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When and Where to Install Gutter Accessories

Gutter accessories are used for a number of reasons such as increasing functionality and protecting a home’s exterior from water damage. Gutter guards, splash blocks and flexible downspouts are just a few accessories for the gutters that are popular with homeowners. But if you purchase a gutter accessory and use it incorrectly, it’s going to defeat the purpose of installing it. Here is a brief guide on when and where to install gutter accessories.

Directional

Gutter accessories for downspouts are designed to direct water away from one place or direction to another.

Downspout Extenders

Downspout extensions are used when downpipes deposit water too close to the foundation. Different types of downpipe extenders are intended for specific uses.

  • A standard extender resembles a downspout installed horizontally instead of vertically, then fastened into place.
  • A flexible downspout has an “accordion” section that allows the downspout extender to be positioned around obstructions and areas where water shouldn’t be deposited.
  • A hinged downpipe resembles a standard extender except for the hinge mechanism that allows the downspout to be folded up when not in use.

Rainwater Diverters

Diverters for downpipes are available in a variety of types and styles. Some types of diverters direct rainwater from a gutter system into a rain barrel. Other types of diverters, often resembling a “Y” direct water from one downspout into two different places, such as around a sidewalk in one direction and into a landscaped area in the opposite direction. Some manufacturers use the term “diverter” interchangeably with “downspout extender/extension.” Make sure that the diverter is intended for the function you’re purchasing it for.

Gutter/Leaf Protectors

Many homeowners find some type of leaf protection handy in cutting down the time and cost of gutter maintenance. There are several different types of gutter protectors including all-in-one systems and leaf screens for downspouts and gutters.

Gutter Guards

If you’re considering purchasing a gutter guard system for your home, keep the following in mind:

  • be able to handle the volume of annual rainfall in your area
  • be compatible with your home’s exterior and/or roof
  • openings of screens or covers should match the type of trees growing on the property (wider for deciduous, narrower for pines)

Leaf Screen

Made of vinyl or metal mesh, leaf screens are placed over the top of the gutter. When buying a leaf strainer for a downspout, ensure it fits properly over the gutter outlet.

Preventing Erosion

Since a splash block typically resembles a long narrow tray, it’s sometimes used as a directional downspout accessory. While it does move water away from a foundation where the downspout is too close to the wall, a splash block helps prevent soil erosion. This maintains the landscape design and prevents the foundation from shifting.

Signs Your Downspouts are Clogged

Gutters and downspouts make up the gutter system that protects your home. But when it comes to being regularly maintained as often as the gutters, downpipes are sometimes overlooked. Like the gutters heading for trouble, there are several telltale signs that the downspouts have become clogged.

Water Flow

One of the first signs a downspout is blocked is decreased or even non-existent water flow. If water trickles from the mouth of the downspout or doesn’t exit at all, most likely it’s because of a clog. Blockages in downpipes typically form around the gutter outlet or in the middle of the downspout or in the bottom elbow where water is discharged.

Gutter Issues

When a gutter system experiences problems that aren’t caused by debris build-up in the gutters themselves, then the culprit probably is the downspout. Standing water in the gutter channels or constantly overflowing gutters can be due to water backing up because of a clog in the downpipe preventing rainwater from flowing down and out.

Leaking Seams

If water escapes from the seams and/or joints of a downspout, it could be an indication of a blocked downpipe. When leaking seams occur in a gutter system five to seven years old, it’s likely that the clog has been there for a while, long enough for the water inside the pipe to wear down the sealant of a relatively new downspout.

Loose or Dented

A gutter system can be adversely affected by loose or dented Downpipes. When downspouts aren’t securely fastened to the house, they can become misaligned, stopping the proper flow of rainwater.

While it might not seem crucial, even a small dent might restrict water flow enough to create places for debris to snag and then form into a clog.

Can’t Remember When

Debris like pine needles, twigs, seed pods, and blossoms are small enough or can break down into tiny bits that easily enter the gutter system. If you can’t remember when you last checked the downspouts, they could already be clogged or be about to cause you trouble.

Signs of Foundation Damage

The foundation of a house is mostly out of sight. While it might seem solid and immovable, the stability of a building depends on the soil the foundation rests on. Foundation problems can occur when the condition of the soil changes. See if your home shows these common signs of foundation damage.

Inside the House

When soil erosion occurs around the exterior basement walls, cracking, shifting or sinking can occur. But it usually doesn’t happen overnight. Signs of potential foundation problems can be barely noticeable and typically make themselves first known inside rather than outside the house. The most common indicators include:

  • mold growth on interior walls, carpet, and interior basement walls and floors
  • musty basement odour
  • cracked mouldings
  • cracks in the ceiling
  • sloping floors or uneven floor tiles
  • doors and windows that don’t open and close smoothly

Outside the House

Ideally, the land around your home should slope away from the foundation. If the landscaping slopes toward the house and the orientation can’t be changed or corrected, in this instance, it’s even more critical to look for signs of foundation damage. Check for the following:

  • exterior foundation walls have shifted – sight lines from corner to corner should be straight
  • cracks in siding and/or exterior walls
  • the concrete begins to chip, flake or pit
  • gutters that consistently overflow
  • downspouts draining too close to the house

Troubleshooting Foundation Damage

Cracks, no matter how small, are an indication that a building’s structure has been compromised. Existing cracks create the environment for more cracks to develop and will eventually become larger. Repairing foundation damage can be complicated. Even if the cracks are small enough to DIY, it’s probably best to consult a construction contractor; they will be able to alert you to any other potential problems. In the meantime, to prevent foundation damage from becoming worse, you can:

  • trim shrubs touching cement walls
  • add soil to bald spots in landscaping near the foundation
  • fix overflowing gutters
  • add a downspout extender or splash block to downpipes depositing water less than 5 feet from your home

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.

How Gutters Protect Your Home

A gutter system is designed to do one thing – collect rainwater from the roof and drain it somewhere it won’t do any damage. In rainy weather, without gutters a visitor approaching your front door will get drenched; water pools just anywhere; and soil is washed away. But how do gutters protect your home year after year?

Quality Installation

It starts right from the start. From the material the gutters will be made of to bracket spacing to how many downspouts – all those decisions that go into selecting a gutter system for your home add up. A quality installation by a reputable, licensed gutter contractor using medium to high-end materials ensures that the gutters will do their job for a long time to come. A professional installer will also advise on the right size of gutter system, and match it to the climatic conditions of the area.

Not Too Close to Home

Proper downspout placement prevents water from draining or pooling too close to the foundation. When rainwater consistently collects on the ground near a home’s foundation, it can cause basement walls to crack, the corners to sink, or the foundation to shift. Optimum functioning gutters also help prevent a basement from flooding.

Siding

When water is not efficiently channeled from roof to ground, siding is prone to water damage that can mar the appearance of your otherwise well-maintained home. Rainwater seeping in behind siding panels is the ideal place for mold, mildew, and algae to grow.

Sloping Toward

Gutters play an even greater role in the protection of your home when the grade of soil slopes toward instead away from the foundation. Ideally, the land around a house should slope downward, but if it can’t be changed or altered, then installing a gutter system that specifically addresses the issue of the grading of soil is the best solution.

Landscaping

Flowers and shrubs close to a house improve curb appeal and create a welcoming atmosphere. Eaves typically extend anywhere from six to 12 inches away from the wall, providing protection for plants to grow strong. Gutters and downspouts prevent bald spots in the soil, exposed root systems, and standing water that can attract pests and insects.

If a Downspout is Clogged

Downspouts channel rainwater from the roof collected in the gutters to the ground and away from the foundation of your home. If a downspout is clogged, water is unable to flow freely out of the gutter system. Here are some tips for identifying when a downpipe has become blocked and what to do about it.

Signs of a Clogged Downspout

When debris such as twigs, leaves, dirt and pine needles enters the gutters, it can build up, creating blockages in the gutter channel and/or the downspout. Typical signs of a clogged downspout are:

  • water trickles instead of flows from the bottom (mouth) of the downspout
  • gutters continually overflow
  • gutters pull away from the fascia due to the weight of standing water
  • plant life or nests in the gutter channel

Fixing a Clogged Downspout

Debris build-up in downspouts can form in one or all of three places: at the gutter outlet (top of downspout), in the middle, or above or below elbows and seams (where sections of downpipe are joined).

Check at the top of the downpipe to see if the gutter outlet is free of leaves, etc. If it is, then the clog is somewhere inside the downspout.

Start up and work down tapping the outside of the downspout. If the inside of the downspout is free of debris, you should hear “ringing” (free of debris) rather than “thudding” (build-up blocking the flow of water).

At the gutter outlet, use a garden hose to flush water through the downpipe. If that doesn’t work, try dislodging the clog with a plumber’s snake. Removing the elbow (bottom of downpipe) might provide easier access to the clog.

Tips for Maintaining Downspouts

Keep gutter channels free of debris.

Ensure downspouts are properly secured to the house.

Dents can restrict water flow and create places for debris to become snagged. Fix or replace dented sections as soon as possible.

Make sure downspout extensions are properly attached. After a bout of stormy weather, check to see if they are still attached to the downpipe and working as they should.

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.

Is the Downspout Installed Properly?

Downspouts should be properly installed

Michael Pereckas/Flickr Creative Commons


Downspouts, like gutters, are designed to manage rainwater. But they only work the way they should if they were installed accurately in the first place. Use these tips to check the installation quality of each downspout in your gutter system.

Securely Fastened

When both hands are placed on the sides of the downspout and light pressure is applied, it shouldn’t move or shift. Check to see how many straps (also called fasteners or downspout clips) there are holding the downpipe in place. If there is only one, for example in the middle of the downspout, this is why it can be moved around. If downspouts aren’t securely fastened, the force of rainwater exiting the gutters could misalign the downpipe, allowing water to escape where it shouldn’t. To safely fasten the downspout, there should be at least two straps, one at the top of the length of pipe and one just above the shoe (a type of elbow typically found at the end of the downspout). Each strap should be secured with two screws or rivets.

No Place for Leaks

A downspout is actually made up of several different parts. The gutter outlet connects the downspout to the gutter. Elbows are designed to “bend” the flow of water from one section of the downspout to another. If the downpipe is longer than 10 feet, a connector is used to join the two sections of pipe. To prevent leaks, all parts should work together, fastened with the appropriate number of rivets, positioned straight, and be sealed where applicable.

Downspout Extensions

Where downpipes are too short, they will deposit water too close to the exterior walls of your home. In this case, a downspout extension will be required. If the downpipe already has an extension, make sure it has been correctly secured with at least two screws. The end of the downspout should never be just inserted into the downpipe extension.

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.

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.