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Water Rooter presents

Do It Yourself Home Maintenance & Repair

Gutter Maintenance 101

If you’ve ever cleaned the overhead gutters on a house, you know how quickly leaves, twigs, shingle gravel and other debris can accumulate. It takes only a few days for them to create a gutter clog and cause rainwater to backup and overflow to begin rotting the roof’s wooden fascia and soffit.

While it’s easy to see water overflowing from the overhead gutters, it is less obvious but equally damaging if all that rainwater pools up right near your home’s foundation. Rainwater pooling up against your home can result in:

  • landscape erosion.
  • water and mold in and under your basement or crawlspace.
  • possible cracked, leaking and bowed foundation walls.

You want your gutters to drain a good ways away from the house! The problem is that running above-ground gutter pipes is unsightly, inconvenient when mowing, and a potential trip-hazard for anyone walking or playing in your yard.

A far better solution is to position the gutter downspouts in a way so that they drain downhill from the home: down a driveway or through underground drain pipes that release rainwater into any of a number of places:

  • at the street curb and into the city storm sewer system.
  • into an underground ‘drain well’ or catch basin.
  • well out into the lawn or a ‘rain garden.’ You’ve probably noticed underground gutter drain pipes exiting into inline popup caps (emitters) in many yards.

What to do when underground gutter drain pipes become clogged?

Underground drain pipes work wonderfully — until the day you find water rushing back up from your gutter downspout, causing rainwater to pool around the home’s foundation. When this happens, here are several causes to look for:

  • gutter downspout (running down from overhead gutters) may have become clogged with debris.
  • water in underground drain pipe may be frozen.
  • underground drain pipe may be clogged with twigs, leaves, pine needles and sludge.
  • pipe may have collapsed because of settling ground, vehicle traffic, etc.
  • pipe may be broken or clogged by tree roots. (Even a tiny leak can gain the attention of nearby trees that send roots toward the water and cause them to breach the underground pipe.)

Checking for clogged vertical downspouts is the fastest and easiest thing to check for. Simply insert a garden hose into the top of the downspout and wait a minute or two to see if water comes back out the top. If the downspout is clogged, try feeding the garden hose into the downspout from either the top (incoming end) or bottom (exit end) to free up the crud.

If you believe that the water inside your horizontal drain pipes is freezing, try pouring a concentrated salt water solution into the intake end of the pipe to dissolve the ice blockage. If you find that the drain pipe freezes often and you’re able to locate the most commonly affected area, consider adding an inline PVC ‘y’ type cleanout hub ahead of where the blockage is occurring. Then simply add your salt water brine from there.

If your underground drain pipe appears to be blocked — and ice is not the cause — feed a long garden hose as far as you can into the pipe from each end. If you hit up against a blockage, you have a good idea of how from your house the blockage is occurring, but you’ll still be guessing as to the exact direction the pipe is traveling. For this, you can try renting a very long plumbers snake from your local hardware store and using a metal detector to locate the end of the plumbers snake (though tracing the snake with a metal detector is often a longshot.)

Hopefully the pipe is merely clogged with accumulated debris… which is most often the case. There are several possible ways to tackle this:

  • Call a plumber (expensive and costs vary greatly — so be sure to get an estimate before work begins.)
  • Dig up the drain pipe to locate the clog, cut out and replace the affected area of pipe (expensive, time-consuming and disrupts your yard. PLUS, 1) it is very difficult to estimate the path of your drainpipe and where the clog is happening AND 2) there is always a chance of doing additional damage by cutting electrical or cable wires, gas lines, other water pipes, etc.)
  • Poked out with a very long, hand-held plumbers snake. (moderately expensive, can be difficult to work with and rarely corrects the problem. AVOID using power snakes since they have the ability to break PVC pipe.)
  • Our preferred solution is to use the very simple, safe, effective and inexpensive Water Rooter tool, specifically designed to open clogged underground drain pipes. You simply:
    1) Screw the Water Rooter onto a standard garden hose
    2) Feed the garden hose into the exit end of your drain pipe — up to the point of the clog.
    3) Secure the hose in place at the pipe opening (so that the hose does not work itself backwards due to the water pressure).
    4) Turn the outdoor water faucet or spigot ON full blast.
    5) Wait for 5-15 minutes as the clog gets broken up and flushed out.

What if this doesn’t solve the problem?

If your underground gutter drain pipe is clogged because the pipe has become crushed or invaded by tree roots, then Water Rooter won’t be able to solve the problem. You will likely have to either divert rainwater away from your home in a different manner, dig up the existing pipe to replace the problem area, or install a completely new underground pipe. (But, if that is the case — or if for any other reason our Water Rooter is unable to open your underground drain pipe — you are welcome to mail back the Water Rooter device for a full refund.)

Tips for PREVENTING underground gutter drain pipe clogs

The longer you allow debris to accumulate in your gutters, downspouts and underground drain pipes, the more difficult it becomes to resolve the problem. To prevent drain pipe clogs from developing, a couple steps to consider are:

  • Keep your overhead gutters clean of leaves and other debris. Either install some type of screen (there are many on the market) or clean your gutters regularly.
  • Remove mature trees from the area. (But this can be a major undertaking since tree roots often reach out 3 times as far as a tree’s height!)
  • Run our Water Rooter through the length of your drain pipe once a year or as needed to keep the pipe clean.

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Above photo of cabin in woods by Sam Beasley on Unsplash

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