A homes gutter system consists of the gutters, downspouts and splash blocks or extension pipes Its purpose is to channel rainwater or melted snow and ice to an area away from the home and its foundation. This article focuses on problems that can occur from neglected maintenance of a gutter system
Trouble at the top
Most commonly gutters are attached to the eaves with fasteners driven through the fascia board and into the rafter tails If gutters clog or fall into disrepair, water can overflow and cause the fascia board, rafter ends, soffit and decking to become wet and begin to rot.
Trouble at the bottom
It is important to realize that water allowed to pool against the foundation of a home can eventually find its way into the basement or crawl space. Even modern materials used for foundation construction, (concrete block or poured cement) are porous. Channeling the water away from the homes foundation with gutters is the first line of defense.
It would be difficult to predict and describe all of the issues that could arise from neglected maintenance. However, another noteworthy danger is posed to a homes foundation. Foundation problems are to be expected (as I mentioned before when no gutter system has been installed) but even a missing section or disconnected downspout on an existing system can cause damage. Also, worth mentioning is that even when well maintained, if terminations aren't directed and channeled far enough away issues can also occur. Almost all foundation materials are porous to some extent but older methods can be more so than newer ones.
A personal horror story
About a year ago my wife and I purchased a beautiful Craftsman/Bungalow style home built in 1922. The home had a walk-in cellar with 3 elevated crawl spaces constructed of field stone, sand and a few sections of poured cement. This was in the middle of a 3 month drought so there was no moisture present at the time of inspection.
Approximately 4 months after we purchased the house even though it had rained of and on, Mother Nature suddenly overcompensated and it rained... and it rained... and finally it rained some more. Toward the end of the rainstorm, my wife was walking passed the below grade walkout when
she noticed something. It was now a swimming pool! 1 ½ feet of water completely covered the floor of an approximately 500 square foot cellar. On one occasion I was working in the cellar when it started raining.
The rain was so heavy that it came shooting out of the wall at me soaking me from 4 feet away. We later discovered that damaged and missing down spouts had allowed years and years of rain water to tunnel under the masonry porch. Over time the water bored through the foundation wall as a result of
the pooling underground against the below grade section of the wall.
The gutters and downspouts on the masonry porch had been neglected, and not properly directed. This failure to perform routine maintenance had overtime caused foundation issues which can if not addressed cause issues in every other part of the home. A building, even though designed to flex with normal swelling and shrinking, is still rigid. If one corner of a structure sinks or drops a even an inch the rest of it can only respond in a few ways. It will either flex/shift to compensate, or stay in place and the moving portion will separate. In the case of movement and separation, cracks will begin to appear on interior and exterior surfaces. Roughly $5000 later our basement is dry and changes in settlement are starting to
Last but not least, evil black goo
As for that black stuff in your gutters, we once again return to neglected maintenance. It is nothing more than the anaerobic breakdown/ decomposition of organic matter. As the seasons change we get to enjoy the beauty. Spring and summer bring pollen and new growth, fall gives us the calming colors before the cold, and then winter brings the freeze compounding the point. However during the show we forget what else is going on.
Pollen leaves and debris are washed from your roof into the gutters. The debris endures temperature change and is compacted even more by moisture. Another undesirable side effect of standing water in your gutters is that it becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes plant growth whose roots may enter your roof structure(This comes up more during a home inspection than you think). The simple fact is that neglecting to maintain systems meant to lengthen the life of your home can in fact shorten it.
There is no reason for alarm if you have an issue or are buying your first home and have an inclination to be proactive. Simply remember to keep up preventative systems such as your gutters and keep water away from your home. As far as the rest of your home there is plenty of help and info out there. You can also find plenty of professionals if you simply can’t do the work yourself.
I am a United States Army Veteran with over 10 years construction experience prior to my service. After my time in the military I enrolled in InterNACHI's rigorous course work to become a certified member and prepare for the National Home Inspectors Exam. I continue to push inspection courses and education, attaining and exceeding the required continuing education courses