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How Gutter Guards Can Cause Water in the Basement

Mar 24, 2014 • By Matthew Stock.

Gutter Guard

Let’s face it; cleaning gutters on a home is a pain in the neck.

A conscientious homeowner will tackle the job twice a year, spring and fall, and the project usually involves ladders, garden hoses, odd-looking scoops (or just dirty hands) and often a lot of sweating and yelling.

Some homeowners dodge this nightmare by hiring a professional service to clean their gutters – good idea but pricey and subject to a fair amount of trial and error in finding a service that doesn’t leave a bigger mess than they found.

Other homeowners find the answer in gutter guards, one of various types of screens or shields that are installed permanently on the gutters to let water in and keep debris out.  These sound like a great idea and often are but they are not completely maintenance-free and can be the cause of ice dams in the winter and water in the basement any time.

Gutter Guards Can Cause Water in the Basement

There are 3 basic types of gutter guards – shields, screens and inserts:

Shields are usually installed professionally and cover the entire gutter, relying on surface tension to carry rain water over a lip and through a slot into the gutter.

Screens are made of mesh or perforated metal or plastic and can be installed by homeowners or pros.  They allow water to drain through while keeping out all but the smallest debris.

Inserts are long pieces of foam plastic or round brush-like constructions that sit in the gutter and allow water to enter but not debris.

Each of these products has its own advantages and disadvantages but any of them have the potential, in different ways, to cause rain water to end up in the basement.

The shield-style gutter guard, for example, has been praised by Consumer Reports for keeping debris out of gutters but panned by the same source for a poor job in keeping water in.  Typically, the flow from lighter rainfall will be trapped by surface tension but heavier storms, like midwest thunderstorms, will cause water to flow over the gutter completely.

Screen style gutter guards can perform well and are the type recommended by Consumer Reports but even they have their faults.  Screen guards made of perforated plastic or metal work the best; mesh screens clog easily and will often develop a coat of sludge from dirt and tree debris that effectively seals them off and causes water to run over the edge.

Insert-type guards don’t do much to keep debris out of the gutter and some allow water to spill over the edge.

So, how does the failure of a gutter guard create water in the basement?  It’s pretty simple.  When rain water isn’t contained by gutters and channeled to downspouts, it spills over the edge of the gutter onto the soil below.  This can be caused by clogging with leaves and debris as well as by a compromised gutter guard.

The ten feet of soil surrounding a home’s foundation is referred to as the “zone of failure” because it represents the size of the original excavation for building the foundation.  That excavation was backfilled after the foundation was finished and that area of disturbed soil is much more porous than the undisturbed soil around and under it so it holds more water and allows more water to flow through.

So, when rain water is dumped in that area, it quickly makes its way to the foundation and into the basement through cracks, porous concrete or masonry, the cove joint between wall and floor or through deteriorated mortar joints.  Of course, there are other ways in which these leaks can occur but failed gutters that allow water to pour onto the ground around the foundation is pretty much a guarantee of water in the basement.

Whether it is accomplished by regular cleaning or a well-functioning gutter guard, a free-running gutter is necessary to avoid increasing the chances of water in the basement.   At U.S. Waterproofing, we don’t clean gutters or install gutter guards but we do employ the latest technology to keep basements dry, regardless of the source of water, and we’ve been doing so since 1957.  Why not ask for our free advice when you have water in the basement?

Tags: water in the basement, gutter guards

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