Autumn is thought by some to be the most beautiful of the seasons. The changing of the leaves from green to gold, orange and red produces a bright splash of color to the scenery, and dried leaves crunching underfoot can bring joy to people of all ages. But these leaves can also clog your gutters and cause damage to your home if you are not careful. For tips avoiding expensive repairs, check out our Ultimate Guide to preventing leaf damage and maintaining your gutters this fall.

Table of Contents

Overview

Many homeowners in the Chicagoland area experience problems with damaged roofs and clogged gutters during the autumn months. An abundance of leaves on your house and in your gutters can potentially lead to many expensive damages to your home. This is why we’ve put together this ultimate guide to leaf removal and gutter maintenance. We hope that by following these tips this autumn, you can get some leaf relief and avoid spending money on fixing preventable damages.

Why Is Roof Cleaning Necessary in the Fall? 

Cleaning leaves from your roof may seem like a waste of time. After all, more are going to fall and most will eventually blow away anyway, right? Unfortunately, ignoring the problem of excess leaves on your roof can result in the need for expensive repairs. Removing large clumps of leaves quickly is important for roof protection and the prevention of water damage.

When leaves clump on your roof, they tend to collect water. As home improvement writer Jeanne Huber explains, “If you have a simple peaked roof surrounded by low landscaping, your roof probably stays clear of leaves on its own. But if the roof is more complicated or if towering trees are nearby, piles of leaves probably collect in roof valleys or near chimneys. If you don’t remove them, they will trap moisture and gradually decompose, allowing moisture to accumulate in your roof — or worse, create fertile ground for weeds to grow.”

This trapped moisture can cause asphalt roofing shingles to rot, thus enabling water to leak into your home. Furthermore, an abundance of wet leaves can put uneven pressure on your roof, and this, in turn, can cause the beams to weaken. It is therefore in your best interest to remove large clumps of leaves from your roof whenever you notice them.

How to Clean Leaves from Your Roof

There is nothing you can do to prevent leaves from falling in the autumn; but, if you have trees situated close to your home, you should take care to trim back any branches that may overhang your roof.  This can reduce the number of leaves that land on your house and in your gutters. Additional benefits of trimming back these branches, as pointed out in an article on Angie’s List, are that your roof will be less likely to suffer damage from falling branches during a major storm, and it will receive more sunlight, thereby preventing the growth of moss and algae.

If there is a large quantity of wet leaves clinging to your roof, it is important that they be cleaned off. You can do this a number of different ways:

  • Standing on a ladder – While on a ladder, you can use a roof leaf rake (a specialty tool that costs about $20) or a brush with an extended handle, to swipe leaves off the roof. To reduce your risk of injury, use a ladder that extends at least two feet higher than edge of your roof.
  • From the ground – If your roof is low enough, you may be able to remove clumps of leaves from your shingles and eves using a roof leaf rake, a brush with an extended handle or even with a garden hose. If you use the hose method, do not use a power-spray setting as this can damage roofing shingles.
  • Using a leaf blower – Some people prefer to blow the leaves off their roofs with a leaf blower. This method frequently requires you to stand on a ladder with the machinery or even to climb up onto your roof, which can be dangerous as wet leaves are very slick. We, therefore, do not recommend this method.

Why Is Gutter Leaf Cleaning Necessary? 

Without proper prevention and maintenance, gutters can clog. Clogged gutters may nullify your home’s entire drainage systems and cause water damage to the interior, exterior and even the foundation of your house. These problems can be serious and very expensive to repair.

In his article Gutter Cleaning Tips to Avoid Major Repairs, roofing expert Tom Kraeutler explains that clogged gutters can lead to cracked foundations, rotten wood, leaking roofs, cracked driveways and even slippery sidewalks. Your gutter system is designed to draw water off, and away from, your home; so if it is not functioning properly, water can pool around your house. In the winter, this pooled water can freeze and lead to icy walkways, which present a hazard to your family and guests.

Gutter Leaf Guide to Preventing Clogs

The most important thing you can do to prevent build-up in your gutters is to clean them out periodically. You can either do this using a window brush while standing on the ground, by hand while standing on a ladder, or by paying a contractor to do the work for you. Whatever method you use for cleaning gutters, it is important that you keep safety as your top priority.

If you have a number of leaf-bearing trees around your home or if your gutters are high and hard to get to safely, you may want to consider having gutter guards installed. Though they are not a perfect solution to this problem, they can help to prevent buildup of damage-causing debris. There are a number of different types of gutter guards on the market.

Rosalind Jackson of How Stuff Works lists and explains your options, including:

  • Reverse curve: These guards are designed to direct water into your gutters while causing leaves and debris to slide onto the ground below.
  • Mesh: These gutter guards place a mesh sheet over your gutters that sift out leaves and debris so that only water gets into the gutter system.
  • Bottle brush: These gutter guards use pokey bristles that stick straight up from your gutters. Leaves and debris collect on top of the bristles while water seeps down and into the gutter system.
  • Nylon: These fit directly onto your gutters and tend to work better than the other types at preventing snow and ice accumulation.
  • Foam type: These gutter guards work by inserting foam blocks directly into your gutters. They allow water to seep through but prevent leaves and debris from getting to the gutter system.
  • Non-gutter cover: In this case, the gutters on your house are replaced by a set of thin louvers that are designed to divert rain water from your roof.

It is best to speak with a gutter and roofing expert for help with determining which type of gutter guard is best suited to your house.

Of course, as we mentioned earlier, gutter guards are a good solution, but they are not a perfect solution. In her article Pros & Cons of Using Gutter Guards, Lynnette Walczak of The Fun Times Guide offers a list of advantages and disadvantages of using gutter covers on your home’s water drainage system.

Among the advantages that make gutter guards a great investment are:

  • They can be easily added to your existing gutter system
  • They can prevent rodents, birds and other pests from building nests in your gutters.
  • They eliminate the necessity of frequent gutter cleaning in the fall.
  • They prevent the accumulation of stagnant water on your roof and in your gutters.
  • They make your gutters last longer by preventing rust and rot.
  • Some come in heated varieties that can melt icicles and snow and therefore prevent the build-up of ice dams

However, Walczak also lists a number of disadvantages that you should be aware of before purchasing a gutter guard system for your home. These include:

  • Installation of gutter guards can be expensive.
  • It will still be necessary to clean the gutters on your home periodically, although not as frequently.
  • Some types of gutter guards may actually causes icicle and ice dams to form on your home in the winter.
  • Your gutter guards can become dented by hail or falling debris, making them less effective.
  • Gutter guards increase the weight of your gutter systems; this may cause problems with sagging.
  • It is possible for tree seeds to get caught in the gutter guards and take root.

Your Guide to Gutter Cleaning

Cleaning gutters isn’t a fun job, but it’s a necessary one. Tom Kraeutler recommends that you go about it as follows:

  • Use ladders with caution: Your safety should be your top priority. Use a stable ladder that extends beyond the eves of your roof, and be sure to avoid hazards such as electric lines and wasp’s nests. Kraeutler advises that if you are not comfortable with climbing ladders that you hire a handyman to do the job for you.
  • Clean the gutters: For safety’s sake, Kraeutler warns that you should always work from the ladder, not the roof. Wearing work gloves throughout, start at one end of the gutter and work your way down to the other, pulling leaves and debris out by hand as you move along. If you notice any loose gutter sections along the way, tighten them up as you come to them. Be sure to keep moving the ladder down rather than reaching to work on the gutters.
  • Spray the Spouts: Once you get to a spout at the end of the gutter, use a garden hose to spray water down into it. If there is a clog in the spout, you will be able to see the water building up. To clear the clog, try flushing it out with water. If that does not work, you will need to take the spout apart to get it cleaned out. This can be a time-consuming and difficult job. Once the sprouts are clear, ensure that the discharge end of your water drainage system is at least 4 feet from your house to avoid water problems in your basement.
  • Consider gutter guards: As mentioned above, gutter guards can go a long way toward preventing buildup in your gutter system. Kraeutler advises that “no matter what gutter product you choose, it is important that you check gutters periodically as well as be mindful of signs of clogging like over-flowing in a rainstorm.”

Conclusion

Excessive leaves can cause a lot of problems for Chicagoland homeowners, but leaf accumulation on your roof and in your gutters can be easily prevented through maintenance. If you notice an abundance of leaves piled on your roof or if your gutters are not draining as well as they used to, it is important that you try to remedy the situation as quickly and as safely as possible. By keeping your roof and gutters clear of heavy leaf accumulation now, you can save yourself the cost of expensive repairs later.