Seasonal home maintenance a ten part series

Part 1 of 10  : Gutters, Grading and Downspouts

September 12, 2022

Devin Donovan


Gutters, grading and downspouts are the most impactful component for managing water around your home. They can quickly become filled with tree leaves and debris, seed pods and grit from shingles. Even if there are covers or screens on the gutters to help keep large branches and leaves out, fine particles can add up if the gutters are not cleaned out regularly. Perform a visual inspection- under the covers too- on a quarterly basis to help identify their need for seasonal attention. 9 out of 10 homes I inspect- even new construction- have multiple water management issues. Gutters should be sized properly for the roof area above, installed tightly under the drip edge at the facia and mostly level with some slight slope or fall toward the gutter outlet and downspout. Its not a plumbing drain so don’t worry if the ¼’ per foot installation isn’t there. Mother nature will always test us with volumes of water that may overflow the cleanest gutter system. Downspouts MUST be clear, sized properly and discharge away from the home. I find undersized, damaged, loose, disconnected and short downspouts; missing splash blocks or downspouts that connect to extensions above grade. Downspout extensions above grade tend to be temporary; can be disconnected by wind, kids playing, mowers or generally poor installation allowing water to puddle at the foundation and ultimately- enter the home below grade. Plastics  are subject to UV sun rays that can deteriorate the black corrugated extension or $5 cheap accordion type extension. I recommend installing downspout extensions below grade to eliminate all those issues mentioned above. The pipe recommended is thin wall PVC pipe- not perforated- that is used for septic distribution toward drain fields; a 4” diameter PVC pipe by 10 feet long can manage water- underground- away from the home, foundation, walks, driveway, etc. Some landscaping contractors offer advice and installation of downspout extensions underground with proper slope away from the home.

Landscape contractors can advise on proper grading to aid in surface water being passively drained away from the foundation. Ideally a 1” per foot down-slope in the grade, grass or soil that is built up around the foundation against the home that continues at least 6 to 8 feet away from the home. If your home is on a hill, likely the natural slope will be adequate to allow water to naturally drain away. However, if the backfill has settled or any erosion has taken soil away from the area against the foundation, water will flow toward that direction. Even a level grade at the foundation can be enough to cause surface water to remain against the dwelling and drain down against the foundation and possibly leak into the home. Water that is close to the foundation underground can freeze in extreme weather causing a type of lateral pressure that can put serious stress on any foundation. In worst case scenarios, horizontal stress cracks can appear in some concrete block foundations that break the mortar bond and could lead to complete foundation failure and collapse. Improper grading can lead to water ponding around the home.  Adding yard swales or channels in grass or decorative stone can direct water away to a neutral location or out to a storm drain. If there are areas of moss growing in the grass around the home or algae growing on structures around and including on the home it’s an indication water is always present. The excess water can lead to insect breeding and soil softening below grade at the home and foundations may be affected by the soft soil leading to foundation settlement and possible failure.