Properly installed gutters and roof drains help protect your property from rain and other conditions. But like most installations, gutters and drains require regular maintenance to continue getting the job done. The most common fix you’ll likely have to perform is unclogging, and there are numerous ways to do this. In this blog, we’ll discuss the best way to clean clogged gutters and clogged roof drains, and get this: You may not even have to get on the roof!
The Importance of Clean Gutters and Roof Drains
Clogged gutters and roof drains are typically caused by the collection of leaves and other debris; sometimes, animals may also make a nest in these areas, which can also contribute to a clog.
Clean gutters are critical when it comes to collecting the rain that falls on the roof and diverting it through downspouts away from the home’s foundation. Without them – or if they are clogged – water will fall near the foundation and can lead to leaks around windows or in a basement or crawlspace.
Clean roof drains are important for keeping water from backing up on the roof, leading to damaging leakage. In the most extreme cases, standing water due to a clogged roof drain can even cause a roof collapse.
How to Clean Gutters From the Ground
Climbing ladders can lead to accidents and injury, so try cleaning your gutters from the ground first. It may take a little more time since you can’t see what you’re doing, but it’s a lot safer! (we’ve even heard from customers that first used a drone to diagnose the problem from above!). Two ways to clean gutters from the ground are by using a garden hose or a wet-vac with helpful attachments.
Gutter Cleaning with a Garden Hose
A garden hose can be used to clear clogged gutters. Using an extension (a favorite is the GutterMaster Telescopic Water Fed Pole), you can keep your feet planted firmly on the ground rather than teetering on a ladder. You’ll want to start at the end nearest the downspout, hosing out the entire length of the gutter, and then work your way back to the downspout. Once you see water, leaves, twigs, and other debris cascading down, you know you’re breaking up the gutter clog!
Gutter Cleaning with a Wet Vac
If your garden hose isn’t forcing debris through the downspout, maybe you need to suck it up! In these cases, a wet vac is your best friend. Your local home improvement store will probably carry hoses with curved attachments so that you can reach the gutter from the ground (if they don’t carry these, you can order the Vacmaster 2.5-Inch Gutter Cleaning Kit online). Once you’ve removed the bulk of the debris, use that garden hose to flush the gutters and downspout one more time.
How to Clean Gutters on a Ladder
Think you need to go up on the rooftop to get the job done? Climbing onto the roof can be dangerous, so we don’t recommend it. But we also know that won’t stop some of you DIYers! If you’re going to get on the roof, be sure to have a sturdy ladder and someone to hold it steady. Also, consider purchasing an extension ladder that has been fitted with stabilizer arms. You can also purchase these separately and add them to your ladder (the Werner True Grip Stabilizer, which braces the ladder against siding and keeps it from slipping to the side, is ideal).
Gutter Cleaning with a Leaf Blower
If you have a leaf blower, most come with a nozzle attachment that is designed to release a powerful air stream, perfect for blasting leaves, twigs, and debris from the gutter. Position your ladder so that you can work from one end of the channel to the other, blowing out obstructions as you go. Be sure to cover the downspout with a rag or towel to keep from blowing more leaves into it.
Gutter Cleaning with a Power Washer
If you don’t clean your gutters regularly, dirt and debris can build up and harden, requiring a power washer. A power washer will help to blast caked-on debris near the exterior and throughout the gutter system. Just point the nozzle down the hole and rinse the shaft until the water can run freely through it.
Gutter Cleaning with Your Hands
Ready to get your hands dirty? Well, not really, because we recommend putting on some heavy-duty work gloves! Then, grab a bucket and a garden trowel. Begin manually removing leaves and debris by hand or with the trowel, tossing it into your bucket for disposal later. Once you’re done, flush the gutters and downspout with garden hose water until they are functioning properly.
How to Unclog Your Roof Drain
To unclog your roof drain, you’re likely going to need to get up on the roof. Again, be sure to use a safety ladder with attachments and have an assistant on hand. Then, you can perform your inspection and try some quick fixes.
Roof Drain Cleaning with a Pipe Brush or Wet Vac
First, clear away any debris from the outside of the drain; it could be as simple as that. If that’s not the problem, you’ll want to take a look inside the drain to be sure there’s not another underlying problem. To do this, unscrew the cover and shine a flashlight inside.
There could be one large obstruction hindering water flow that can be removed with a gloved hand; or, there may be an accumulation of leaves and gunk you may be able to remove with a wet vac or pipe brush.
It’s also possible that small critters or birds could be the culprit. Your drain may be an ideal home as it’s secluded and free from many predators—plus, accumulated leaves make a nice nest. For health and safety reasons, it’s not recommended that you try to remove them yourself; call in a professional who can remove them safely and humanely.
Roof Drain Cleaning with a Drain Snake
Most debris accumulation should be able to be cleared with a simple drain snake. Just feed the snake into the drain until you feel the resistance from the clog. Begin rotating the snake to break it up, continuing to feed the snake down to force the clog toward the outlet pipe. If the clog is particularly thick, you may need to repeat this process a few times.
If you have a power auger (or intend to rent one from a hardware store), you can also try that at this step. One word of caution: keep the pressure setting low otherwise you could cause a crack in the pipe, turning a simple clog into a costly repair.
Roof Drain Cleaning with a Garden Hose
Similar to cleaning gutters, you may try blasting out obstructions with your garden hose. Simply feed your garden hose down the drain, again until you feel the resistance from the clog. Then, turn the hose on full power to push the clog to the drainage outlet.
If the clog is particularly thick, the water you’re putting into the drain may build up and come back out the top; however, it shouldn’t take long for the pressure of the water, and the buildup of water on top of the clog, to force it out.
For even more thorough cleaning, hydro-jetting is a worthwhile cost if you have difficulty reaching a hose to your roof.
Preventing Clogged Gutters and Drains
They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and there are some cost-effective ways to keep your gutters and roof drains clean. To reduce the need to clean—or prevent it altogether—consider installing a screen that allows water to drain through it while blocking leaves and twigs. The Raptor Micro-Mesh Guard is great for gutters.
Other gutter guards, like the LeafGuard gutter system, direct running water into the gutter while throwing leaves and debris over the side. This will require professional installation to fit the length of the roof edge so there are no splices in the guttering, which can lead to leaking and dripping.
Need Professional Plumbing Help?
When you have a clogged gutter or roof drain, there are still several other debris-removal methods, such as blow bags and sewer jetters. However, due to the likelihood of cracking the pipes and causing further damage, we recommend bringing in the professionals—they have seen and done it all when it comes to clogged drains.
Plus, if you’ve attempted the method above to no avail, it’s possible that the problem is not a clog at all, but rather improperly installed or cracked pipes. This can weaken water pressure and reduce drainage speeds. Since you will not be able to locate cracks on your own, that’s when it’s time to call in the experts at Express Sewer & Drain in Sacramento.
One last suggestion: Unclogging a gutter or roof drain is not a chore for the kids. Not only does it often involve climbing a ladder, but there could also be electrical wires near the roof or danger from nesting animals. Instead, make cleaning the drain a regular part of your routine, especially in the autumn when most leaf accumulation happens.