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How to Maintain Downspouts

Gutters and downspouts protect a very important investment – your home. Even though together they make up the gutter system, often downpipes get the short end of the stick when it comes to maintenance. But overlooking the important role downpipes play can lead to costly repairs to not only the gutters, but to also to siding, the roof, or soffit and fascia.

Keep Downpipes Free of Debris

When debris enters the gutters, twigs, dirt, leaves, pine cones, etc. can collect in the gutter channel or in downspout itself if it doesn’t exit the gutter system via the downpipes. Clogs also might form at the gutter outlet where the downspout is joined to the gutters or in the elbow at the bottom of the downpipe. Keeping downpipes free of debris prevents rainwater from backing up into the gutter channel, causing gutters to overflow or allowing water to remain inside the gutter sections.

Periodic Inspections

In addition to regular cleanings, downspouts should be inspected with every change of season and periodically throughout the winter moths. They get buffeted by wind, heavy rains, and branches, resulting in loosened brackets, misalignment and damage such as dents (restricting water flow) and scratches (corrosion or rusting). In violent storms, downpipes can become completely disconnected from the gutter system.

If you use some type of downspout extender or splash block to manage rainwater draining too close to your foundation, check to make sure it is still attached or hasn’t shifted or been moved.

Take Action ASAP

After inspecting the downspouts and you discover loosened nails or a clog in the mouth of the downpipe, don’t ignore it. Weather permitting, make time to fix what’s wrong. Tightening loose nails, screws and fasteners will stop the section of pipe from being loosened even more or worse, becoming dislodged. You want to reposition a splash block or reattach a downspout extension immediately to avoid pooling water or rainwater from washing soil away from the foundation. Taking the time now to repair downspouts can help you avoid the cost of extensive repairs while extending the life of your gutter system.

When Buying Gutters Decision No. 3 – Size

The third decision a person buying a gutter system makes is the size of gutter. Gutter size is the measurement from the back to the front of the opening to the gutter channel. The larger the gutter, the more expensive the gutter system will cost. But it’s important to get the gutter size right – too small, the gutters won’t be able to handle the amount of rainwater flowing through the system; too large, they can become expensive overkill.

Determining the Required Gutter Size

While the total square footage of the roof is the main determining factor, there are other things to consider when selecting the correct gutter size that will protect your home. These other factors include:

  • calculating the square footage of the drainage area
  • establishing the annual rainfall for the past seven to 10 years
  • determining the number of inches falling per hour in extreme rainfall conditions
  • establishing the gutter system’s handling capacity based on profile (shape), including the number of downspouts

If you plan to install the gutters yourself, there are a number of gutter size calculating tools available on the internet.

Gutter Sizes

The most common residential gutter sizes capable of handling the typical amount of rain that falls in the Vancouver area are 5-inch K-style and 5-inch half-round gutters.

For larger homes or homes with a multi-level roofing system, standard 6-inch K-style or 6-inch half round gutters would be used.

Depending on climatic and microclimate conditions, a six-inch gutter system can channel up to 45% more water than 5-inch gutters.

Downspout Sizes

An integral part of the gutter system is the downspout. A determining factor for how many downpipes your gutter system might need is one downspout for each 30-foot section of gutter.

A rectangular 2 x 3 inches downspout or a round 3-inch downspout is typically paired with 5-inch gutters.

Standard 6-inch gutters are commonly matched with a rectangular 3 x 4 inches downpipe or a round 4-inch downpipe.

When added gutter size, for example, a 7-inch gutter system, would spoil the aesthetics of a home’s exterior, often 5-inch gutters are used with a larger downspout size to help an increased volume of water exit the gutter system.

Signs of Poor Drainage

While drainage problems typically become prevalent during spring and winter months, signs of poor drainage can manifest themselves year-round. The signs can be subtle; look for these symptoms of poor drainage to help you spot and fix potential headaches.

Overflowing Gutters

Overflowing gutters are typically caused by debris buildup clogging gutter outlets, preventing water from exiting the downspout as intended. When water escapes from over the top of the gutter, it can cause water damage to your home’s siding, soffit and fascia.

Unchanneled water might also be responsible for soil erosion, which can result in serious structural damage when soil is removed from around, or the earth shifts beneath, the foundation of your home.

Standing Water on the Ground

Puddles that don’t vanish 24 to 36 hours after a rainfall are often to blame for persistent wet areas and standing water. Standing water too close to the foundation causes soil erosion and basement flooding.

Pooling water in landscaped areas of your property can result in grassless muddy patches, washed-out flower beds, and dying plants suffering from too much water.

While improperly working gutters and downpipes are a common contributing factor, the real culprit might be the lay of the land. If the ground is sloping toward the foundation rather than away, you might need site grading. Regrading the land will correct the problem by improving stability of uneven landscaped areas, stability of the foundation and preventing improper water flow.

Cracked Foundation

Two main causes of a cracked foundation are soil erosion and water damage. Small cracks in a foundation naturally occur over time from normal aging. But large cracks, where you see space between the lines, are signs of real trouble, especially if the crack grows larger rather than remains static. This might be an indication of a drainage problem needing the attention of a professional.

Signs You Need New Gutters

Often gutters don’t get the respect they deserve. Day in, day out, they are on call 24/7 to protect your home from the different types of damage water can cause. But no matter how well they have been maintained, gutters can’t last forever. While the obvious indicators include rusting or damaged gutter sections, check for these other signs you need new gutters.


Gutters that are rusting, bent, dented, cracked or leaking compromise how efficiently they protect your home. If you have to constantly make the same repair, this is a major sign you need new gutters.

Going South

If your gutters are going south for the winter, aka pulling away from the roofline, you’ll need to find out why. Sagging gutter sections can be the result of water not being able to drain away; screws, nails or fasteners have become worn; or the fascia is rotting.

Standing or Pooling

Two other important signs that your home might need new gutters are standing or pooling water. Standing water inside the gutter channel is often the result of a clogged gutter section or a blocked downspout. While regularly cleaning the gutters is the most obvious solution, again, if you have to deal with too many clogs too often, think about installing a new gutter system.

Pooling water typically occurs around the downspouts or near the foundation. If a common solution such as adding a downspout extender or improving the grading around the affected downpipe doesn’t fix the problem, pooling water could be an indication of a serious or not so noticeable defect in the gutters.

Exterior Walls

Look for peeled or bubbled paint or mold on exterior walls; it could be the result of excess moisture from a malfunctioning gutter system. If your house has siding, check for loose, stained and/or worn siding panels.

Basement and Foundation

A basement that is constantly damp or flooding could be the victim of overflowing gutters. Check the basement for mildew or mold. Also check the foundation for mildew or mold growth. Examine the basement walls and the outside of the foundation for cracks.

Reasons Downspouts Don’t Work Properly

Downspouts direct water away from the foundation of your home. Their importance is often downplayed, and they are frequently overlooked when the gutters are being maintained. Here are some reasons downspouts don’t work properly.

Not Free of Debris

Reason: When debris builds up in the downspout at the top, in the middle or above or below the elbow, it can hinder or stop water from exiting the gutter system.

Solution: Check the top of the downspout where it connects to the gutter. Clear away any debris. Look into the downspout and if you see a blockage, use a plumber’s snake to gently break up the debris. To prevent buildup from forming, install a leaf strainer over the gutter outlet. If there isn’t any clog around the gutter outlet and water is still just trickling out of the downspout, then the blockage is in the middle of the downpipe or just above/below the elbow where the water comes out. Try using a garden hose with a pressure nozzle or a plumber’s snake to loosen the clump. If water still isn’t running down the pipe the way it should, remove the middle section of the downpipe; clear away the obstruction.

Not the Right Size

Reason: Most residential structures with 5 inch gutters have 2 inch x 3 inch downpipes. But when the gutters overflow and clogging isn’t the issue, the downspout might be the guilty party.

Solution: Replace the existing downpipes with 3 x 4 inch downspouts. The larger downpipe size should be able to handle the amount of water being channeled through the gutter system without having to replace the gutters.

Not the Right Length

Reason: Another reason downpipes don’t work properly is because they are too short. When a downspout isn’t the right length, water is allowed to drain too close to the foundation.

Solution: Use the appropriate downspout accessories to help guide water exiting the downspouts further away from the basement. For example, if the downspout extender is going to cross a pathway, consider installing a hinged downspout that will allow you to fold it up and out of the way when it’s not raining.

Not the Right Number

Reason: There aren’t enough downspouts to effectively handle the runoff.

Solution: Install as many additional downpipes needed; ensure they are strategically placed. A general rule dictates that there should be on downspout for every 30 to 40 feet of gutter. But other considerations should be factored in such as the size of your home, the configuration of the roof and how much rain falls in your area.

Not Properly Installed

Reason: If your home is an older one, gutter outlets may not have been installed. In the past, to save money and time, some contractors skipped the drop outlets and simply cut a hole into the gutter to make room for the downpipe.

Solution: Replace gutter sections with new ones that include proper gutter outlets.

Residential Gutter Sizes

Residential gutters share some common denominators, but no two houses are exactly alike when factoring in architectural features, climate and microclimate. Purchasing a gutter system for your home involves a lot of decisions. One of the most important choices is the size of the gutter and the corresponding width or diameter of the downspout.

Gutter Size Basics

Gutters are designed to properly channel water into the downspouts. The size of the gutter should never be selected for the amount of water it can “hold.”

Gutter size refers to the opening at the top of the gutters and not to the depth of the gutter channel. Most residential gutter systems use 5” gutters or 6” gutters. A larger size gutter system will generally be more expensive.

Regardless of the gutter profile (the shape of the gutter), a gutter is measured from the back to the front, at the widest part.

K-style 5” gutters can easily channel a large volume of water.

While it might not seem like much, one inch more significantly impacts the amount of water a gutter system can handle. Six inch gutters typically channel anywhere from 30% to 45% more water than 5” gutters.

Determining Gutter Size

To determine what size of gutter is best for your home, combine the total square footage of the drainage area, roof pitch, gutter slope and the rainfall intensity (number of inches falling per hour). Other factors such a roof configuration, the gutter profile and microclimate (lots of trees growing near the house).

Gutter and Downspout Combinations

A standard 5 inch gutter system is typically accompanied by a 2 x 3 inch downspout.

K-style 6 inch gutters work well with 3 x 4 inch downpipes.

Depending on the size of the house and the amount of local rainfall, a 5 inch gutter paired with a 3 x 4 downspout might a more practical combination.

Gutter Slope

Gutter slope is key to properly functioning gutters. Whether you plan on installing your own gutters, having them installed by a professional, or they are already installed, it will be helpful to know what gutter slope is and the role it plays in maintaining your home.

What is Gutter Slope?

Since water naturally runs downhill, it’s important that a gutter system slopes toward the downspouts to allow rainwater to flow freely along the gutter channel. Gutter slope, also referred to as gutter pitch, is the amount gutters should slant downward to maximize the gutter system’s functionality. The standard rule advises a ¼ inch slope for every 10 linear feet of gutter. To correctly calculate gutter slope, other factors, such as the roof configuration, the number of downpipes and the location of each downspout, are included. More is not necessarily better. Too much slope will reduce the gutter’s water handling capacity and/or visually detract from the home’s exterior.

Poor Gutter Slope

There are three main reasons gutters end up with poor gutter slope: gutters were incorrectly installed; gutter slope was inaccurately calculated; gutter sections have shifted since the original installation. Possible signs gutters are not properly sloped are:

  • leaks at the corners of the gutter system
  • standing water
  • water has drained from the gutter channel, but wet debris or sludge remains even after a couple of days of no rain
  • debris sinks to a lower level opposite the downspout

Good Gutter Slope

Gutters that work the way they’re supposed to guide water and debris toward the downspout. When gutter slope has been properly calculated:

  • rainwater freely exits the gutter system
  • debris broken up by flowing water is guided toward the downpipes
  • when debris is left behind, it dries out

Downspouts Dos and Don’ts

Downspouts are a very important part of a gutter system and an integral component in protection from water damage, including basement flooding. To help you properly maintain the downpipes on your home, here are some practical dos and don’ts.

What to Do

Regularly check the gutter outlet (where the gutter meets the downspout) for clogs. If this area is free of debris, but the downpipe is still expelling water in just a trickle, check inside the downspout for blockages. Bits of twigs, leaves, etc. can catch on edges or protruding nails/screws inside the downspout where sections have been joined together. If removing a section doesn’t get you any closer to the clump of debris, use a garden hose with a pressure nozzle or a plumber’s snake.

Ensure that there are the right number of downspouts for the size of your home and its roof’s configuration. Typically, one downspout for every 40 feet of gutter is recommended. However, other factors do come into play, such as placement of corners or multiple roofs.

If downpipes are draining too close to the foundation, add a splash block or downpipe extender to direct water safely away from the basement or walls. Water should be deposited optimally 7 to 10 feet away from the house.

If you have multiple roofs, ensure that each downpipe directly drains into a gutter section by adding some type of downspout extension where needed.

What to Avoid

Don’t connect the downspout to a municipal sewer system. Due to environmental concerns, this practice is illegal in many Canadian cities and communities.

Don’t allow water to drain onto a neighbour’s property.

Don’t add downpipes if you really don’t need them. While you might not have a downspout for every 35 to 40 feet of guttering, don’t change anything if the current setup is working the way it should.

When the roofing system of your home includes multiple levels, check that the downspouts are directly draining into the gutters. Don’t allow rainwater to run freely from out of the pipe and down the roof; it can eventually wear away roofing granules needed to protect tiles from the elements.

Check the Gutters While it’s Raining

This weekend, take advantage of the predicted rainfall to check the gutters. Especially after our nice long hot summer, and as we head into September, a gutter system should be in optimal working order to handle the stormy weather ahead. While it’s raining, here are some things to look for.

Check for Leaks

The older gutters get, the more prone they are to worn seams. Seams are formed where two gutter sections have been joined together. Over the years, as a gutter system expands and contracts, the sealant can gradually wear away, causing gutters to leak. If water is escaping from any seams or joints, they need to be resealed. When leaking gutters made of metal are not repaired, rusting will eventually occur.

Check for Gutter Overflow

When rainwater spills over the sides of the gutters, it is typically a sign of material buildup or clogs. If water is not allowed to flow freely toward the downpipes and exit the gutter system, gutter overflow can result. Look for water escaping from over the side of a gutter section. To fix overflow problems, the gutters will have to be thoroughly cleaned; or at least, the clog found and removed.

Listen for Noises

If the gutters or downspouts (or both) are exceptionally noisy while it’s raining, this could be a warning of potential trouble. When you hear pronounced gurgling, it is often an indication of water in the gutter channel or downpipe moving around some kind of obstruction. Leaking gutter sections also can produce noise due to dripping onto metal, either as part of the gutter system, roof, trim, etc. A downspout is noisy when water makes contact with the elbow on the inside. Check to make sure that the downpipe hasn’t shifted or has come loose.

Check the Downspouts

While it’s raining, check the end of the downspout. The water should flow freely from out of the downpipes. If the water exiting the gutter system is just a trickle, the downspout is most likely clogged at the top where it connects with the gutters or the blockage is somewhere in a middle section of the downpipe.

Sagging Gutters

Sagging gutters don’t just look bad – they actually slow your gutters down. And when rain gutters don’t work properly, they don’t protect your home the way they should. If neglected, sagging gutters or gutters that have pulled away from the fascia, can lead to water damage.

Debris Buildup

Bits of twigs, leaves, needles and pine cones might not seem like they can do much harm just lying around. But the amount of debris can really buildup, adding weight to a gutter system. When debris in the gutter channel collects enough to form clogs resulting in standing water, even more weight is added, which might cause the gutters to sag. When sagging gutters are ignored, they will eventually spill over, leading to water damage, mold growth and/or a compromised roof.

A Little Warped

Gutters made of materials like aluminum, steel and vinyl expand and contract. Hotter weather cause gutter systems to expand while cool temperatures and colder weather make them contact. Over time, gutters might become misshapen or warped, depending on the degree and how much expansion and contraction has occurred. When they become bent out of shape, gutters are prone to sagging or breaking away.

Pulling Away

Another reason for sagging gutters is where they have pulled away from the fascia. This typically happens in older gutter systems when nails have been used to secure gutter sections to the fascia boards. As they age, including the effects of expansion and contraction, the spikes or nails get pulled out of the fascia. Today, most contractors use hidden gutter hangers which require screws instead spike nails, providing added support, making the gutter system stronger.

Improper Installation

Gutters can sag because of an improper gutter installation. Common installation mistakes include: use of incorrect gutter/downspout size for roof configuration; inaccurate pitch (gutter slope); insufficient number of hangers. When gutters have not been improperly installed, standing water can result. If it isn’t secured correctly with the right number of hangers that are evenly spaced, undue stress can be put on a gutter system.