Maintenance: Cleaning Gutters

By Josh Kattenberg

Gutters need to be cleaned in the fall because if they get plugged during the winter, ice dams can build up and cause water damage to the roof and even the interior of the home. We have seen water leaking into a house because of an ice dam. Water started leaking from the ceiling into the kitchen. Upon investigation we found a large ice dam on the roof. When we put a hand under the snow on the roof, there was a pool of water under the snow, but blocked by ice in the gutter. The water could not escape and seeped under the shingles and into the interior of the home. Cleaning the leaves from the gutters does not guarantee the home will not build ice dams. Weather conditions and how the home is heated and insulated also play a role. We have also seen down spouts “explode” from water being trapped in them, freezing, and expanding causing the seems to burst. Cleaning gutters before winter at least gives the roof and gutters a fighting chance during a hard South Dakota winter.

If you will be replacing shingles in the future, one way to protect against ice dams is to make sure your roofing contractor installs “ice dam membrane” along the bottom edge of the roof before installing new shingles. The ice dam membrane helps protect the bottom three feet of roof so water cannot find its way through the shingles and into the attic of the home.  Membrane does add cost to the cost of a new roof, but will pay for itself by preventing  moisture causing the roof to rot, and by preventing water damage inside the home.  A second way to help prevent an ice dam is to make sure the attic is insulated well near the eves. If there is not enough insulation, heat loss from the house can cause the snow at the edge of the roof to melt and refreeze causing an ice dam.

Gutters should also be cleaned in the spring but for a different reason. Plugged gutters cause rain water to run over the gutters and run down beside the foundation which can cause water to come into the basement. In addition to cleaning gutters, make sure all down spouts are intact and unplugged. Most of the time water can be kept out of a basement by having well maintained gutters and by making sure the grading of the landscaping flows away from the foundation.