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Regular maintenance keeps gutters open

Dear Ms. Builder: Every time it rains, water overflows my gutter and streams down my window and cedar siding. It doesn't seem to be hurting the window but I've noticed the siding is starting to peel and flake. Do you have any suggestions? - Marie P.

Dear Marie: You should inspect and clean your gutters at least twice a year, generally in the spring and fall. If you can only clean the gutters once a year do it after all the leaves have fallen in fall. If you must wait until spring, you may have a new rooftop tropical garden.

It will seem as if most of the leaves and seeds took up residence in your gutters. The accumulation of debris can clog the gutters and downspouts creating problems. If the blockages remain, water can flow over the edge of the gutters down the wall of the house. This can cause rotting or water seepage problems in a crawl space or basement.

A sunny, dry day is the best time to tackle gutter cleaning. The dry leaves and debris in the gutter can be removed with a leaf vacuum/blower. Some models have attachments specifically for this purpose. You can climb the old ladder and use the tried and true method of reaching in and scooping out the gunk. This also gives you the opportunity to inspect your gutters for any needed repair.

Move the ladder often. Never do your stretching exercises while cleaning the gutter. Reaching or bending your body too far could cause a serious accident. Stand on the ladder below the level of each gutter. And never stand on the roof to clear the gutters, it is too easy to slip and slide, certainly not a great place to practice your skiing.

Start by cleaning the gutters at a corner close to the downspout. Remove all debris blocking the downspout and stuff a rag in the opening. Sweep the debris into a pile and remove it from the gutter with gloved hands or with a trowel. Hang a bucket on a ladder rung and toss the debris in it.

Move the tools as far in the opposite direction of the downspout as you can safely reach. Climb carefully down the ladder with the bucket of debris. Empty the bucket, it is a wonderful addition to the compost pile. Move the ladder about six feet from the downspout and repeat the process.

Once the gutters are cleared, do a test to make sure that water in the gutters and downspouts flows out smoothly. Flush the gutter with a full spray of water from a garden hose. This will show if there is standing water or blockages in the downspouts. Also look for any leaks, especially at the seams.

If you find standing water, the gutter probably needs to be repositioned. The gutter should slope downward at least one-quarter inch for every ten feet of length. Some builders recommend one-quarter inch every five feet. First try bending the gutter hangers a little. If more adjustment is needed, you may have to reposition them to eliminate the standing water.

If the water does drain out, but very slowly, down the downspout, it is probably partially clogged with leaves that must be cleared. Use a standard plumber's snake or drain auger to clear the clog. It is best to work your way up from the bottom to avoid compacting the leaves even more.

If you get frequent blockages in your downspouts, install leaf strainers in the downspout opening. In a heavily wooded lot, it is good idea to install wire mesh leaf guards over the entire length of the gutters.

Tools and materials required: ladder, leaf vacuum/blower and attachments, bucket, metal hook, rubber work gloves, gardening trowel, hand brush, a rag and the garden hose.

Send your questions to Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.