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Time to clean the gutters -- here's how

A fall tradition - cleaning the gutters of

A fall tradition - cleaning the gutters of leaves. Credit: iStockphoto

If you think that cleaning your home's gutters and leaders is an optional home improvement project, think again. It's actually one of the most important things you can do to keep your house in shape and protect its value.

Your first gutter cleaning should take place once between Thanksgiving and Christmas, followed by a second one around April or May, says Marty Zarza, manager of The Gutter Guy in West Babylon. If you live in an area heavily treed, then it may be necessary to have it done more often. "It's amazing how people will change the oil in their car like clockwork, but neglect their biggest investment - their home - by not cleaning out the gutters and leaders," he says.

First, you may be asking yourself: What are gutters and leaders? Gutters refer to the channels that collect water dripping off your roof; leaders or downspouts refer to the pipes that carry the water to ground level away from your home's foundation.

Brian Connelly of Brian Connelly Seamless Gutters in Levittown offers season-by-season reasons to clean out your gutters.

1. Leaf relief

First, during the fall, thousands of leaves fall off the trees. While most of those leaves will end up in your yard and be raked into piles, there will be plenty that land in your gutters. "Leaves act like a plug in your bathtub, and will cause the water to drip or cascade on walkways, creating ice patches or leaks inside your house," Connelly says.

2. Ice not nice

During the winter, if you don't clean the gutters, the water inside of them will freeze. This creates a big strain on the gutters - no matter how tightly they are nailed to the house, Connelly explains. "The ice becomes the equivalent of someone hanging on the gutters, and eventually they'll get loose and fall," he says.

3. Thaw & order

When ice and snow start to thaw in the spring, the water can get behind the fascia (that's the part of your house where the gutters are fastened) and create an "ice damming effect." Connelly warns that eventually the water will seep into your house and cause water damage where the windows meet the ceilings. The result? Chronic leaks, cracked paint, mold and mildew.

4. The bite stuff

During the summer, stagnant water will breed mosquitoes inside of the gutters. It's not only a nuisance to an individual homeowner but a community health hazard because of the potential spread of West Nile virus, Connelly says.

5. Feeling flushed

If downspouts or leaders aren't flushed out, water will flow over windows, doors and siding and rot wood, erode soil and even damage a home's foundation, Zarza says. Pressure can build and find its way inside the basement because concrete is porous. Homeowners can save money waterproofing a basement when all they may have needed was a properly cleaned and pitched gutter with a correct extension off the bottom of the leader.

6. Highs and lows

Although a do-it-yourself homeowner is capable of cleaning the gutters, it can be risky, Zarza advises.

"Just because someone is athletic doesn't mean that they're accustomed to standing on a ladder," he says. "And, even a strong guy's knees can buckle when he's on top of a roof."

Also, he explains, many homeowners don't even know how to set up a ladder safely at a proper angle and don't usually own the type that can safely hold a person more than 300 pounds. "To save under $200 a year is not worth the risk of injury, or the hardship you can cause your family if you can't work," he says.

Zarza also warns against the temptation of choosing a less expensive company that may not be reputable, licensed and insured. To check a contractor's credentials in Suffolk County, call the Office of Consumer Affairs at 631-853-4600. In Nassau County, call the Office of Consumer Affairs at 516-571-2600.

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