Your gutters do so much more than just direct water away from your house. They’re an essential defensive measure that protects your yard, foundation, roof and basement from long-term water damage. It can be easy to forget to keep them clean, but gutter cleaning is a vital step in home maintenance.

When gutters get clogged, they overflow and back up the water instead of depositing it several feet away from the house. When this happens, water spills directly onto the yard, causing erosion of your soil and increasing pressure on the basement or foundation. If standing water remains in your basement or crawl space, you might experience mold or other damage. It can also fall behind the gutters, causing fascia boards to rot. During cold weather, water overflow can freeze and cause foundation cracks or back up onto the roof, causing ice dams and eventual roof damage.

You can prevent this with regular gutter cleaning. How often you need it depends on numerous factors, including the region where you live and the number and type of trees near your home. In most cases, experts say you should clean your gutters twice a year — once in spring and the next time late in fall, once all the leaves have fallen. Gutter cleaners get very busy in the fall, so it’s a good idea to get on the schedule as early as possible.

Gutter cleaning usually costs between $115 and $225. The exact price will vary based on the size of your home and the number of stories the cleaners have to reach.

Most jobs take an hour or two. If your gutters haven’t been cleaned out in a while and require extra time to clear out the debris, the job might cost more. In most cases, downspouts won’t require much if any cleaning, but in cases where debris has clogged the downspout, expect to pay between $50 and $100 more.

Installing gutter guards means you may not have to hire gutter cleaners as often. However, when that job does take place, you might be charged extra because of the additional time they must take to remove and reinstall the guards.

It’s also possible to clean gutters yourself. If you do so, make sure you take all proper safety precautions, including wearing protective eyewear and work gloves and having a spotter to hold the ladder steady.

When hiring a pro, verify that your cleaner has liability and worker-compensation insurance, which protects you in the event of damage to your home or injury to a worker. This is always a good idea when hiring any home service, but it is particularly vital in work that involves risky activities like climbing ladders or going on the roof.