It's that gutter-cleaning time of the year


November 21, 1999|By Karol V. Menzie and Ron Nodine

IT'S DEFINITELY fall -- dark in the morning and dark in the afternoon, and the next-to-last year of the millennium is passing away. But if no one knows where the time goes, everyone knows where the falling leaves go -- all over your lawn, into your pool, into the porch furniture, and into your gutters.

Most people would rather have a root canal than clean out a gutter. It's a tedious, thankless and messy task that, nevertheless, has to be done at least once a year, preferably after all the leaves have fallen.

The easiest way to clean the gutters, of course, is to hire someone to do it for you. Look in the "services offered" part of the local or neighborhood paper, or pay a neighbor's kid. This is one case where it may be safe to employ someone who's simply passing through the neighborhood looking for work -- it doesn't take long, and it's easily supervised. However, keep in mind that if you do use an unlicensed contractor, you could be liable for damage done to your house -- or to a person, if someone should fall off a ladder.

If, on the other hand, you actually like to clean gutters, or don't want to pay for such a simple task, there's help: Someone has finally invented a handy little plastic gutter shovel. It's long and narrow and scoops out leaves and debris with great efficiency. Ron bought one at Home Depot and tested it out on his gutters, and it works great.

For those who prefer preventive measures, there are a lot of devices out there that help keep leaves from getting into the gutter in the first place. Some of them interfere with the water getting into the gutter, too, so they can be a mixed blessing.

There are many different types of gutter covers. The old conventional screening works to a degree, but leaves can still get stuck in the screen and clog it up. Some of the newer systems are made of plastic. Their design allows leaves and debris to slide over them while the water will still run through slots in the surface.

The only drawback to this system is that during a heavy rain, or when the water freezes on the surface in the winter, the runoff can overshoot the gutter and pour down the side of the house. You have to decide if the occasional annoyance of this little problem outweighs the agony of cleaning the gutters out.

If you are considering new gutters, there are many choices there.

The most common gutters these days are the "K" style, which look somewhat like a piece of crown molding under the roof. They're made of aluminum, and are available in 5- or 6-inch widths. The larger size takes care of large volumes of water running off a large section of roof. The downspouts come in 2 inches by 3 inches or 3 inches by 4 inches. Installing oversize downspouts on standard gutters will help prevent clogs from the buildup of debris.

They can be formed on the job site to any length that's needed with a gutter machine. The newer fastening systems are invisible from the ground, unlike the old exposed nail system. The seamless look and hidden fasteners plus easy installation and reasonable cost are why this type of gutter is the most popular.

"K" gutters used to come only in white, brown and almond, but now they come in a variety of colors. (One source is Columbia Roofing, in Elkridge, 800-234-9689.)

If you have an old house and you need traditional half-round gutters, they come in standard galvanized tin, which you can paint any color, in copper (which is very expensive) or in aluminum. The aluminum half-round type comes only in white or brown. (The lack of even an almond color in half-round has always puzzled Ron, who has tried several times to find them.)

There are also vinyl gutters and downspouts, which are good for do-it-yourselfers because they are easy to install. They come in sections that clip together, so there's no gluing or screwing or rivets to deal with.

At least 95 percent of the debris in Karol's gutters is the work of one stupid tree, which spends all year dropping things into them -- flowers, seed pods, leaves. The only real purpose it seems to serve is as a trysting place for shrieking raccoons. The obvious solution -- there are lots of other trees -- is to cut it down. It's a drastic solution, and, perhaps fortunately, it's prohibitively expensive.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and former president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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