November 10, 2010
Gutter Cleaning is a dangerous and difficult chore. It is time consuming and unpleasant. Unfortunately, most people put off cleaning out their gutter systems until there is a problem. The reality is that your gutters should be cleaned twice a year: once in early spring to clear out any leftover debris that has accumulated during the winter, and more importantly, in late fall. It is very important to fully clean out your gutter system during this time of year in order to clear out all of the falling leaves and things that gather in your gutter system during fall before the rains starts.
Although I recommend a professional service clean the gutters, If you're a comitted DIY, it is imperative that you exercise caution when cleaning your gutter system, keeping in mind that it is a potentially very dangerous activity.
As is common with most home maintenance activities, it is wise to have your entire gutter cleaning materials you will need prior to beginning. Preferable materials to have in order to properly clean out your gutter system include a ladder, a pair of sturdy gloves, a bucket with a hook, a gutter scoop, and a water hose. However, you are able to clean your gutter system with alternative "tools." This is explained further below.
The first step in cleaning your gutter system is gaining access to the gutters themselves. I cannot stress enough how important it is that you remember to exercise caution and safety precautions. There are many deaths associated with homeowners not using ladders correctly. Gutters themselves are not sturdy, and are often unstable. Ensure that you are using a sturdy, solid ladder. Be sure to lean the ladder against a solid surface. Do not lean the ladder against the gutter system. The aluminum system can, and often will, buckle under the weight of a person climbing on a ladder. The most important ladder safety tip is that the base of the ladder must be on solid ground. A good general rule is that for every four feet high that the ladder is going, the base should be one foot away from the side of the house. Another important gutter cleaning safety tip to keep in mind is to always face forward when moving up and down on the ladder and keep at least one hand on the ladder at all times.
Before climbing the ladder, assemble all of the materials you will need in a way that will allow you to bring them up with you as you climb the ladder. It works well to put your gloves on, place the scoop and hook inside the empty bucket, and then sling the bucket over your forearm so that you are still able to use both hands when climbing the ladder. Once up the ladder, place the hook on a rung in front of the ladder that will keep the bucket accessible, and hang the bucket from the hook. It is now time to begin actually removing the debris from your gutters.
Gloves are a very important part of safety. There are many sharp edges in an aluminum gutter system. Additionally, there is no way to know what else you may find that has taken up residence in your gutters. You do not want to be touching the debris, often moldy and quite possibly bacteria laden, that have contaminated your gutters.
You are now ready to begin the actual process of removing the debris from your gutter system. If using a gutter scoop, not only will you be able to pick up more debris with each swipe, but your reach will be extended so you will not need to move your ladder quite as often. The efficiency of cleaning out your gutter system will be much quicker if using a gutter scoop. However, often times people do use their hands as a scoop. You are only able to pick up a much smaller amount of debris at a time using your hands. If you are using your hands, then it really is extremely important that you are wearing a sturdy pair of gloves to protect your hands from any dangerous debris that may have landed in your gutter systems.
Cleaning out a gutter system requires many trips up and down a ladder, moving the ladder, and emptying your bucket. Once you have removed all of the debris from the gutters themselves, it is time to give your gutter system a test run using your garden hose. A final and good rinse with a garden hose is essential. It is important to test your gutter system in order to ensure that you do not have any clogs, especially in the downspouts. Start at one end of your gutter system and start running water. Check to make sure that the slope of your gutters is steep enough so that no pools of water form. You want constant movement toward the downspout with no accumulation. The next thing you will check for is that the water flow continues out the bottom of the downspout at the same rate that it is going in. If the water only trickles out or stops coming out all together, then you know you have a clog somewhere.
Again, it is imperative that you exercise proper safety precautions through this final cleaning step. Make sure that all of your materials are now away from the ladder so that the hose cannot get tangled up in or around them. Handling a hose up on a ladder can be tricky and you need to make sure that you always keep at least one hand on the ladder and do not lean. Make sure that the dangling hose is not caught on your feet or in your way when you are climbing up and down.
Another potentially dangerous situation to keep in mind is that your ladder rungs will get slippery when they get wet. Anytime you bring water into the equation, the danger level of any home improvement task goes up. Be extra careful of your footing and hang on tight when climbing down a wet ladder