NIW Services Blog

Cleaning leaves from Northern Illinois gutters - how could something so incredibly beautiful be such a terrible pain in the neck?

Sure those leaves are beautiful in Northern Illinois, but that doesn't
make it any safer when someone has to climb a ladder
to clean the leaves out of the gutters.
For many Northern Illinois residents, autumn is their favorite season. The weather in Northern Illinois is generally cool but not too cold. The bugs are generally less prevalent and, above all, the leaves are incredible. People check for the optimal times to take trips where they can see the fall colors in their full splendor. The autumn colors are a wonder of the world. They are beautiful beyond words. And yet, those beautiful leaves are also a major pain in the neck.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the leaves were brightly colored with reds, yellows, oranges, browns and greens the year round – that they never fell from the trees? But, here in Northern Illinois, they do fall and when they fall they create a mess for homeowners and businesses. There’s all that raking. But the leaves don’t just fall on the ground.

When the autumn leaves fall, they don’t just land on the ground. Any obstacle between the branches and the ground is a potential resting place for falling leaves. That includes buildings – homes and businesses. With wind and rain, the leaves work their way down from the roof and into the gutters.

Think about it. If a modest home has a roof area of 2,000 square feet (50 X 40), that’s the equivalent of a small yard’s worth of leaves waiting to work their way into the gutters. Yes, some will blow over, particularly when the gutters and full and bulging with leaves. In no time at all, the gutters are busting at the seams with leaves.

A gutter full of leaves is a gutter that doesn’t work. Working, a gutter moves water from the roof through downspouts and away from the home or office. Full of leaves, a gutter is completely useless. If you’ve ever seen a home without gutters, you’ve seen how the water spills directly off the roof digging a small ditch line around the structure.

Without gutters, the water builds up in the wrong area and, once frozen later in the next season, presents a serious hazard with the potential to cause falls. The water also has the potential to work its way into the basement of the building.

More than just creating a situation where the gutters don’t work properly, when the gutters are full of leaves, ice and snow build up on top of the gutters. The weight can cause the gutters to break. This presents another hazard and an expense.

Without gutters, the roof will also create an army of icicles, all in a row. This is another falling hazard.

The solution is to clean the gutters every fall. It’s a good idea to wait until the leaves have fallen but, once they have, it’s time to make sure the gutters can do their intended job.

You can clean the gutters yourself but safety is a big factor. It requires working off a ladder and, to some degree, reaching out from the sides of the ladder into the gutter. It’s a messy and hazardous job. Better yet, why not just hire someone to clean the gutters for you?

If you do opt on having someone else clean your gutters, be sure to hire someone who knows what they’re doing – they’ve done it before. Also, and this is essential, make sure they’re insured. The risk of a fall is all the greater with some novices doing the work. But, either way, you want to make sure that, if someone does fall when cleaning your gutters, they don’t leave you holding the bag.

Once a lot of fun, Maple-seed ‘helicopters’ clog your gutters

Peaking over the edge of this gutter are 'helicopter' Maple seeds that have clogged the gutter. Once they were fun, now they're more of a nuisance. 

Oh, when we were young we loved them. We’d pick them up from the ground and toss them in the air then step back and watch them spiral to the ground. Of course, there was a technique. If you threw them wrong, they tended to drop like rocks. They needed to reach their apex flat and horizontal to the ground. If you threw them up just right, they would spiral slowly to the ground.

We called them ‘helicopters’ but they’re actually seeds from Maple trees. As adults, we don’t always find them as enjoyable as we once did. The density in which they fall varies from year to year. Some years, such as this, they come down heavy.

Whether they come down heavy, or not so heavy, they’re a nuisance. They cover the grass so that, when you cut the lawn, they leave trails in the grass behind. You’ll also find them all over the pavement. You’ll see neighbors out sweeping them off the sidewalks and walkways. But, worse of all is what they do to the gutters.

Filled to the brim, the gutters ravenously collect those twirling ‘helicopters.’ Then, when the rains come, the ‘helicopters’ wash into the downspouts and clog. Suddenly, the water has nowhere to go. It backs up and pours over the leading edge.

If left that way, not only will the gutters fail to function, but the ‘helicopters’ will begin to decompose into a thick and sticky mass.

The solution is to get up there and clean the ‘helicopters’ out of the gutters. Then, it’s advisable to push a hose into the downspout and flush the helicopters out.

Yes, it’s a hassle. But, the hassle it will create over time is much worse. And the good news is that, if you clean them now, there’s little to worry about until the leaves fall in the autumn.

Probably the best way to deal with the hassle of ‘helicopters’ falling into your gutters is to let a professional do the job. This way, you avoid the messy job of cleaning them out of the gutters and, better yet, the hazard of climbing a ladder to do the job. That’s also why it’s important to hire a company that is insured to do the job. You don’t want the hassle of the medical bills if a worker alls from the ladder, too.

So, let someone else clean the ‘helicopters’ out of your gutters. And, just to reminisce, toss a ‘helicopter’ or two into the air to see if you still have the technique.

Gutter guards offer convenience while protecting your roof and home

Every year, it’s the same thing; the gutters fill with leaves and, if someone doesn't get up there and clean them, trouble is brewing when the snow flies. When the gutters are full, ice and snow build up onto the roof. On a warmer winter day, when the snow and ice start to melt, instead of flowing down the gutter and downspout, they look for somewhere else to go.

Often, that alternate root the melting ice and snow chooses is under the shingles and through the roof. The next thing you know, ceilings are damaged, sheeting and rafters begin to rot and insulation looses its R value – its ability to keep warm air inside in the winter and outside in the summer.

There is only one reasonable alternative to cleaning gutters each year; keep the leaves and debris out of the gutters to begin with.

Gutter Guards are the ticket

How do you keep leaves and debris out of gutters? Simple  - you cover the gutters so leaves and debris can’t get in. The important thing is to make sure the water can get in while keeping other matter out.

Leaves aren’t the only unwanted element that can work its way into gutters. Pieces of gravel break off of roof shingles and fall into gutters. Birds and trees drop seeds and branches into gutters.

Have you ever seen small trees, plants or weeds growing out of a gutter and asked yourself, “How did that get there?” Keep the seeds out of the gutter and you won’t have to ask that question. Good quality gutter guards will keep them out.

Once you’ve decided to relieve yourself of the annual challenge of cleaning your gutters, the next question is, “Which gutter guards are best.”

There are several styles of gutter guards. One type uses foam that is placed in the gutters to displace leaves and other objects. Over time, however, the foam breaks down. Before you know it, along with leaves and other particles, the foam is clogging the gutters.

The best bet is to cap your gutters with a material that lets the water in while keeping other matter out. You’ll want gutter guards with a small enough mesh that roof gravel washes over the gutters instead of into the gutters.

Good quality gutter guards are relatively inexpensive and provide years of maintenance-free convenience. Since gutters filled with leaves, debris, snow and ice can break under the weight, gutter guards can also help you to avoid costly gutter and fascia repairs.

Fall colors can lead to clogged gutters

Sure it’s beautiful. The splendor of autumn colors in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin is virtually unsurpassed among the wonders of nature. Yet, those crimson red, golden yellow and fiery orange leaves represent the arrival of that annual ritual where trees shrug loose of their leaves. And, when they shrug those leaves loose, those leaves come down.

When the leaves fall to the ground they create the need to break out the rakes. In Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin, as well as other areas, this means raking the leaves into piles and dragging them to the curb for vacuuming, bagging them for removal or raking them into piles for burning. But, not all leaves make it to the ground.

Many leaves fall onto roofs and into gutters. Those that fall on the roofs often make their way to the gutters. In either case, they create a blockage that denies the gutters the ability to perform their intended duty – conducting water from the roofs to the ground without creating hazardous pools (icy pools in winter) or potential flooding of basements.

“When gutters are clogged, not only are they unable to efficiently move the water as intended, they also become part of the problem rather than part of the solution,” said Bill Thomas, owner of Northern Illinois Windows in McHenry, a company that washes windows and cleans out gutters. “With clogged gutters, snow and ice can build up beyond the breaking point. The breaking point is where the weight is too much for the gutters and they collapse.”

As a gutter collapses, Thomas said it can create a hazardous condition for anyone walking by at the time. Even if that’s not the case, it can create icy and flooding conditions. As the gutter pulls free from the house, it can damage the roof, fascia and eaves.

Water can also buildup under the roof, when the gutter is clogged. This can damage the roofing material and the wood below it. Water flowing over a clogged gutter, on a warmer winter day, can cause pools below that are treacherous when frozen as the temperature drops again.

The solution is to clean gutters so the water can flow through as designed to do. Since leaves fall in the autumn, and snows generally come down in the winter, the best time to clean your gutters is in that short period between the two seasonal events.

“Cleaning the gutters is not a highly complex process,” Thomas said. “However, since it does involve working off of ladders and climbing on roofs, it’s not something you should do without serious attention to safety. That’s particularly true if you have a two-story or higher home or office.”

When in doubt, Thomas said it’s best to call in a professional. However, he said you shouldn’t call just anyone who claims to clean gutters.

“It’s essential that you hire someone who is insured and bonded,” Thomas said. “If they aren’t, not only are they more likely to use less than the safest procedures, but, if they do fall, you’ll find yourself with a bigger problem than clogged gutters.”

For more information, call Thomas at 815-385-6646.

Welcome to The Northern Illinois Windows blog

This, the new Northern Illinois Windows blog, is where we will post information relevant to window cleaning, window tinting, gutter cleaning and power washing. We hope you find this information helpful in maintaining your home in top condition and we welcome your questions and feedback. Regular maintenance of your windows, gutters and siding will extend the useful life of your home, not to mention how much the neighbors will love you for it.
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