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Top 3 facts to know about Gutters - It’s time to think about them.

Greg Hood

Greg Hood is a Buyer Specialist and Construction Coordinator with decades of residential construction experience...

Greg Hood is a Buyer Specialist and Construction Coordinator with decades of residential construction experience...

Aug 1 7 minutes read

As real estate agents who get to see a lot of home inspection reports, it is always interesting to reflect upon what is wrong and what is right with each home.  There are a couple of things that are pervasive, and one is gutters.  

The most common problems are that they leak, are corroded and rusting, cracked, not connected to a system to divert the water away from the house once on the ground, are falling off, dented, not properly attached, filled with debris, sloped the wrong way, and holding standing water.  


With all of these potential problems homeowners often ask are they even necessary?  Let's answer this question.  

While they are not required in many areas, they are generally recommended for two reasons.  Excess moisture on foundation walls often results in water in the home’s crawlspace or basement.  This in turn can encourage mold, dry rot, and subterranean termites.  Secondly, all homes including those with slab-on-grade foundations (homes without either a basement or crawl space) can experience settlement issues because of excessive moisture.  The result is cracked foundations and broken concrete slabs. All bad. 

Cracked slabs and foundations are more common in areas where there are clay-based or expansive soils. This describes most of the Bay Area where expansive soil can move up and down as much 3 or 4 inches over the course of any year. 


So gutters divert water away from your home, but what if gutters are something you just don’t want?  In Europe, homes may or may not have gutters depending on design and location.  While virtually every home in California has gutters Chapter 15 of the California Building Code does not specifically require them.  On the other hand, some l cities have requirements, so if you’re thinking of going without gutters, it is a good idea to contact your local building department and ask the question...

If the home does not have gutters, then it should have great drainage around the perimeter.  In some cases, the perimeter will have subsurface drainage and hardscapes such as concrete or pavers. Paver choices are nearly infinite...  The other solution is to have continuous drains wherever water is anticipated.  Splash against the home also needs to be considered.

One additional thing that owners can do is place cisterns or barrels at the bottom of roof valleys where there will be a high concentration of water-saving the water for gardening.  

Here’s a Dutch home where they have added hardscape to the edge of the house.  Note the facade has a slight overhang.  The combination of a cantilevered facade, a stone deck, and linear drains in the deck surface can control water effectively if designed correctly.  One design tool used is to have extended eaves to divert water away from homes, but here in California with wildfires always being a regular threat, the design and construction of eaves are highly regulated.  Again, reaching out to the local building department is an essential step before committing to no gutters.

Short of redesigning your home or designing your home from the start to eliminate gutters, there’s little choice but to have gutters here.  The benefits to repeat is to control water flow with the benefit of limiting foundation damage and protecting home entrances from a wash of water.  

The challenge with gutters is maintenance.  In short for gutters to work they must be maintained.  Having a handyman or roofer to clean gutters every year is essential.  There are also gutter cleaning services.  

Even if you have gutter screens cleaning the screens is necessary even if the gutters themselves are clear of debris.  The problem with screens is they clog and small debris gets through the screens.  With debris in the gutter water flow is reduced.  As it starts to decompose it turns to sludge and then solidifies clogging the gutter.  This encourages gutter corrosion.  Then there’s the debris sitting on top of the screen at the edge of the roof. This may create a water dam that promotes rotting fascias and roof underlayment.   If your fascias and soffits are closed making repairs to remove rot in the fascias could be very costly.  

Now, looking at the long term impact of failing gutters, they are a common catalyst of dry rot and pests including termites.  So maintaining gutters is essential to retaining the value of your home and should be a part of your regular maintenance program.  Whatever you like gutters will present a challenge, but whatever your thoughts as a homeowner don’t forget the importance of gutters.

Having a gutter plan is a major part of any home maintenance plan.

The 3 things to know are:

  1. You don’t need to have gutters, but you still need to divert water away from your home.

  2. Gutters help prevent excess moisture in crawlspaces where mold, dry rot can develop.  They also help control expansive soil by moving water away from foundation walls and slabs.

  3. Gutters must be maintained.  Not maintaining gutters will result in trading one set of problems for another.  Unmaintained gutters will ultimately result in wood rot at roof edges and fascia boards.  This will encourage termites who need water to survive.

Finally, now is a great time to maintain your gutters.  The dry weather, here in California, makes cleaning relatively easy.  It also allows sections of the gutter system to be water tested to ensure good water flow, and if there are leaks, with the heat, drying the gutter before the application of either sealant or paint is just a matter of minutes.

If you need more information or would like references to gutter cleaning services please contact us.  And, as always we welcome your thoughts and comments.

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