Columbia Star

1963        Celebrating 60 Years      2023

Guard your gutters

Gutters are great when functioning properly. However, debris can cause clogs that can turn these helpful architectural elements into detriments if left for too long.

Gutters are great when functioning properly. However, debris can cause clogs that can turn these helpful architectural elements into detriments if left for too long.

So, it’s fall, and each weekend you try to figure out how you possibly can manage attending every conceivable festival, football game, party, school program, and Historic Columbia event. The days are cooler, and your yard beckons you to prepare for the coming winter. Your house beckons you, too; as with any “system,” it requires maintenance to keep it going. So, you draft your punch list of seasonal tasks, perhaps a little begrudgingly.

For many, that list should include seasonal inspections of what is perhaps the least favorite, yet one of the most important architectural elements, of your building—gutters. Just the word conjures visions of Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase’s hapless father character in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) clinging desperately to the edge of his roof, two stories up, his ladder just out of reach. To see how it ends, watch the movie.

So, how and when did gutters come to be? Gutters, at least in the sense we know them today, have been around for about two mil- lennia. Early versions often were made of wood oriented in a V-shape to form a trough through which rainwater was channeled away from the foundation of one’s building through a downspout. Later, gutters were fashioned from metal—first iron and then later copper and galvanized aluminum— finally yielding to PVC. The V-shaped profile gave way to further styles, such as half-round and articulated U-shaped varieties following the invention of metal rolling systems (For historic restorations, incidentally, the selection of the appropriate type of gutter is important, much like the retention of original window fenestration, as it is a highlyvisible, character-defining element on buildings).



Why are gutters important? Gutters get one of nature’s most necessary— and occasionally f rust rat ing— elements away from buildings. Moisture can lead to rot and decay on wood structures, as well as spalling on low-fired masonry buildings. And, it can have health implications when moisture levels allow for mold and mildew to grow. Gutters help alleviate moisture buildup by directing rainwater away from a building’s envelope.

What needs to be done to keep them in good working order? Preventing debris, such as leaves (and even roofing materials like nails and bits of shingles) from clogging their horizontal and vertical (downspout) sections is critical to ensuring that gutters perform as intended. When gutters are choked with foreign matter they retain water, and in the event of a heavy rain, can cause water to back up under roof decking and migrate into walls. Fortunately, this is preventable through seasonal inspection, keeping trees reasonably trimmed and, when appropriate, installing a “gutter guard” device that largely prevents detritus from building up.

So this fall, factor into your maintenance schedule a cleaning day if you have gutters. Remember, safety first. When using a ladder or scaffold, anchor them for stability so you don’t end up in a bind or worse.

Reward yourself for taking care of your gutters and home by checking out some of Historic Columbia’s upcoming fall events! Visit for more information about our calendar and programs.

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