6 Steps for Safe, Effective, Gutter Cleaning and Ice Dam Prevention

It’s not glamorous, but you definitely don’t want your gutters looking like this:


Clean gutters on your home can help prevent costly back-ups and ice dams. Here’s some steps to safely prevent those home-tragedies from happening, thanks to Ryan Doliber of United Home Services:

“There’s nothing fancy about gutter cleaning, but it’s an important part of home maintenance and it’s important to do it safely,” says Doliber.

Here are his top six ways to stay safe while still getting good results:


  1. Invest in the right tools: Having the right tools is important for any do-it-yourself task, and gutter cleaning is no different. You’ll need an extension ladder tall enough to reach the highest gutter on your home. We also recommend using a ladder stand-off to stabilize the ladder and keep it from damaging your gutters. Bring a hammer to re-nail any loose gutter spikes, bring a long hose, a five gallon bucket for debris, and definitely make sure to buy, and wear, gloves. If you find clogging at the top of a downspout, you can use a small section of hose to help “snake out” the debris. Otherwise, you’ll want a drill with the proper ¼” hex head bit to disassemble your downspout.


  1. Remove all accessible roof debris: Before launching into the gutter cleaning process, start at the high point of the roof and look for loose debris. A leaf blower can be a valuable tool during this stage. The goal is to prevent your gutters from filling up again with debris that could have been removed at the start.


  1. Inspect your roof for damage and weakness: This part is easier than you might think, as long as your roof is at a safe pitch to walk on. A) Check for soft spots on the roof. Spots that are sunken, distorted, or feel soft underfoot. These could be signs of water intrusion or attic ventilation issues. B) Look around for missing or damaged shingles. The average lifespan of a shingle is 25 years, and they lose shingle grit as they age. An older shingle will seem thin. C) Check all penetrations in your roof, such as fan, dryer, and plumbing vents. Their rubber gaskets often dry-rot and leak. You can extend your pipe collar’s life by sealing around the dry-rotted gasket with roofing cement.


  1. Clean and clear your gutters and downspouts: Start with the highest gutters first, and start removing debris by hand or with a scoop. You’ll want to bag the debris as you go, using your secured large five gallon bucket. After the majority of debris has been removed, we recommend flushing out the small debris and shingle granules with your hose. Check the bottom of your downspout to ensure that water is draining properly. One important safety note is to know where your hose is at all times. A dangling hose can be dangerous to both you and your house or yard, and we recommend pulling the entire hose onto the roof and looping it around a pipe vent to keep it on the roof.


  1. Inspect your gutters: Make sure they’re draining properly. Gutters that hold water are more likely to collect debris and provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other insects. Water inside can also deteriorate the sealant in end caps, outlets, and miters, and can also pull gutters away from the fascia of your house. If your gutter is holding water even after being cleaned, it may need to be replaced or re-pitched properly so it drains toward the downspout.


  1. Make sure your gutters are tightly secured: Modern gutters are attached using an internal bracket and screws, but older gutters were attached using the “spike and ferrule” method. That method resembles a large nail and often pulls away from the fascia due to heavy snow and debris loads, which allows rot to take place. We recommend re-nailing any loose gutter spikes while cleaning your gutters. Using your hammer, simply tap on each spike head until the gutter sets firmly to the fascia. If that doesn’t work, contact a local professional to evaluate.


Remember that clean gutters keep water away from your roof, which prevents water damage. Also keep in mind that cleaning your own gutters can be hard work, and can be dangerous. Don’t take any unnecessary risks, and if things begin to seem complicated, don’t be afraid to leave your task to the professionals.


Aaron Shaffer About Aaron Shaffer
Follow Meteorologist Aaron Shaffer on Twitter. Aaron is a meteorologist who lives in Minneapolis, is on the Midtown Greenway Coalition's board of directors, and is the digital communications and social media associate for the nonprofit Avivo in Minneapolis. Deep down he's a weather geek and has a degree in Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences from UW-Madison to prove it. He's spent time working at TV stations in Wyoming, South Dakota, and Iowa prior to arriving in Minneapolis to work for WeatherNation and now forecasting for MinnyApple. His favorite weather career moment came while storm chasing for his Iowa station (he went on 40+ storm chases during that time), when he saw a mile-wide EF-4 rated tornado.