Whatever kind of gutters you may have, keeping them clean is a must. Gutters should be cleaned at least once a year (twice a year where deciduous trees shed leaves in the Fall) to maintain proper flow of water to the downspouts and away from the house. Leaves, twigs and sticks, pine needles, dust, animal nests and other stuff gets into gutters, prevents easy flow to the downspouts, and clogs the outlets, making the gutters non-functional. We've seen many homes with a small forest growing in gutters that have been ignored for years. Not only do these gutters not drain away water, they will get very heavy and could literally tear themselves off the fascia boards and fall. Mr. Handyman cleans gutters the tried and true old-fashioned way; we climb to the gutters and remove material by hand, putting it in a bucket so no unsightly stains get on the side of the home and no gutter waste is left on the ground. If you wish, we will use a garden hose and flush the gutters and downspouts to assure that free flow is available.
Several options are on the market to prevent stuff from getting into your gutters. GutterStuff® is a high density foam that fills the gutter but allows water to flow through it and proceed to the downspouts. Anything that falls on top of the gutter will blow off in the wind. GutterStuff needs to be removed and washed out once every 2 or 3 years, depending on the conditions near your home. Many different types of gutter guards are available; ranging from simple mesh that is applied to the tops of gutters to elaborate gutter covers that allow water, but not solid materials into the gutters. Cost can run from $1/foot or less, to thousands of dollars. While they all have their effective applications, our experience is that eventually, the gutters need to be cleaned and the gutter guards must be removed to do the cleaning, and then replaced, making the job more time consuming and therefore, expensive. My personal opinion is that it's a toss up; gutter guards can put off the cleaning, but it's likely they'll need cleaning eventually.
Downspouts bring the water to ground level and direct it away from the home. Usually 3"x4" aluminum or 4" round corrugated galvanized steel elbows are used to create an efficient and attractive path to the ground. Sometimes traps at the gutter outlet are used to prevent gutter trash from getting into the downspouts. These traps need to be kept free of debris, making regular gutter cleaning mandatory. Some homes have underground conduits into which downspouts empty. We have seen many of these become non functional and homeowners usually have no idea to where they go, so repair becomes problematic. Most downspouts empty onto the low side of the home so water will flow away from the house and downhill. Sometimes downspouts have extensions at ground level to get water 6 or more feet away from the house in an attempt to direct it away from the foundation. If your home has ground that slopes toward the house, you might consider some landscaping to have any water flow away from the house , whether it's coming from the gutters or elsewhere.
If you live in a Northern tier state or Canada, you may want to consider installing cable roof heaters in your gutters and downspouts to prevent ice from building up in them. This situation, which was ubiquitous in the Winter of 2010-11 in the Northeast US, causes water to enter the walls of a home at the junction of the gutters and the soffits and can cause extreme damage to interiors of homes. Ice can completely fill the gutters and build up to enhance ice dams on the roof, leading to water infiltrations. The sheer weight of the ice can also rip gutters from the house, causing damage as well as a dangerous condition to anyone below. Cable roof heaters' best known uses are to keep ice from forming at the bottom 3 or 4 feet of rooflines and prevent ice dams. Installing them in gutters and downspouts is recommended to keep the ice from forming there. Cables in gutters make cleaning the gutters more critical, as waste can get caught around the cables.