Written by Chris Majerle, PCAM on October 6, 2020 – Updated October 2020

Community Management Edition
Rental Management Edition

Autumn is upon us once again. With all the cool, crisp nights, the leaves start to change to an array of reds, yellows, browns, and oranges. It’s gorgeous—for a few weeks; then those leaves are on the ground and in our gutters.

Some people like to compost leaves to create fertilizer. This organic material turns to a black sludge as it decomposes. That’s great on your tomatoes, but not so much on your lawn or in your gutters. Think about it; we would never mulch where we want grass to grow. Mulch is placed to help keep grass from growing by creating an acidic soil and keeping sunlight from the grass plants. To preserve our lawns, leaves should be removed before they start to decompose. Some people like to use a mulching mower to grind-up those leaves and create a natural fertilizer. They still decompose and change the ph of the soil, so why would they purposely do this? But I digress; this post is about cleaning your gutters.

In the gutters, there is the added nuisance of standing water. If the gutters don’t tilt perfectly toward the downspout, water sits and the leaves sit in the water and they quickly become a gooey, smelly and disgusting mess. It’s probably not enough to clean gutters once each fall. Two or three times might help keep them from decaying.

A leaf blower works great if the leaves are fresh and relatively dry. You can walk along the edge of a roof and quickly blow out leaves. This makes the process so easy that doing it a few times before winter is no big deal. Unless, of course, you’re afraid of heights like me.

Clogged gutters are a real danger to your property. Aside from the fact that they may cause a waterfall right over your front door, they prevent water from draining. The accumulated water freezes in winter and more water is added to the ice dam when the heat from your home melts the snow over your living space and the water re-freezes as it reaches the gutters. Eventually, the gutters can get so heavy that they simply fall off. Worse yet, they can block the flow of melted snow and cause it to back up under your shingles. As it freezes, frozen gutters can actually lift the shingles and allow more water and ice under the shingles. When this melts, it will find its way to your ceiling.

Most leases require tenants to clean their gutters, and also make them liable for damage resulting from failure to do so. Your property manager should be reminding tenants. In HOAs, it is typically a homeowner’s responsibility. Condos often have common roofs and gutters, so it becomes the association’s responsibility. Your community management company should have this scheduled on your maintenance plan.

Gutter cleaning is a do-it-yourself job for some, but others prefer to hire someone else to do the dirty work. No license is required to clean gutters, but be sure the contractor provides an insurance certificate for liability and worker’s compensation. Remember, when a contractor works for you, you are effectively an employer and therefore responsible for injuries. When a contractor is properly insured, their insurance carrier assumes the risk. Also, be sure you clearly define the job. The cleaning should include clearing downspouts and cleaning up all removed debris from the grounds, including shrubbery and garden spaces.

Several companies sell gutter covers.  Depending upon the size of your gutters, these can cost anywhere from about $6 to $10 per linear foot. It’s a one-time expense that would be recovered after a few cleanings are avoided. (And I could give up walking on my roof.) Worth considering, but get more than one estimate.