Interpreting the Debris in Your Gutters

If you’re in the habit of cleaning out the gutters once a year (if they’re lucky), expect material buildup that must be thoroughly cleared away if you want your gutter system to function properly again. The gunk you remove will most likely be a mix of twigs, leaves, pine cones and needles. But what kind of debris is in the gutters? Dry leaves are a good sign; wet twigs and leaves, after two straight days of no rain, is a bad sign. This fall when you’re cleaning the gutter system, pay attention: the debris in your gutters might be telling you something.

Dry debris – When the materials in a gutter section are dry, it typically means that the gutters are working properly. They are efficiently draining rainwater out of the gutter channel and into the downspouts. Therefore, there’s no excess water hanging around, soaking through the debris, making it wet and heavy.

Wet debris – On the other hand, if after two or more days of no rain, the debris in the gutters is still wet, it could be a signal that something’s wrong. Standing water in gutter channels is commonly caused by incorrect gutter slope or clogs somewhere in the gutter system, either in the gutters themselves or in the downspouts. Wet debris combined with standing water adds unnecessary weight, putting a strain on hangers and fascia.

Granules – Don’t panic if you see a few granules from roof shingles. But if roofing granules consistently end up in the gutters, it could be a sign of worn tiles that need to be replaced.

Plant growth – Can trees really grow in a gutter? Yes they can! When mud or silt enters a gutter system and is not removed for a while, moisture can transform it into fertile ground with the help of airborne pollen and seed pods. As a result, this nutrient-rich debris can be an inviting place for weeds, grass, plants, flowers and even trees to take root. Plant growth of any kind can really slow down a gutter system.

Nests – Gutters make ideal homes for little critters because they provide three-sided shelter. Add to that a few leaves, bits of twigs, needles and other miscellaneous building materials and voila, you have the perfect home for birds or squirrels. When a colony of wasps builds a nest in the gutters, it’s not so much the debris the insects are attracted to, but the secluded environment: material buildup is an indication that the area is “safe” and won’t be disturbed.