Cleaning your home's gutters is a messy job, but someone undoubtedly should do it. Stopped-up gutters can cause major problems, from wet...

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Cleaning your home’s gutters is a messy job, but someone undoubtedly should do it. Stopped-up gutters can cause major problems, from wet basements to ruined siding and trim to damaged interior walls.

If you want to do this gunk-removal on your own, here are some guidelines. But do consider hiring a company — usually less than $200, depending on the size of your house — instead of risking a ladder-related injury.

How often?

This depends on your tree cover, but basically: one cleaning in the fall and one in the spring.

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But if your house has no tall trees nearby, you might be fine with an inspection and any needed cleaning just once every couple of years.

At the other extreme, if you’re surrounded by large overhanging deciduous trees, you should clean three or four times in the fall, up through the time the trees have lost all their leaves, and once in mid- to late-spring to avoid problems from tree flowers, seeds and other debris.

You will need to inspect and clean less often if your gutters are covered with gutter guards. But these systems won’t nab everything, and the screens and guards themselves can become clogged. So you should still inspect, and clean if needed, at least every couple of years.

How to clean

your gutter

Usually, you climb a ladder and, using heavy work gloves to protect your hands, scoop out as much debris as possible.

If your gutters are covered, clean off debris on top and then carefully lift the screens or guard to remove stuff in the gutters themselves.

Once the gutters are clean, use a garden hose to run water down them. Check that the water flows in the right direction (no sags or blockages), check for leaks and check that all downspouts are draining properly.

If you find problems …

If you find a leak at a joint, caulk the area from the inside with gutter sealant. You can patch holes in various ways. One option is to use a patch of the same material as the gutter, glue the patch in place with epoxy and coat the patch with roofing cement, being sure not to create a buildup that will block the flow of water.

If you find loose nails or screws holding the gutters in place, drive them in again if possible, replace them with longer nails or screws, or replace nails with screws. You may be able to bend distorted hangers back into their original form.

Ladder safety

Unless your roof is flat, perform all work from a ladder, not by leaning over from the roof.

Make sure that you give power lines a wide berth; touching one, particularly with a metal ladder or while standing on a metal ladder, might bring a quick and permanent end to your gutter-cleaning responsibilities.

Lift your ladder carefully and position it properly. Put the bottom end against the house; from the top end, walk toward the house, lifting the ladder over your head until you reach the house and the ladder is upright; then move the bottom end away from the house about one-fourth of the ladder’s length. The top of the ladder should extend at least three feet above the edge of the roof.

Climb the ladder by stepping onto the center of each rung and using both hands on the sides.

If you can’t easily reach out laterally to collect debris, reposition the ladder rather than taking the chance of losing your balance by stretching too far.

And again, since gutter cleaning is dirty, physically demanding and potentially dangerous, you may want to hire someone else to do the job.

Choosing a company

To choose a firm, talk with friends and neighbors about experiences they’ve had. You can also check for fellow subscribers’ reviews of firms in the “Neighbor-to-Neighbor” area of www.checkbook.org.

Ask each firm you’re considering to quote you a price estimate over the phone or, better yet, to inspect your home and provide a written quote. Most firms are willing to provide a free written estimate based on a visit to the home, and you usually don’t need to be home to get it.

Getting several price quotes will likely save you money. When our researchers called a sample of firms for their prices to clean the gutters on a two-story, 2,500 square-foot home with a steep roof, and gutters that measured 80 linear feet, prices ranged from a low of $40 to a high of $250.

Ask any firm you consider to provide you with proof of liability and workers’ compensation insurance.

Going with

gutter guards

If you don’t have gutter guards, some firms may offer to install them for you. The least expensive options are metal or vinyl screens, designed to let water through while catching leaves and other debris that eventually fall or blow off. These can be installed for about $3 to $5 per linear foot.

More expensive gutter-guard options are covers, usually made of aluminum or vinyl, designed to allow rainwater to flow into gutters while leaves and other debris are caught on top or washed away over the edges. These covers typically cost $7 to $12 per linear foot for installation; for a home with 80 feet of gutters, that’s $560 to $960.

Even if large trees surround your home, gutter guards are not necessarily a good investment. Gutter guards likely won’t prevent berries, nuts, seedpods and shingle granules from entering your gutters, and will do little to prevent pine needles from clogging up the works.

For this reason, when we asked dozens of area gutter installers and roofing contractors whether they install screens or covers, more than one-third told us they never install them — they’ve found them ineffective and a waste of money.

Even if you invest in gutter guards, you’ll need to inspect your gutters at least every couple of years, and if there are leaves and debris to remove, doing so will be more difficult if the gutters have gutter guards on top.

Excerpt reprinted by permission from Puget Sound Consumers’ Checkbook, a nonprofit, non-advertising magazine that rates many types of area service firms. For the full article or a copy of the magazine, call 206-332-9696 or visit www.checkbook.org.