How to deal with a broken gutter in a storm
When a torrential rain hits and a gutter gives way, sometimes the best tool for the job is a shovel.
Rainwater poured off the roof and into my face. I had gone up a ladder Monday morning intending to get the gutter back on, but it was proving to be a wrestling match.
I was one of many people caught up in small weather-related dramas as an odd storm tracked up the Eastern seaboard, bringing with it unseasonably warm temperatures, rain and howling wind with gusts up to 50 mph.
Three problems became obvious: The ladder was too short, the wind was too strong and the rain pouring off the roof made it almost impossible for me to see. The foul-weather gear that I was wearing did little good. Wind-driven rain ran down my face and neck, it blew into my cuffs and it blasted the hood off my head. In no time, the wool watch cap I was wearing was so wet that I could wring it out. When I let go of the gutter, it sliced back and forth in the wind like a pendulum gone wild.
Under normal circumstances, a job like this wouldn't have been a big deal. In this case, it was all I could do to hold on to the gutter and keep myself on the ladder, let alone get a decent swing at the gutter spike, using the same long-handled framing hammer that helped put me through college.
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The short answer when faced with a problem like this is to do what's safest, not necessarily what's most mechanically desirable. And when you're standing 16 feet off the ground on a slippery ladder in the middle of a gale, you're already pushing your luck. Still, I wanted desperately to get the gutter back up because it's the first line of defense in the house's rear drainage system. The gutter receives the discharge from a large roof area, and without it, the foundation drain was overloaded. A pond formed at the back of the house and the water was creeping up on a basement window.
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There wasn't much else to do. I tore the gutter off the fascia. Next, I dug a short pair of drainage ditches in the backyard. Within minutes, the pond shrank. In a half-hour, it was gone.
When the weather gets bad, or some important mechanical system (such as your home's sump pump) fails, you have to act quickly. There's not a lot of time to spend fooling around.
At the very least, you should have the following equipment ready — not just to handle wind and rain but also snow, ice, flying debris and mechanical malfunctions of all types:
- Foul-weather gear
- Rubber boots
- Ladders and rope placed where you can get at them quickly
- A decent set of hand tools, stocked with the obvious suspects, to build, repair and diagnose basic mechanical problems
- A fire extinguisher
- A pair of shovels: one square-nose, one round-nose
- A first-aid kit
- A flashlight
In this storm, I used everything on the list except the flashlight, the first-aid kit and the fire extinguisher. But I've used those in other circumstances. The simple fact is that it's hard enough to deal with a small mess, let alone an outright emergency, if you have to go looking for tools or your ladder is buried under junk. Keep stuff ready and you'll never be disappointed.
Last advice: Let the water do the work
An old trick came back to me as I cut a hasty drainage ditch in the backyard. Farmers and excavators would always say, "Let the water do the work." What they meant was that you don't have to be terribly precise when digging a short drainage ditch, especially one that you cut in a hurry.
Get the ditch roughed out, and as the water flows through, it will cut its own path. I was amazed to see pieces of gravel tumbling along in the bottom of the little canal that I cut. The action of the water will smooth out high spots in the ditch, or you can simply move the shovel along in the direction of the flow, scooping out gravel and chunks of earth that have fallen in, slowing the torrent. I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the wisdom of those old Yankee farmers and excavation contractors. They spent a lifetime dealing with dirt and water. Luckily for me, it was only a morning's work.
All the writer had to do was take the gutter (now removed from the roof edge), lay it on the ground under the eves so it's lined up under the falling water, shim the gutter from underneath so that it's elevated and sloped properly, and let it drain out the lowest end away from the house.
Instead, we get a wannabe rocket scientist armed with an anarctic survival kit...