The most common problem with gutters is leakage. Leakage will occur with galvanized gutters as they rust through. Holes can develop in copper gutters as well. All gutters are prone to leakage at the joints and seams. Missing end caps and poor connections to downspouts are other common sources of leakage. Leakage can cause considerable damage to fascia, soffits and walls below. Leaks can also result in basement water problems.
Gutters and downspouts may become loose and require re-securing. This is normally due to improper fastening during original installation or damage caused by snow and ice during winter months. Downspouts can become disconnected from gutters.
Gutters and downspouts suffer from mechanical damage due to ladders, tree limbs, and the like. Downspouts tend to split open at the seams (from freezing in cold climates). The seam is usually against the wall and the split may go unnoticed. Downspouts along driveways or sidewalks are sometimes crimped. Aluminum gutters and downspouts are more easily damaged than galvanized steel. Galvanized steel downspouts often rust near grade level or where blockages have occurred. Galvanized gutters and downspouts eventually rust through.
Galvanized steel gutters and downspouts should be painted regularly to prolong their life. Although not often done, some say painting the inside is as important as painting the outside. Special paints are sometimes used inside gutters since they are often wet for considerable periods of time.
Gutters should slope properly towards downspouts to drain water. Gutters and downspouts often clog with debris. Screens or deflectors are sometimes installed to prevent leaves and twigs from getting into the troughs. These rarely work well. They become loose and often fall out. They also make cleaning more difficult. Special screens are available for the top of downspouts to prevent the entry of debris. These work better, but must be cleaned regularly.
On many houses, the number of downspouts is inadequate. As a general rule, a downspout should be provided for every 35 to 40 feet of gutters. Downspouts collect water from the gutters and discharge it into drains or onto the ground. Underground drains (usually made of clay tile, cast iron or plastic) become clogged or break below grade. If an underground downspout malfunctions, water problems will likely develop in that part of the basement. There are two options. Exterior digging and repairs can be undertaken; however, it is faster and cheaper to simply disconnect the downspout and redirect it to discharge away from the house. It’s also easier to monitor the performance, and problems are corrected easily.
Downspouts should discharge above grade onto the ground at least six feet from the home. The slope of the ground in this area should be away from the house, to direct water away from the basement.
On older homes, (pre-1950) downspout drains are often connected to floor drains in the basement. If there is a significant amount of debris in the discharge from the downspouts, it can plug the basement floor drains and cause backup.
Where gutters or downspouts discharge onto roof below, the lower roof in the path of the water will deteriorate quickly. The lower roof can be protected by extending the downspout along the lower roof to discharge directly into the lower roof gutter.
Malfunctioning integral gutters can be very serious. The leaking water usually ends up in the structure, causing rot and other damage. Repairs often include adding a single-ply roofing membrane as a gutter liner.