There are just a few steps to follow in order to maintain gutters. First, climb a ladder and clean the goop out of the gutters. The decomposed leaves make great mulch or compost. Pay particular attention to the downspout. If leaves and debris are clogging it, water won't drain properly, and along with mildew and mud you'll end up with sagging gutters.
Check all the spikes that are supposed to go through the gutter, through the fascia board and into the rafter behind it. At most homes, these spikes miss the rafters entirely, usually because the spike has just worked its way out of the hole over the years. It's a good idea to invest in new gutter spikes so the gutters are securely fastened once again.
Another thing you want to look at are the sources of any leaks, including holes in the gutters and cracked caulking in the seams. Use an old chisel to scrape the old caulking out and dry the area thoroughly. Then use new bead silicon sealing to keep water from getting down behind the gutters and rotting the boards.
During this inspection, check out the rivets on the downspout. Frequently they'll be loose or will have dropped out completely, all that is needed is a rivet gun to secure them anew.
Buyer's guide: Purchase new rivets at the hardware store. You can also buy a rivet gun there, usually for about $20.
Once you've finished with the mechanics, you can attend to cleaning the gutters. The best way is with a pressure washer, which you can rent or even purchase for anywhere from $60 to hundreds of dollars. Follow the instructions that come with the washer to the letter; usually the washer can be used with garden-hose water or some type of cleaner.
A pressure washer won't hurt the gutters provided you've secured the gutters with screws or new spikes. The real key is to avoid hitting the gutters at too high an angle or you'll blow the shingles off with a high-pressure stream of water.
If the gutters are rusting, they are very old. They've moved to aluminum and vinyl gutters now, and they don't rust. You might want to consider new gutters. But if you're going to stay with the old ones, get all the rust off, sand them down, paint them with a good primer and then with a good-quality rust-inhibiting paint.
A splash block is a very important element. It keeps the water coming out of the downspouts from digging a trench next to the house, and it keeps water away from the home's foundation.
Here are some bonus tips when replacing gutter spikes:
Remove the old gutter spikes and ferrules (the large spacers that keep the gutter walls from collapsing while you drill), installing each new set as soon as you remove the old one.
Position the new ferrule inside the gutter, directly behind the existing spike hole.
Insert the gutter screw into the existing spike hole. Use a standard variable-speed drill, electric or cordless, to slowly thread the fastener through the spike hole and the ferrule and then into the existing fascia hole.
Thread the fastener until the head is even with the gutter and the screw has engaged with the rafters on the other side of the fascia board.
Choose a sturdy ladder, and place it on a firm, level base. A tall stepladder can be easier to use than an extension ladder. If you must lean an extension ladder against a gutter, protect the gutter by placing a short piece of 2 by 4 inside it. Stand on the ladder with your hips between the rails, and don’t lean out over the sides. Never stand on the top two rungs.
If you’re comfortable working from the rooftop and your roof has a very low pitch, this can be easier than working from a ladder. But only do this under extremely safe conditions. Never work on the roof in wet, icy, or windy conditions. Wear non-slip shoes, and never lean over the edge or work near power lines.
When cleaning gutters, wear heavy work gloves to protect your hands since gutters often have sharp metal parts or screw points sticking out into their troughs. Also wear safety glasses or goggles. In some situations, it’s helpful to have a bucket for collecting debris and a dropcloth for protecting areas beneath the gutter.
Before you begin, rake or use a leaf blower to blow the leaves and debris off of the roof so the next heavy rain doesn’t wash it down into the gutters, filling them up again.
Gutter guards and leaf-catchers can be helpful, but most are not a complete solution. Debris eventually settles through them, and the screens must be removed to clean out the gutters.
1 Scoop out loose debris. Starting at a drain outlet at the low end of a gutter, use a narrow garden trowel or a gutter scoop to scoop out loose debris, working away from the drain outlet. It’s usually easiest to do this when the debris is slightly damp and pliable, not soggy or dried and encrusted. To minimize cleanup later, you can scoop the debris into a plastic bucket.
2 Blast out the gutters with a hose. Using an on-off high-pressure hose nozzle mounted at the end of a water hose, wash out each length of gutter, working toward the drain outlet. This can be a messy job; try to avoid splattering mud all over your house. If necessary, use a stiff scrub brush to remove encrusted dirt.
3 Clear obstructions in drainpipes. If water doesn’t drain freely through the drainpipes, try flushing the debris down them with a hose. If that doesn’t work, use a plumber’s auger (snake) to free and pull out the debris from the bottom or, in some situations, to push it through from the top.
How to Maintain Rain Gutters
Inspect and clear gutters in both spring and autumn. You also may have to loosen dirt that has blown into the gutters and scrub them with a stiff brush. Flushing gutters with a stream of water from a hose will clear material that has become lodged in the eaves troughs and downspouts.
The slope of gutters may need to be adjusted from time to time to keep water moving toward downspouts. Run water through them, and, if they drain slowly, reposition them so that they slope toward the downspouts at a rate of 1/4 inch for every 10 feet.
Be sure your downspouts expel water well away from your house. If necessary, add downspout extenders to carry the water away (see How to Fix Downspouts That Pool Runoff Water). Also consider concrete or plastic splash blocks, which are slightly sloped and extend away from the house at least 4 feet.
If your climate delivers abundant rainfall, you may want to have your downspouts run into a dry well. The well should be a hole 2 to 4 feet wide and 3 feet deep or a 55-gallon drum, with both ends removed and filled with rocks, that you’ve buried and punctured with holes. Underground drainage pipes should slope to the dry well, which will effectively keep water away from the house’s foundation. Check local building codes before installing.