Fall foliage may be beautiful, but the last thing you want to see is a pile of colorful leaves spilling over the top of your clogged gutters. The number one function gutters serve is to direct water away from your home, protecting it against seepage and flooding. Gutters clogged with leaves will back up, overflow, and cause water to pool and collect at the foundation. Eventually that water leaks into your home, potentially setting off a chain of events that may damage your property and, ultimately, even your health. If gutter maintenance is not on your home fall checklist, it should be. One poorly maintained gutter can lead to a wet, moldy mess. Here’s how.

Clean Clogged Gutters to Prevent Mold

mold gutter“Moisture is the enemy,” says Mark Tamas, project manager at Spotless Gutter Cleaning in Carle Place, New York. “When not properly cleaned and maintained, leaf debris builds up and water eventually surges over the top of gutters—and that’s the making of a disaster.”

Tamas said many of his customers follow a seasonal maintenance schedule, which keeps most gutters—and homes—in peak condition. But at the homes of those who ignore maintenance, he’s seen the worst. He recalls working at one home where leaves, twigs, and moss were not removed from the gutters.

“Heavy rains filled what space was left in the gutters and overflowed, streaming water onto the decking and brick patio below, and leaking through foundation cracks into the home’s basement. The fascia board, which is the protective layer connecting the gutter to the roof, completely rotted. Portions of the roof rafters literally disintegrated into my hand,” said Tamas. “That was what we could see. What we couldn’t see was the hidden damage inside the walls from all that moisture leaking into the house.”

The foundation is only one entry point for the water from overflowing gutters. And once water leaks into the house, basement, or foundation, mold can develop within 24-48 hours, according to Robert Weitz, a certified microbial investigator and principal at RTK Environmental Group.

“Damp and wet areas are prime locations for mold growth, which damages the structural integrity of the home,” says Weitz. “Exposure to mold can also affect a family’s health, from triggering asthma and coughs, to causing runny noses, and other, more severe respiratory conditions.”

If you suspect mold damage

moldy-gutterIndependent, third-party mold testing from companies like RTK Environmental Group can help identify where mold might be hiding inside walls. RTK uses advanced technology like thermal imaging to detect moisture and potential mold growth in hard-to-see areas. They can also identify types of mold, recommend steps for proper cleanup and remediation, and conduct follow-up testing to ensure the mold was removed properly. RTK does not perform remediation, so all testing results are completely unbiased, adds Weitz.

“An independent investigator has no conflict of interest,” he points out. “RTK can advise you on the best way to clean up from mold damage, and ensure that your remediation contractor has done a proper job of mold removal from water leaks.”

When to clean clogged gutters

So, how often should homeowners get their gutters cleaned to avoid water leaks and mold?leaves mold

“Every property is unique,” explains Alex Goliszewski, owner of the The Gutter Guys, in Stamford, Connecticut. “Sometimes homeowners need to get their gutters cleaned several times a year, especially if the property has a lot of trees. We recommend at least once, but perform our service up to six times a year at homes in heavily wooded areas.”

A seasonal appointment to have your gutters cleaned may be the appropriate solution for many homeowners, with an extra service in the fall, given the additional volume of falling leaves. Both Tamas and Goliszewski say service should include cleaning gutters, making sure downspouts are draining properly, cleaning up debris from the ground, and evaluating the gutters’ structure.

When hiring a gutter service company, or an environmental testing company, make sure they are licensed and insured, recommended Weitz.

“When it comes to maintaining your home, you want to ensure anyone you hire has the proper qualifications,” said Weitz. “It will likely save you money on unnecessary repairs in the future.”

Water should be tested once each year for total coliform bacteria. (CDC)

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