contractor cleaning a half round gutter

Why Should I Clean My Gutters?

Most homeowners simply understand and accept that there are typical maintenance tasks that must be performed regularly as part of the general cycle of  home upkeep. Clearing debris from gutters to keep them flowing, is one of those items that people typically accept as being a necessary repetitive chore. People simply accept this truth as being a “self evident” necessity toward keeping the property in top shape and avoiding costly damage; because we all know how damaging water can be.   The fact is that some homes do not even have gutters, therefore I would imagine there are people out there who continue to go through the motions of maintenance, but wonder why they work so hard to keep their gutters clear and flowing season after season.  There are gutter guard products out in the marketplace that can be installed to aid in decreasing gutter maintenance work and keeping gutters functioning by eliminating clogs.  Obviously, keeping up with maintenance is a good thing to do for your home.  But some folks are wondering, “ If some homes do not even have gutters, then why do I have to work so hard to clean mine ?”   The fact is that some homes may actually have no water problems even if their gutters clogged, so below I will explain why some people need to keep their gutters flowing and for some, it actually might not matter.    To see a very DIY friendly, easy to install gutter guard that greatly decreases the need for gutter cleaning, click here.

Stop the water from wetting the home, siding, windows and doors:

In order to attempt to avoid necessary maintenance work, many homes are designed and built having no gutters or water drainage systems at all.  In such cases, rather than installing gutters and creating drainage systems, designers will simply add features to the building in such a way that the naturally flowing water does not cause a problem.   They will also design and provide ground drainage so that once the rain water reaches the ground, it naturally flows in a manner that causes no inconvenience to the occupants. For a home to have no gutters and and also have many years of longevity without water damage, an architect will typically start by designing a  large roof overhang also known as a soffit or “ Jet”. The designer creates a roof that overhangs well past or “off-set” from the siding, so that the rainwater that naturally drips off of the roof will make a clear path to the ground without running on the siding, windows or doors. The large overhang or soffit, causes the water to make it entirely to the ground without wetting any of the important and expensive components.  As a general rule, the dryer any of these components are kept through the year, the longer they will last; conversely the more often these expensive features get wet or saturated throughout the year, the sooner they will need replacement or maintenance. For example, window sills are notorious for becoming rotted and requiring an expensive repair. The more often a window sill gets wet, the sooner it will rot. Moisture is also one of the main reasons for insect infestation.  When a home has a large overhang, most rain storms will occur without wetting the siding, the window sills, or the unique features of the home. The best designers, design buildings that keep the windows out of harm's way to improve longevity. So if the design of the roof and siding are such that the water can be carried to the ground without burdening or sacrificing any portion of the building, then perhaps a gutter is not necessary. One must also realize that a home with no gutters might evenly distribute the water to the ground, however a home with clogged gutters might tend to dump all of the water in just a few places.

Stop Splashing Damage:

When the rain water pours off  the roof, a properly designed home might keep it from contacting the siding, however once it hits the ground it may splash upward and inward wetting the foundation and lower components such as doors, trim and moldings.  If a home has no gutters, the design will need to take into account the splashing effect. It is pretty common to be visiting a home and see a rotted garage door or molding that otherwise would be solid and fine if it were not for regular splashing and wetting.  A home with no gutters needs to be designed to control all of the relevant water and avoid the expensive upkeep that is required when items are sacrificed to the splashing effect. When splashing occurs back against a foundation for many years, eventually cracking and crumbling can occur.

Water Nuisance:

Occasionally, one might  walk out of a building during rain and find that the roof water is pouring down heavily over the walkway at such a high volume, that you can’t possibly exit until the deluge stops or slows down.   Roof water can be a nuisance. Even if it is not detrimental to the building and its longevity, gutters are used to avoid the nuisance and pitfalls that naturally occur and the properly designed home that has no gutters must be designed in a way that avoids the nuisance of pounding water in undesirable places; usually doorways and walkways.   Sometimes, flowing water is simply a bother.

Basement Water Infiltration:

Basement Water Damage

One of the most common reasons for gutters, is to keep the water out of the basement.   The designer who designs a home, might pay very careful attention to controlling the water that flows off of the roof and must also provide for positive ground water flow in order to keep water from flowing to undesirable locations such as the basement. It is usually not enough to simply have a waterproof foundation and basement.   Whether it is via an underground drainage system of pipes, or positive slope flowing over the terrain, the proper design must include positive drainage flow so that gravity causes the water to flow in the path of least resistance and that path flows away from the home permanently.


Foundation Erosion

One only has to view the Grand Canyon, in order to understand  the damage water can do to your home’s surroundings. Problematic erosion can be as simple as causing the repeated  death of plants in the garden, or the floating-away of mulch, wood chips or other garden materials. The architect of a home with no gutters, will be careful to create peaks and valleys in the roof of the home to determine where the water will, and will not flow.   He or she must also continue to envision and predict where that water will flow and provide pathways that will avoid damaging erosion. Some homes might have gravel-filled drainage pits that lead the water away while others might even have a built-in ground level concrete or asphalt gutter to carry water in a manner that will cause no erosion damage.   Often we rely on downspout extensions, surface pipes, and in-ground storm drains to allow exit in a safe non-destructive manner. The properly designed home and landscaping, with or without gutters, will provide a method for that water to leave without taking your garden with it.

In conclusion, if a designer takes into account all of these factors, he or she can properly design a functioning long lasting home with no gutters.   If you can avoid damage from all of these factors, you may not have to clean your gutters. If your clogged gutters do not cause siding, trim, window, door and other expensive components to get wet too often,  then you may not be faced with expensive future repairs even if you do not keep your gutters clear. If water splashing is not causing a problem, you may not have to clear your gutters. If rainwater is never a nuisance to visitors and your basement is forever dry even during the rainy season, then you may not have to maintain your gutters.  If water naturally flows away from your home causing no foundation damage, erosion, or landscape problems, you may not ever have to maintain your gutters. For the rest of us who live in imperfect homes without great fore-thought, we will just have to continue to utilize gutter guards and regularly clear debris from the gutters and drainage areas, because we rely on the gutters and downspouts to perform a protective and necessary duty and we simply realize that  paying attention and performing the necessary maintenance is the lesser of all of the evil things that can happen.

Alex O’Hanley

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