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Most the leaves are down now

It's time to put your mind in the gutter.

Part 3 of moisture issues in historic homes

Gutter full of leaves. If you have not cleaned them out yet, this is how yours look
Blowing out the leaves
Or just use your hand.
Rinse gutter with hose and check for leaks.
Route downspout away from structure and use a splash block.

My last article was on how to inspect the roof of your home, historic or contemporary.

This week I am addressing how to maintain your gutters so that you can keep your mind out of them or at least not have to think about them again until spring.

On the slim chance that you have not already voraciously devoured my last thrilling topic here is a link:

First some things that gutters are not suposed to be, but that they often become:

•A watering trough for the birds.

•A place to compost your leaves.

•A flower box filled with weeds.


We are moving from fall into winter and most of the leaves are off the trees so it is time to clean (or hire someone to, hint, hint) out your gutters. We still have some warmer dry days, to clean out your gutters of leaves. This is a home maintenance task that you can do yourself if you have a couple of basic things and are not afraid of heights. Most important is a ladder that will get you high enough to see in to your gutter and reach into them. A ladder standoff makes this even easier.How badly they are clogged (and I can almost guarantee they are clogged) will dictate how you will address them.


•If they are mostly full of fairly dry leaves you may be able to blow them out with a leaf blower, making sure that the downspouts are also clear.

•If they have wet or decomposed leaves a garden hose can be used to blast the leaves and gunk out.

•The method that I seem to use most often is scoop the muck out with my hands, sometimes I have actually planed ahead and wear rubber gloves. There are plastic scoops and other tools for this purpose as well.


Once you have cleaned them, with whatever method you have used, run water through them with a hose (or if you are a glutton for punishment you can go out in a torrential downpour and look at them) to assure that they will drain properly, the downspouts are clean and not leaking, that the gutters are not leaking and that they are pitched properly. If your gutters are not clean you are opening yourself up to potential water or ice damage to your gutters, roof and home.

Now that I have covered the largest part of maintaining gutters, which is keeping them clean and making sure they are not leaking, let’s move on.

In Nantucket the majority of houses have wood, or occasionally copper, gutters and copper downspouts. Wood gutters need other maintenance beyond keeping them clean. The exterior of gutters need to be painted every other year. You need to keep the inside of your gutters as protected from damage as the outside. It is important to regularly oil wooden gutters to keep them from drying out and becoming cracked. Traditionally linseed oil is used for this purpose. Wood gutters, if properly maintained, can last anywhere from 15 to 100 years depending upon the type of wood used and the amount of maintenance.

While we're on the subject of gutters, let's talk about downspouts. On Nantucket we are suposed to use skinny copper downspouts that are even more prone to cloging. I believe that the HDC will allow you to use PVC if they are boxed in wood and not hence not visable. Firstly make sure that they are not leaking and that the water is directed away from the foundation of the house. This can be done through making sure the grade slopes away from the house, capturing and disposing of downspout water well away from the building by adding extensions and using splash blocks to disperse the runoff. Clean out your downspouts twice a year at least.

Next installment I will cover the rest of your house and tips for dealing with moisture.

Tom Ayars uses his thirty-plus years of construction experience to help Nantucket homeowners keep their historic (and newer) homes in great condition. Email him with any questions, comments or suggested topics at: [email protected]

Or reach me at (203)494-4375