They may not be the most expensive investment you make in your home, but good gutters can prevent a number of other, more costly problems from arising. Quality gutters, when maintained properly, can last 20 to 40 years. So understanding when and how to repair and replace your gutters is crucial to protecting your home's value.
Take a Look at Your Gutters
Walk around your house, and take a good look at your gutters on a nice day. If your gutters are made of galvanized steel, check for rust, especially at the bottom of the gutters. Look for areas that may be sagging or split. Make sure your downspouts are attached properly and extending at least 10 feet from the foundation.
Take a Look Again--in the Rain
To determine whether your gutters are truly working properly, you need to watch them on the job--so take another walk around your house when it's raining. Make sure water is flowing smoothly out of the downspouts. Look for places the water may be leaking out the bottoms of the gutters or overflowing at the top. Check for places where water is flowing directly off the roof, to see if additional gutters are needed where they may not be installed already.
Evaluate Any Problems
Once you've noted any weaknesses or potential problems with your gutters, you can determine whether it's possible to repair them or if replacement is necessary. Rusty areas indicate a future problem, even if the rust has not yet created a hole. Sagging or broken gutters and downspouts will need to be addressed immediately also--but you'll need to find out whether they've just come detached from the roof or have been too damaged to reattach.
Repair or Replace
Minor problems--like loose gutters or missing downspouts--can easily be handled by most do-it-yourselfers. But gutters with holes or splits generally cannot be repaired and should be replaced--probably by a professional, who can do the job with the appropriate tools without damaging the roof or siding of your home. Some companies will replace portions of your gutter system; others may prefer to do the job only if it involves a complete tear-off and replacement.
Maintain Them Regularly
Once you've repaired or replaced any problem areas, the key to making your gutters last 20-plus years is maintaining them regularly. Clean them every spring and fall--removing any leaves or branches that could cause them to clog or pull away from the house. Inspect them thoroughly when you do this, to make sure they're not pulling away from the roof or missing any bolts. Catching problems when they're small will prevent major issues later.
A screen-style gutter guard may be helpful in preventing excessively clogged gutters or downspouts. But many professionals do not recommend full gutter covers, as these can cause the gutters to fill with silt, and some cover styles cannot be removed for cleaning--which means you'd have to replace the entire system if your gutters were damaged or clogged.