The Lowdown On Downspouts

By Sharon Naylor

July 1, 2013 6 min read

Water can do a lot of damage to your home, especially when fall cold snaps occur and winter approaches. So it's essential that your downspouts are able to carry all of that fall rainwater and fine debris straight down to ground level and direct the flow away from your home. If your downspouts are blocked, here are the very expensive and devastating things that can happen:

--Water can get blocked in your downspouts and freeze when the temperature plummets, expanding and causing damage to your entire downspout system.

--Without downspouts leading water from your gutters, water can back up into your gutters, remain there, freeze, expand and damage your gutters, to include making them so heavy that they break away from your home, perhaps tearing parts of your home down with them.

--Clogged gutters, thanks to clogged downspouts, can sag and damage your roof, requiring expensive repairs and perhaps even replacement of the roof section itself.

--Stopped-up downspouts can cause water to pool and perhaps seep under shingles and into interior walls. When water gets into your walls, you're looking at mildew problems, mold, rot and expensive repairs to eliminate those issues.

--When the bottom section of a downspout is clogged, it fails to direct rainwater or snowmelt away from your home, causing that rainwater to pool right next to your house, which can lead to seepage into your basement and damage to your home's foundation.

--When debris isn't cleared from your gutters, they can become a home for insects, including mud wasps, bees and other unwelcome pests. Blocked downspouts create that condition in your gutters and also increase the presence of mosquitoes when standing water in your gutters becomes an issue.

Clogged downspouts are very much like a clogged digestive system. It's not good news. They create multiple problems the longer they're left unattended. So make it a high priority to check on your downspouts during a rainfall. Make sure water is flowing through them at a good pace and landing far enough from your home's base and also from any landscaping you've planted around your house. Standing water can drown those expensive shrubs and trees, either killing them or causing rot and pest damage even in the cooler fall months.

According to the experts at DoItYourself.com, homeowners should clean and check gutters for necessary repairs at least twice a year. In autumn, fallen tree leaves will clog gutters and downspouts, adding to an already developing problem. So this is an ideal time to assess your downspout function and perhaps have your gutters cleaned professionally.

The benefits of professional gutter cleaning include your not having to risk injury in climbing a ladder to get to your gutters or in walking on your roof. Experts can safely reach and clean your gutters, which should be done even if you have screens over them to keep out debris. Best of all, professional gutter cleaners can check your downspouts for blockage and use their high-powered water-pressure machines to push any blockage through them. Deep-down downspout blockage can be snaked using professional long-handled tools, as well. Considering the damage that blocked downspouts can cause to your home's interior and exterior, this investment is worth it.

If you plan to clear your own downspouts, About.com guide to home repair Bob Formosano says, "Since debris is easier to move when dry, homeowners should give the fallen leaves time to air out before attempting to clear them from the gutters. If the sticks and leaves are wet, they might be more resistant and stick to the insides of the downspout." Premature gutter self-cleaning could exacerbate the downspout problem.

Prepare yourself for the task by wearing sturdy shoes with good traction and heavy-duty working gloves to protect your hands from sharp edges or nails in the roofing or gutter system. Lay out a tarp on the ground beneath your ladder (but do not set your ladder on the tarp as you need the traction of the ground below to keep the ladder sturdy), and plan to drop debris onto the tarp, which is safer than trying to put it all in a bucket that can get very heavy. Lean your ladder up against the house, not against the gutter, and clear debris from the gutter.

Once your gutters are cleared, make sure your downspouts are clear before you rinse them. Test your downspouts by placing a hose into the top of the downspout and having a helper turn on the hose and check to be sure water is running out of the bottom of the downspout. If your downspout is clogged, water will likely back up into your position at the top of the downspout.

If your downspout backs up, your next step is to stick your hose into the downspout and pack the space around the hose with several clean rags. Then turn on the water as forcefully as it will go. This might clear the blockage. If you still have no success, remove the hose and insert a long plumber's snake (found at your local hardware store) into the downspout. The plumber's snake should clear out the blockage when you maneuver it according to package instructions. Test with water flow again, and you should have a clear downspout. If not, it's best to call a gutter cleaning company that treats blocked downspouts so they can solve the problem without causing additional damage.

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