Correct Rain Gutter Cleaning

It doesn’t matter whether or not Southern California has an El Nino or La Nina!  It’s now late October and we’re having our third rainy week here in Southern California and there will definitely be more rain this winter.  It’s time for you to obtain bids for the cleaning of your HOA’s rain gutters and to perform your annual roofing maintenance inspection.

By performing a regular roofing maintenance (which includes gutter/downspout cleaning) you could easily get an additional 5 to 10 year’s life from your roofs – consider the cost savings!

Your gutters channel water from a large area (up to 3,000 square feet on average) of roofing surface away from your home, protecting your windows, doors, exterior cladding, decks and foundation slab.  To function correctly and channel these thousands of gallons of water into the storm drains requires that your gutters and downspouts be free of leaves, dirt and debris.

If there is a rain gutter clog then water will spill over the gutter system onto your house’s exterior cladding.  At “best” the water will degrade your trim paint within a year or two.  At worst the water will go down the exterior cladding and into your windows, doors and openings, decay your exterior cladding, and your structural framing and possibly undermine your foundation.  Plus, the weight of the water in the gutter could pull the gutter spikes out of the eaves.

Serious Potential Building Problems:

  • Interior unit damage from roof or window water leaks.
  • Stucco damage and stucco discoloration (the nasty black streaks).
  • Wood deterioration from both wood rot and termite infestation (wet wood makes wonderful termite food).
  • Excess water around the foundation slab could facilitate slab cracks due to soil subsidence; soil subsides when it becomes soaked with water and becomes heavier that the surrounding soil.
  • Excess water around the foundation could facilitate saturation and subsequent water evaporation into the home.
  • If you have expansive “clay filled” soils your soil (and foundation) could “heave”.


Roofing maintenance and gutter cleaning should be performed at least once a year.  If you have lots of leafy trees (Eucalyptus) then you should consider cleaning your gutters and downspouts twice a year.  The cost is a lot less than having to perform emergency repairs and then permanent repairs to the roof itself and replacement of damaged homeowner property.  If the roof is steeply pitched or there are extraordinary access problems then maintenance is more costly.

Don’t Forget Your Downspouts

Be sure your downspouts expel water into the storm drain (only rain in the drain) or well away from your house’s foundation. If necessary, add downspout extensions to carry the water away. Also consider concrete or plastic splash blocks that are slightly sloped and divert water away from the foundation.  Building code requires that the grade adjacent to the foundation be sloped away from the home for the first five (5) feet.

As part of your annual inspection check gutters and downspouts for rust, flaking, or peeling paint, plus leaks, and make sure the gutters are attached tightly to the fascia boards. Check the fascia boards themselves for dry rot or other damage, and, if need be, replace them with lumber treated with  wood preservative that is finished to match the other boards.

Insurance is Crucial

Hire only licensed General Contractors (B) or Roofing Contractors (C-39) to perform roofing maintenance work.  Insist on seeing and retaining on file, a copy of their pocket license which will list their classifications as well as their license number. Then check the number with the Contractors State License Board ( Retain on file an original of the contractor’s general liability and workers compensation certificate of insurance and insist on having the association listed as an additional insured.

HOA, Board and Manager Liable

Read the Heiman vs. Worker’s Compensation Appeal Board decision (source) published on April 13, 2007, where a professional property manager and an unlicensed and uninsured contractor it hired were found jointly and severally liable for workers’ compensation. The homeowners’ association was also found to be liable as the manager’s “principal.” The unlicensed contractor’s employee was seriously injured on the first day of a job installing rain gutters on a condominium building.

Roofing maintenance program includes:

  • Inspect roof surface and all roofing system components for damage.
  • Replace all missing or cracked roof tiles, shingles or asphalt.
  • Clean all gutters and downspouts.
  • Clean out dirt, leaves and debris from all scuppers, valleys, drain bowls and conductor heads.
  • Replace or refasten all gutter spikes as needed.
  • Apply additional mastic around all roof penetrations; this includes all roof-mounted equipment, skylight curbs and HVAC or other systems.
  • Inspect metal coping seams and exposed fasteners and seal where needed.
  • Inspect all roof pipes and flashings and seal and paint where needed.
  • Ensure that downspouts direct all their water away from the building foundation and into the storm drain system.

If you are a homeowner you can clean gutters and downspouts yourself.  However, before you go out and purchase a 20’ ladder and long lengths of hose, make sure you call your insurance company and let them know your plan.

Some homeowners and HOA’s decide on a common remedy for their annual gutter cleaning and install one of various gutter guard or leaf-catching systems. Many different products are available, ranging from very inexpensive wire screening to extremely pricey enclosed gutter-control systems.  Most gutter guard products can be grouped into these basic categories:

  1. Solid gutter covers that deflect leaves and debris while capturing the rain runoff.
  2. Various types of screens that filter the debris from the water, from expensive micro-mesh screen systems to super-cheap screen panels.
  3. Perforated aluminum and PVC covers that allow water but not leaves to enter the gutters.
  4. Gutter inserts made of foam or brushes that prevent leaves and debris from clogging the gutters but allow water to drain through the channels.

You may want to seek out other homeowners or HOA’s who have installed these systems.  Our experience is that they often fail and can be more expensive than just cleaning the gutters.  If you do decide to move forward with a leaf guard system then you will be faced with some major decisions, beginning with budget. You can spend as little as $.30 per lineal foot for simple screening that you install yourself and as much as $30 per foot for professionally installed, solid gutter covers. As a rule, fine-mesh screening and solid covers requiring professional installation will run from $20 to $30 per foot. Even if you do install leaf guard systems you must still perform your annual inspection!

Buildings, like cars and relationships, are not maintenance free.  If you want to get the longest possible life out of all your building components then you must maintain them.  In the final analysis, performing correct maintenance is much less expensive than prematurely replacing roofs and exterior building components.

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