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April 01, 2009

If It's Not One Thing, It's a Gutter

Cascading gutter At your house, is there a flood in the basement every spring because you didn't clean out the gutters last fall?  So rainwater backs up in plugged downspouts and cascades over the sides of clogged gutters?  And soon the basement walls are weeping torrents and annoyed relatives are rolling up carpet and putting down newspaper to soak up the deluge?  And that’s when it seems like a good time to go and hide in the garage?   I'm like that too. 

But this year I've matured, and so can you.  Here’s the secret for cleaning out your gutters in a timely manner: Get in touch with the ancient power of irritability. 

Mag Ruffman cleaning out gutters When you're feeling pissy, you're in a metabolically enhanced state.  You’re ready for physical and emotional confrontation.  In fact, you're begging for it.  This is your opportunity to channel annoyance into productivity by, say, cleaning the dead mouse out of the freezer fan, or - if life hasn't yet offered you that particular serving of repugnance - scooping fetid glop out of gutters. 

Remember, timing is essential.  Don't ruin a great mood with a reeking, dirty project like cleaning out gutters.  Wait till you're in a bad mood.  Also, don't do it on a nice day.  The worse the weather, the more propulsive your irritation will be, and the greater the odds that you'll complete this job in record time. 

Finally, wear ill-fitting clothes that accentuate bulgy spots.  Don't wash your hair that day.   Work barehanded.   Feel the rebirth of your inner hellcat.

Give Inky Dinky What For

Downspouts get compacted with rotting leaves.  Give your downspouts a high colonic.  Set the hose nozzle on 'Stun', insert the hose as far as possible up the downspout and blast repeatedly into the bottom end of the downspout until there is a soggy expulsion of rotting clumps.   You will be utterly soaked by now, and the sleeve of your shirt will look (and smell) like you've been delivering calves.  Press on.  It's just starting to get good.

Now climb a ladder dragging a hose with you and try running some water into the top of the downspout.  If it's still backing up, blast the top opening of the downspout with your hose.  If you get a faceful of backspray, grunt with nascent rage.  Then try packing rags around the hose so that doesn't happen again.  If repeated blasts fail to clear the clog, resort to a drain auger or 'snake', a primitive appliance that almost never works well.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

TIP:  If your downspouts have elbows or angles, especially near the bottom, unscrew those sections and feed the hose into the main downspout.  Now you can attack the clogs more directly.  

Gutter Fingers

Once water is running freely in the downspouts, proceed with scooping the crud out of the gutters.  Move the ladder frequently as you progress along the gutter.  Frequent descents and ascents are good for your glutes.  TIP: The ladder safety authorities tell us “Always keep your belly button inside the ladder edges; no leaning out to one side.”  And they should know.  

Really clogged gutters If your gutter sludge is densely compacted, use a garden trowel to dig it out.   As you work, check for loose spikes or brackets, the fasteners that hold the gutter in place.  TIP: Some repair manuals recommend marking trouble spots on the outside of the gutter with coloured chalk so that you can find the problem areas later, when you're ready to repair them, which might be two years from now.  So if you’re a procrastinator, mark your trouble spots with permanent marker.

Turn the Other Leak

Once you've scraped the dreck out of all gutters, flood them with water from the hose, descend the ladder and scan the underside of the gutter for leaks.  Sometimes you'll notice gaps between sections of gutter, especially at corners.  Press the joints back together or use gutter sealant to patch holes and seal open joints.   TIP: Make sure you buy the correct type of sealant; gutters can be made of vinyl, aluminum or galvanized metal, and each material requires a different sealant formulation.  

Patch any holes by first cleaning the area with rubbing alcohol or acetone.  Then smear gutter sealant around the edge of the hole and lay a piece of fiberglass mesh or metal bug screen over the hole.  Coat the entire patch with several layers of gutter sealant and call it good.

Remember, the whole point of this ordeal is to protect your home’s foundation from leaks.  The water collected by an average roof in summer is enough to fill several swimming pools.  FINAL TIP:  If your downspouts are depositing rainwater right beside your foundation, your basement is likely to develop foundation leaks.  A quick solution is to buy plastic or metal downspout extensions so you can divert water at least six feet away from your foundation.  End of lecture. 



This was great-I don't have to deal with this but it brought me some good laughs & info I'll need to remember if I ever become a home owner (versus condo owner). You have a great knack for finding numerous terms to describe the stuff one finds in the gutters! :)

Abi Mensah

Thank you for writing this article.. i've experienced really really bad flooding in my basement twice,,,, it stinks to have that happen, but it does. I've read your blog with complete interest, cause basement flooding wow... it all applies to me too, and im so glad im not alone in this. Thanks for the tips and lecture Mag,
take care,


What a great piece of writing! As a Brooklyn apartment dweller I don't have any gutters to clean, but from time to time the refrigerator needs to be completely cleaned of all lingering slime (and I'm pretty neat to begin with, so said slime is hiding out) and I will bear the really bad mood advice in mind. Because we all have those days when we are so irritated we hope someone will try to mug us so we can beat them up, and the crime rate isn't what it used to be.


You're funny and I concur on lamenting the low crime rate. We need the T-shirt, "Who do I have to sleep with to get mugged around here?"
Keep the faith. Good luck with the fridge. My crisper is a Petrie dish.


Paulette DeLaBarre

And after all the gunk is gone, try adding some gutter guards to keep the gunk from getting built up again. Then you can move on to some other foul mood job, like ridding the kitchen floor of dirt that sticks in all those tiny crevasses!


Holy Cow - Paulette DeLaBarre from McConaghy Public School in Richmond Hill Ontario circa 1965?? You STILL know more than me!



Hi Mag - I did the gutter guard thing two autumns ago and they all blew off in the wind. They just didn't seem to want to "click" in place. Mine were from Sears Hardware. Can you suggest a different kind? I have vinyl gutters.


Hi Sabina - I had the same sort of experience with gutter guards. They kept lifting in the wind and letting leaves pile up in the gutters so we still had to clean them out in Spring. I need to investigate the latest gutter guard technologies. There must be something out there that works.


From paris with love

Thats how my gutters are looking at te moment they need a clean hah.

Augusta Gutters

Thanks for sharing your post, I enjoyed reading it. Well anyway, I think that a great way to protect you home from water damage is with rain gutters... It is really important in order to prevent concrete damages.


You guys might want to try http://easyflow.com.au/>Easy Flow with gutter guards. Certainly worked for me. Goodbye to gutters clogged with leaves and other debris.

oriental rug cleaning atlanta

When rainy season the gutter is flooded with water, same is through when autumn;, it is full of leaves. Thank you for the great tips and information about cleaning the gutter of the house. There are a lot of informative ideas to get here in your article. Will you give me some information on carpet cleaning?

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    We're All In This Together
    Based on four years of interviews with Steve Smith, Mag's unconventional biography reveals the personal stories, sorrows and joys that continue to inspire the man behind the Red Green legacy.

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Nota Bene

  • It’s never too late to be who you might have been. - George Eliot (1819-1880)
  • Simplicity of character is the natural result of profound thought. - My fortune cookie