Solved! How to Fix Leaking Rain Gutters
Grab your ladder and address leaking rain gutters with these tips—and stop water damage to your home before it starts.
Q: Lately, whenever it rains, water drips out of my house’s gutters and onto the patio, instead of out the downspout. Is this something I can fix myself, or do I need to replace my leaking gutters?
A: You’re wise to address leaking gutters before disrepair causes costly damage to your home. The purpose of all rain gutters is to move water away from the base of your house; when they fail to do so, you can wind up with water in the basement, damage to the foundation, and mold and mildew growth inside your home, among other problems.
Rain gutters take a lot of abuse: rushing water during rainstorms, exposure to weather extremes, heavy loads of snow in the coldest climes, clogs of fallen leaves, and the general ravages of time. Because of that, their longevity is typically much shorter than your home’s lifespan. Depending on the material, rain gutters generally last anywhere from a decade to 100 years, with vinyl and steel (the most popular and affordable gutter materials) least durable and copper (the priciest) the toughest. That said, a leak or two doesn’t automatically mean it’s time for gutter replacement. Often, you can fix leaking gutters yourself, gaining years more service from your existing setup. Here’s what to do if you see water dripping out of the gutters, notice water running down the sides of your house, or find puddles underneath the gutters.
Learn if the issue is a clog, not a leak.
If rushing rainwater hits a blockage while running through gutters, it’s going to surge up and over that blockage, usually spilling over the sides of the gutter. Once the storm is over, grab your ladder and a pair of sturdy work gloves, and take a look inside the rain gutters. If they are full of sodden leaves and smelly muck, it’s likely that your problem isn’t so much a leaking gutter as a spillover. Using a small trowel, a gutter scoop, or your gloved hands, clear away as much debris as possible, dropping it into a bucket for disposal. Then use a power washer or the strongest blast from your garden hose to clear away any remaining grunge. Once gutters are clean, use your garden hose to fill them up with water, and watch for leaks. If water runs through to the downspout without a hitch, you’ve solved the problem.
Check for cracks and holes.
As gutters age, it’s common for them to develop small cracks and holes where gutter sections screw together, due to rust and general wear at the weakest point in the gutters. If this is the case, you’ll usually spot drips coming down from the joints. While not a permanent fix, you can generally get another season or two out of the gutters (as long as the damage isn’t extensive) by applying a silicone or rubber gutter caulk or sealant. A waterproof sealing product such as GE Clear Gutter Caulk (available on Amazon) is easy to use: Simply squeeze into cracks and holes, then apply a further coating around the entire gutter joint.
Tighten up loose gutters.
Over time, rain gutters often start to pull away from the roof, allowing water to drip over the gutter sides or between the gutters and the walls. Usually, this is due to gutter fasteners rusting or loosening after years of temperature extremes and exposure to water. Sometimes, the sag is drastic enough to spot just by looking. Sometimes it’s subtle, however, so if you aren’t sure, get a bubble level and check several spots through the leaky gutter section.
There should be no more than a ¼-inch drop in the direction of the downspout.
If it looks like the gutter is loose, check the gutter fasteners. In most homes, these are either spikes or clips.
- If your gutters are fastened with spikes, and some spikes are loose or rusted, simply hammering the spike back in isn’t likely to solve the problem, as the spike will tend to work its way back out. Instead, replace the spike with a thicker and longer nail, or better yet, a long screw for maximum hold. Rain gutter spikes or screws should be at least seven inches long, and eight is even better.
- If clips or brackets hold your gutters, check for broken clips and loose or missing screws. Replace broken clips by unscrewing the old clip, and then fastening a new one in place. You’ll find rain gutter clips at any home improvement center in packages of 10 to 50, and they generally cost a little under one dollar per clip. Installation is easy: Use a manual or power screwdriver to securely fasten the clips to the fascia along the edge of the roof. If the clips are okay but are missing screws, replace the screws with new ones that match the size of the clip’s screw holes. The screws should be at least two inches long to hold the gutter clip firmly in place.
Give your gutters an apron.
Sometimes, rainwater makes its way down between the gutters and the walls, even though the gutters are secured in place. You’ll notice water running down the walls during a rainstorm, or puddling on the ground at the base of the walls. This problem can be fixed with gutter aprons or drip edges. These L-shaped lengths of metal flashing attach to the edge of the roof under the shingles with roofing nails; they angle down over the inner edge of the gutter, eliminating any gaps between the gutter and the wall and channeling rainwater directly into the gutter. Generally sold in 10-foot sections, gutter aprons are available at most home improvement centers for less than $10 per section.
Keep your gutters in good shape for the longest life.
Once you’ve eliminated any pesky leaks, keep your gutters in good shape with the following tips.
- Clean rain gutters each spring and fall, removing fallen leaves and grunge.
- Consider installing quality leaf guards or mesh over the gutters if your home is surrounded by a lot of deciduous trees.
- Sweep heavy loads of fallen leaves off your home’s roof, as these are likely to make their way into the gutters.
- Inspect rain gutters annually for cracks, holes, loose or missing screws, and other damage. It’s better to fix problems right away, rather than wait until you find your gutters leaking.
- Check downspouts whenever you clean your rain gutters. Run water into the gutter at the top of the downspout, and watch the drainage at the bottom. If water backs up out of the downspout, instead of easily draining, remove the downspout’s base—this will generally slip off—and use a broom handle or long stick to dislodge leaves and other debris from inside the downspout. You might need to run a strong blast of water from your garden hose to dislodge stubborn blockages.
- If the downspout is loose, replace or reattach the downspout straps, which are metal brackets that screw into the side of the house to hold the downspout in place. You’ll find downspout straps for under $5 at most home improvement centers or online at Amazon.