Why Are Your Gutters Overflowing?

Downspout Attached with Bungee Cord


I recently inspected a house in Orchard Park for a buyer during an incredible rain storm.  The gutters were overflowing with water, both in corners and along their overall length.

You would think that gutter maintenance and design is an easy subject, but it is surprising how many things can go wrong.  I referred my home inspection client to a gutter specialist to examine the situation and make needed adjustments.  

What could cause rain to overflow a gutter?

Gutters are Too Small

Gutters are not all the same shape and size, which surprises many people because they never look at them unless there is a problem.  Some installers use rules of thumb to determine the size of gutter.  This can be a valid approach, so long as they are basing their design on prior experience with homes of an identical roof size, layout and pitch.

Many installers do not consider sizing at all, and use 5″ gutters in all of their installations.  

Here in the snow country of Western New York there are many houses with steeper roof pitches, which during heavy rain storms can overload 5″ gutters.  

According to NOAA, the US government agency involved in weather science, the 10-year expectation for 60 minutes of rainfall is almost 1.5″.  This is a lot of water for a gutter system to handle.

Gutters that are draining a large area of steep roof, usually a 6″ gutter will be appropriate.  A free gutter size calculator is available here.

Clogged Downspouts and Gutters

I typically include annual gutter cleaning as a recommended maintenance activity on home inspection reports that I provide my clients.  In areas with lots of trees, especially pines (not all evergreens are pines), downspouts may need to be cleaned a couple times a year.  It’s not uncommon for me to see 3-4″ of debris from trees and deteriorating shingles clogging up gutters and downspouts.

If you are looking to have your gutters replaced, keep in mind that sectional gutters are more likely to clog, as they make use of snap-in connectors to join their 10-12′ sections together.  Seamless gutters are far less likely to clog because of their smooth profile.

Poor Leaf Guard Design

Leaf guards are commonly installed by home owners with the idea that they will keep leaves and other debris out of the gutter system.  These guards are typically made of steel mesh or plastic, and are usually simple to attach to gutters.  Some of these guards work too well and actually allow water to roll off of them and drip onto the ground.  

If you are considering installing leaf guards, make sure they they are quality ones and are installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Doing so may prevent problems down the road.

Broken or Damaged Gutters and Downspouts

This goes without saying, but if you are living with broken gutters or downspouts then they may not be working as well as they should be.  Repairs to gutters and downspouts are usually very affordable and should not break the bank, or even come close to it. 

Have a professional, well-regarded gutter installer repair your damaged areas. 

What Problems can Leaking Gutters Cause?

Leaking or overflowing gutters can cause damage to your home’s foundation, can erode your landscaping, damage vegetation and can permanently discolor siding. 

Leaking gutters can also allow allow water to enter walls, damaging framing materials and drywall. In some cases, mold can develop. 

Fixing these problems is usually affordable and can have long-term impact on the health of your home.  Inspect your gutters and downspouts at least once a year to make sure that they are working well. 

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About the Author:

Bradley Beck

Bradley is owner of Alto Home Inspection, LLC.  He lives just south of Orchard Park, in Western New York’s Southtowns, and inspects homes throughout the Buffalo area, and is NY Licensed Home Inspector #16000086029, NY Certified Mold Assessor #MA01313.