A Home Inspector’s Guide to Gutter Maintenance and Moisture Management
Keeping rain water outside where it belongs, and not inside your home causing trouble, starts with good gutter maintenance, according to an expert.
“Out of site, out of mind, doesn’t work with gutters,” said home inspector Peter Bennett, owner of A Full House Inspection Co. in Little Silver, NJ. “Gutters are a very important—and often neglected—system for the moisture management of the home.”
Bennett, who’s been inspecting residential and commercial properties throughout New Jersey for 19 years, said that without proper gutter management and maintenance, homeowners can end up with water damage, wood destroying insects or even mold.
Proper Installation & Maintenance Are Key
There are a number of gutter issues Bennett sees during home inspections that can cause damage to a home:
Gutters that are not regularly cleaned can become obstructed and cause water to overflow. Of course, Bennett has seen his fair share of organic debris from vegetation and the occasional kid’s toy clogging a gutter, but after almost 20 years inspecting homes, he’s no longer surprised by anything he finds in a homeowner’s gutters.
“You name it it’s probably made it into someone’s gutter,” he said.
Improperly installed gutters can allow moisture to enter the home from the roofline or anywhere along the side of the house and down into the foundation and basement. According to Bennett, most homeowners don’t realize that gutters need to be caulked every 5-7 years along the ends, middles and seams.
Gutter guards are hit or miss. Bennet said some brands perform fairly well but thinks most of them do not. He still sees a lot of debris inside the gutters and also finds homeowners assume that they don’t need to clean gutters if they have the guards.
“I was at a house a couple of weeks ago and found the gutter guards had blown off because they weren’t properly installed,” said Bennett. “And the ones that still had the guards were filled with debris and clogged.
Undersized gutters Another problem is gutters that are undersized for the pitch of the roof, which finds the water shooting off the roof and bypassing the gutter and collecting on the ground below.
Leaders that terminate too close to a house. Bennett said he often sees this, which lets water pool and come back into the foundation. He often sees elbows that terminate at the foundation near the sump pump discharge pipe. The water then goes down into the sump pump and gets discharged back in the same area. “This not only can cause your sump pump to burn out,” said Bennett, “but it’s the perfect vehicle to get moisture inside your house very fast.”
What Can Go Wrong?
So, what else can go wrong if gutters aren’t installed and maintained properly?
Bugs. “Carpenter ants love to go into soft fascia boards behind the gutter and eat. It also provides them a home and lets them go up into the attic,” said Bennett. Termites can come into the house from ground once you provide a food source—like your house or another organic material—along with a little moisture. “Termites love coming to the house and stay there until they don’t have those two pieces for their survival,” Bennett added.
Foundation damage. During the winter months, pooling water can freeze, which can push on a foundation and cause cracks and be very expensive to fix, Bennett said.
Mold. When gutters have downspouts that terminate at the corners of the house, Bennett said he often finds water in the house with mold showing up within 3-4 feet of the corner interior of the basement. “Water seeps through the foundation wall, sometimes through a settlement crack, and usually needs to be patched on both sides.”
“When you have water and organic material, you have mold,” he explained. Many times people don’t see any moisture but smell a damp issue, which is the key that there is some moisture in your basement. “Hopefully it’s not in contact with anything that can make mold propagate and end up being a very serious health issue.”
Bennett said his best advice to homeowners is to go outside when it’s raining and observe how the gutters handle the water flow and whether they are overflowing and then how they discharge water away from the house.
“This way, you can make corrections on site and avoid bigger problems down the line,” Bennett said.
If you are unsure whether mold is growing out of sight, or want to get a professional assessment of a visible mold issue, contact Stock Environmental Consultants to get an expert opinion based on over 20 years of experience.