adhesive.

But while this is a cheap and easy solution to small holes, if the problem persists or reappears then you may need to think about getting the piece of gutter replaced.

How can I replace my guttering?

If your gutters are well and truly leaking, cracked, buckled or sagging, and no amount of clearance or DIY repair has fixed the problem then you may need to get your guttering replaced.

Most of the larger DIY stores will sell PVC or even cast iron gutters but if you are attempting the job yourself then there are a few vital pieces of information you should bear in mind.

These are:
  • Remove all the previous guttering with extreme care so as not to risk damage to you, or to the areas of roof where it is attached.
  • Remember this is a handy time for other property maintenance. When the gutters are off it’s a handy time to paint the house!
  • If your guttering requires a slope for the water to run to the downpipe then the lowest point (the connection with the downpipe) should be approximately 3mm lower than the highest point.
  • Also remember that brackets should be attached at 1 metre intervals along the entire length of the guttering.
  • Always make sure your downpipes are securely fastened to the wall

Should I use a professional?

If you are not confident with DIY and you don't feel assured that you can service your guttering yourself then it is probably best to get professional experts to do it for you.

There are many guttering companies in your area who will provide all aspects of service and maintenance for your gutters. By visiting the Yellow Pages you can find a list of guttering companies in your area.

However if you have a friend or neighbour who has had similar work done then it is worth asking them what company they used and would they recommend them. It is always worth getting a recommendation if at all possible.

Starry, starry, night!

Although not exciting at first glance, solid and effective guttering will keep your property dry and secure – leaving you more time to concentrate on the more fun and creative aspects of home ownership.

And remember, as the legendary writer Oscar Wilde said: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars!”.

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