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This article describes additional problems with roof gutters that cause leaks and building water entry, including BACKFLOWING GUTTERS and GUTTER INSTALL ERRORS and SAGGING GUTTERS and DRIP LINES INDICATE OVERFLOW and GUTTER END CAPS and GUTTERS On NO-EAVE buildings. This article series discusses how to choose, install, diagnose & maintain roof gutters & downspouts, & roof drainage systems to prevent building leaks and water entry.
Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2013 InspectAPedia.com, All Rights Reserved. Author Daniel Friedman.
Also see our first GUTTER DEFECTS LIST This article describes CLOGGED GUTTERS LOOSE GUTTERS OVERFLOWING GUTTERS? OVERSHOOTING GUTTERS and SLOPE INADEQUATE, GUTTER. Problems with the routing and disposal of roof drainage through downspouts or leaders are discussed separately at DOWNSPOUT / LEADER DEFECTS.
"Backflowing gutters" is a term we coined to refer to the problem that occurs when water falling off the roof edge runs behind the gutter or between the gutter and the building fascia rather than falling into the gutter.
There are several principal causes of gutter back-flow:
Often visual clues from the ground level can tell you that gutters have been back-flowing even if it's not raining at the time you are inspecting. But it may take an up-closer roof-edge from a ladder to see just what's going on with a backflowing roof gutter.
At a building inspection of a new home during a heavy rainfall we observed just this condition. Water was pouring down the roof, behind the gutter, and onto the front entry steps. Standing in the rain we (DF) knocked on the door. The builder answered and we spoke through a sheet of falling water.
That observation was in a sense correct. All of the gutters installed by that contractor did backflow - they were all installed improperly. Often we find that when an installer is not up to speed on a building detail, the same mistake is made at every installation. "They all do that" can mean "they're all wrong."
OPINION: We divide home builders into two groups. Many are very well informed about good construction practices and make it their job (and what they're paid-for) to be sure that the job is executed properly, giving the new owner the best home with the least problems possible. A second group of builders are folks who do not know construction practices, but perhaps are good organizers, arranging financing and scheduling subcontractors. If your builder is a member of group 2, s/he is at the mercy of the subcontractors, and too often, no one is minding the store.
Installing the roof drip edge behind the rear wall of the gutter means that some roof drainage will run by capillary action down the drip edge and pass behind rather than into the gutter. If the gutter also happens to be a bit loose, not snug against the fascia and drip edge, still more water will pass behind it. Our detailed photo (below left) shows a gap between the gutter back upper edge and the roof drip edge. Where this gutter is higher along the fascia, the drip edge is actually behind the gutter back wall.
You may think the gutters are working properly, but if an inspection during rain shows a lot of water running from behind the gutters, either the gutters are clogged and overflowing, or the drip edge is improperly installed. The stains on the fascia in our second photo (above right) often indicate a drip edge problem and gutter "backflow" behind the gutter itself, or a gutter overflow problem due to clogging.
Sagging gutters may be caused by loose or lost gutter mounting hardware, improper or inadequate slope, or the weight of water or debris that cause the gutter to bend.
At above left, when the roof is repaired (or replaced) the gutter needs to be replaced as well. At right it may be possible to repair this horrible gutter overflow by clearing a blockage and checking/correcting the gutter slope.
Simply looking at the ground under the eaves of a building may disclose a small "trench" or "wash area" that marks where soil has washed away directly under the building eaves due to roof runoff spillage. Finding a drip line under a building eaves is a good indicator that the gutters have been spilling in that location for some time.
At above left our photo shows a deep drip line from roof spillage outside of a building extension built over an inaccessible crawl area. There is risk of hidden water entry and water/moisture related damage in that area. At above right we show a wash area at the corner of a building. Often if you look "up" at this location you'll see the end of a gutter that has been spilling-over.
Even before entering the building to inspect its basement or crawl area for water entry or dampness, these clues are a red flag.
Since most folks don't spend a lot of time thinking about their gutters and leaders (until the basement is flooded), people don't notice that the end caps at some gutters have been omitted at original installation, are leaking, or have been lost. The result is often water splashing down walls, causing leaks, water entry, rot, or insect attack.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
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Technical Reviewers & References
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