10 August, 2010

Gutter works

I’ve been spending some time this summer with folks that have gutter problems. The past winter was a banner season in Northeast Ohio for ice dams. As a result, a lot of gutters were bent or damaged, and sometimes the entire fascia board and gutter system came down.

Most gutters in our area were installed using spikes (long nails) and ferrules (hollow tubes spanning the width of the gutter, through which the spikes pass). The spikes are generally spaced approximately 3 to 4 feet apart and are nailed into a fascia board that is only ¾” thick. (Many gutters are still being installed using spikes.) The problem with spikes is that they often back out of the fascia board, allowing the gutter to pull away from the house. So, with a heavy snowfall, the gutter may pull off the house entirely.

Using a hidden hanger system helps avoid this problem. The hangers hook under the front lip of the gutter and slip over the back gutter wall (see illustration). They are installed using screws that go into the wood 1-1/2 inches. Because the screw is driven home using a ¼” nut driver on a cordless drill, the gutter is also spared the hammer damage that can occur from driving in a spike. Screwing a hidden hanger into each rafter tail (generally 16” on center) will ensure that the gutter can resist the weight of water, snow and ice.

Gutter problems can also occur when rafter tails (ends) rot out. When that happens, the fascia board that is nailed to it is no longer held securely in place. The remedy is to “sister” a new piece of wood alongside the original rafter, so that the fascia board can be attached to sound wood at each and every rafter tail. The fascia board itself also needs to be solid. If you have to replace a rotted fascia board, prime all sides of the board before you install it. It’s best that you screw the new board in place, rather than nail it, to minimize pull-away.

Look at the size of your downspouts, too. The usual 2 x 3-inch rectangular downspout is sufficient to carry water from your gutter to the storm sewers. However, if one downspout must transport a large amount of water or if it carries water from an area where several roof sections come together, consider installing 3 x 4-inch downspout. It will double the capacity for water to flow towards the storm sewer. This size downspout may not be available at a retail store, so you may need to go to a specialty shop to find it.

If you have to replace the entire gutter as a “do-self” project, I would suggest that you stay away from the gutters found in most retail stores. The aluminum gutter sections available there are only .024 gauge (thinner than most seamless gutters), and are sold only in ten-foot lengths. That means you will have more laps or joints with the potential to develop leaks. Nor should you use plastic gutters; these units simply do not do well with UV light and our wonderful Northeast Ohio winters.

Heavier-gauge gutters, as well as gutters in longer lengths, are available in specialty shops. These shops generally have equipment that rolls out as much gutter as you need. So, if you need a 26-foot length, they can make it. The hard part is transporting it home. In most shops .027 gauge is common; however, if you can find .032 gauge, it will withstand ice or ladder damage better.

The pitch (slope) of the gutter only needs to be 1/8” per foot to give a good flow to the downspout. You can tape a ¼” spacer taped onto one end of a two-foot level to give you the right amount of pitch towards the downspout. Then, be sure to caulk all the joints in the gutter to prevent leakage.

Finally, make sure that all the water carried by your gutters can flow freely away from your house. Check for leaves and other debris that may have clogged your downspouts, and snake any storm sewers blocked by roots that have grown into the pipes under the ground.

So, while the weather’s still nice this fall, check out your gutter system. You can prevent a lot of problems later this winter by making sure your gutters and downspouts are in good condition. People don’t believe me when I tell them, “98% of the time, the cause of a wet basement is a leaky gutter system.”