September 2016: Gutters and Drainage

Ask The Inspector

Q. What Do I Need To Know About Gutters and Drainage?

Ask The Inspector

A. Gutters, downspouts and splash blocks are used to move water away from the exterior and foundation. This protects the exterior surfaces of the home, the foundation and landscaping materials from water damage. Gutters are valleys made of a variety of materials located on the edge of the roof.

Downspouts connect to the gutters to contain the water on its way to the ground, and splash blocks are found at the end of the downspouts to disperse water away from the foundation.

A variety of gutter systems are available depending on the type of home, slope of the roof and aesthetic concerns. Gutters on residential homes can have seams or be seamless, be attached to the outside of the roof or be an integral part of the soffit. They are made of plastics or metals. Leaks are most common at the seams, elbows and corners.

Drainage on flat roofs, generally found more on commercial buildings, can be accomplished with gutters and downspouts, an interior drainage system or scuppers. Scuppers are holes cut in walls that extend above a roof line. Generally a downspout is connected to the scupper to move water away from the building.

Damaged or leaking gutters can allow water to stain walls, pool against the foundation, or seep into the walls damaging the frame.

An unbiased, independent inspection by NPI includes a thorough examination of the gutters and downspouts to provide the information needed for exterior maintenance.

Be Advised

Ladder Safety

Checking and cleaning gutters will require climbing a ladder in most cases. Ladder-related accidents send thousands of people to the emergency room every year, so it pays to be cautious. Before checking the gutters, consider these tips:

Be Advised

  • Inspect the ladder to ensure it is clean and in good working order. Extension ladders are needed for heights above 10 feet.
  • Position the ladder on a solid and level surface. For uneven surfaces, use braces and ask a second person to hold the ladder for added support.
  • Keep the bottom of extension ladders 1 foot away from the side of the home for every four feet of ladder height.
  • For proper support, make sure an extension ladder extends at least three feet above the landing surface.
  • Face the ladder when climbing and keep a three-point grip (two hands and one foot or one hand and two feet) on the ladder at all times.
  • Centre your weight and never lean back.
  • Never overload the ladder’s weight and duty rating as set by the manufacturer.

For more tips on ladder safety procedures, look to instructions provided by the manufacturer, or guidelines published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Snapshots From The Field

What’s Wrong With This Photo?

Snapshots From The Field


  1. The downspout needs to be supported and fastened and elevated off the ground
  2. This is an acceptable length for a downspout extension
  3. It would be better to just terminate the downspout at the ground
  4. With this installation it is now difficult to open and close the gate.

Correct answer: 4. With this installation it is now difficult to open and close the gate. There certainly are better ways to install this.

Maintenance Matters

Cleaning Gutters

The gutters on your home are meant to divert rainwater away from the exterior and foundation, but they also collect debris, bugs, stick and leaves. It is important to clean them every six months. Heavier foliage near the home may necessitate more frequent cleaning.

Maintenance Matters

Before cleaning out gutters do the following:

  • Visually inspect gutters and downspouts for apparent damage from tree limbs or storms.
  • Check that all downspouts are directed away from the home’s foundation and splash blocks are in place.
  • Check fasteners on downspouts and gutters to insure proper connections are in place.

If you choose to do this project yourself, grab a ladder and position it next to the gutter. Follow ladder safety rules and use caution near power lines.

  • Cut a two-liter soda bottle in half and use as a scoop.
  • Use barbecue tongs to pick up debris.
  • Lay a tarp on the ground to collect sticks and leaves. Roll up at the end and empty it into the garbage.
  • Hang a bucket on the ladder with an elastic cord to free up your hands.
  • Remove debris from gutters as often as needed to prevent dams and overflow.
  • Depending on location, and the type of nearby trees, gutters may need to be cleaned twice a year or weekly to prevent debris from clogging drains.

After you have removed the large debris from the gutters, take your garden hose and blast out the remaining waste. Don’t forget to wash out hard-to-reach areas such as the drain spout.

Did You Know?

The Making of Gutters

In England, the Norman Invasion in 1066 resulted in the first use of Gargoyles, an early, ornate answer to the problem of moving water away from a structure. By the time English colonists settled in America, lead pipe and cast iron were being used in gutters, but only on more expensive homes.

Wood was perhaps the most commonly used material for gutters and downspouts in the 18th Century United States. These were formed by placing the long side of boards together in a V-shape, or by hollowing out logs. Downspouts were also made of wood and most ended in a cistern or rain barrel. Lead-lined gutters followed, only to be replaced by copper and other metals during the Revolutionary War when lead was needed for bullets.

During the Industrial Revolution, catalogues introduced seven different styles of hanging gutters made of terne, copper, iron, steel, morel, aluminum and vinyl. Plastics gained popularity following World War II.

From Our Blog

September 9 is national Grandparent’s Day

It’s a good time to consider some of the amenities needed by people looking for a home to shelter them in their retirement years. According to the National Association of Home Builders, these are some of the items that can help make a home safe and comfortable for many years:

  • A master bedroom and bathroom on the first floor.
  • A low or no-threshold entrance with an overhang.
  • No level changes on the first floor.
  • Bright lighting throughout the home.
  • Non-slip flooring throughout the home.
  • A low-maintenance exterior.

Safety conditions and concerns are part of any NPI home inspection.

Monthly Trivia Question

What word comes from the middle French term for “dead pledge”?

Be the first to answer correctly and win a $10 Starbuck’s gift card. Submit your answer to find out if you’ve won.