It's a dirty job but now's the time to do it properly
Guttering is designed to protect your home's exterior walls from rain by chanelling it from the roof to a drain in the ground via the gutter and downpipes.
If they become damaged or blocked, it may put your home at risk of water penetration and damp.
The type of gutter depends on the roof. Sloping roofs have an eaves gutter, flat roofs have a parapet gutter, and a number of sloping roofs meeting at one point have a valley gutter, which links up with either an eaves or parapet gutter.
There are also different shapes of gutter. Standard ones are semi-circular and run into circular downpipes, square ones are bigger and so ideal for large properties and places prone to rain, and ogee ones have straight back edges and fluted front edges and can be used with both square and circular downpipes.
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Most gutters and downpipes are plastic these days, which are cheaper, lighter and easier to work with than metal ones, but many period properties still have the original metal ones.
Over time, these can rust, causing damp, and in severe cases, the metal can disintegrate. While plastic guttering is usually a better option, if you live in a listed building and it has metal guttering, you'll probably have to replace it like for like – consult your local council's conservation office first.
Occasionally, planning permission is required to repair or maintain drainpipes – see the interactive house at www.planningportal.gov.uk for more information.
To stop gutters getting blocked, simply fit gutter guards (try the 4m Gutter Leaf Guard, £8.79, Wickes). These are grates that block debris but still allow rainwater to get through.
Alternatively, try the Hedgehog (4m brush, £14,99, see www.hedgehoggutterbrush.com), which is a long, hedgehog-like brush that sits in the gutter and keeps out leaves and the like because they bounce off or get stuck on the 'spines'. If you don't have something like this fitted, you should make regular checks for blockages, especially when the leaves are falling from the trees.
Leaves are one of the main culprits when it comes to blocked gutters, but you can find all kinds of things in them, including plants happily growing away. If you notice that water is falling sharply from one place, this is probably where the blockage is. Simply scoop it out with your fingers or a trowel, taking full safety precautions when using a ladder.
If you have plastic guttering and it's leaking, the cause is likely to be one of the seals (synthetic rubber gaskets). To fix this, squeeze out the seal from between the two sections of guttering, clean off the area and replace the seal, before clipping the sections back in place.
A leaking joint can usually be sorted with sealant. To do this, clean the joint with a wire brush and then use a screwdriver to remove the old jointing material. Finally, squeeze roof and gutter sealant all around the pipe to fill the cavity, smooth it off and remove any excess. This simple measure should solve the problem and extend the life of the guttering.