A properly functioning home and yard drainage system is a worthwhile investment for any household. Water damage from runoff can compromise your home’s structural integrity, and excess water can take a toll on your roof and foundation. Below, we’ll guide you through how to identify issues with your gutter system and how to address them.
Why Proper Gutter Drainage Matters
Gutter downspouts direct water away from a home’s foundation to prevent leaking, flooding, or even full foundation collapse. They also prevent standing water from accumulating and leaking through the porous concrete of foundations and basement walls, which can raise humidity inside your home or even cause foundation walls to bow and crack.
Clogged gutters can allow rainwater to pool on your roof, which can damage shingles and lead to rot and mold on roof decking. The soil, mulch, or gravel around your home can begin to erode when gutter systems malfunction. Address gutter problems as soon as possible to mitigate damage.
Evaluating Your Gutter Drainage System
You will need to address drainage around your home if you spot any of the following problems:
- Basement moisture problems: Mold, mildew, a musty smell, damp or rotting wood or carpet, and window condensation are all signs that there’s too much moisture in a basement.
- Cracked, rusty, or loose gutters: A gutter system with visible damage is almost certainly leaking and needs repair or replacement.
- Foundation damage: Large or horizontal cracks and bowing basement walls or crawl space walls are signs of serious foundation damage, which is often caused by poor drainage.
- Interior leaks: Ceiling and attic leaks often indicate a problem with the roof, which may be related to drainage. Basement leaks typically indicate drainage issues.
- Sickly or yellowing plants: Check the health of any shrubs, flowers, or other plants around your home’s perimeter. Waterlogged roots can be just as damaging to some plants as dry roots.
- Soil erosion: Erosion indicates that a more robust drainage system is necessary, especially around the home’s perimeter or beneath downspouts.
- Standing water after rain: If you see puddles in your yard or the ground feels soggy, it means rainwater has nowhere to go. Downspouts may not be emptying far enough away from the house.
Solving Gutter Drainage Problems
Many drainage problems can be addressed by improving your home’s gutter system. The solution will depend on the nature of the problem, but here are some common methods of improvement.
Gutter Repairs and Upgrades
Inspect gutters during heavy rain and look for leaks or areas of overflow. Small leaks can be fixed with sealant, but large leaks may require replacing whole gutter sections. Gutter repairs will cost between $150 and $630.
A gutter system should have a downspout every 20 feet. If your gutters are routinely overflowing in multiple places, you may need to add more downspouts. If your gutters only overflow in a few spots, installing gutter splash guards may be a cost-effective solution.
If dirt and debris frequently build up in your gutters, installing gutter guards may be worth it for your home. These devices keep debris from falling into the gutter and causing clogs. Installing gutter guards will cost between $900 and $2,000 depending on the type you choose. Note that gutter guards won’t block all debris, and you’ll still need to clean gutters periodically.
Splash blocks address the issue of soil erosion or pooling water directly beneath a downspout. These concrete or plastic ramps protect soil and direct high-velocity water flow away from the house. They’re available in a number of designs and styles to complement your home’s exterior.
You can also install a bed of river rocks beneath the downspout as an alternative, but this primarily targets erosion and won’t necessarily move water further away from the foundation.
Drainage Extension Methods
If your gutters aren’t clogged, the problem may be that your downspouts aren’t moving stormwater far enough away from your home. Splash blocks are helpful, but they only move water a few feet. It might be worth it to physically extend the downspout in this case.
Downspout extensions are frequently made of the same rigid vinyl or metal as the gutters and connect with a downspout elbow. You can also install flexible plastic extensions for an easy DIY job. These accordion-like pipes snap together to create lengthy extensions and can deposit water wherever you like, even around corners.
Underground Drainage Pipes
If you have a bigger budget, you can install underground downspout extensions, which combine the benefits of the aboveground variety with better aesthetics. The underground drain pipes typically empty excess water into a gravel bed.
This is usually a job for professional contractors, as installation requires digging into the ground to bury corrugated pipes. If you decide to go the DIY route, make sure the water empties at least ten feet away from the foundation.
For more intense water drainage problems, you can combine underground gutter drainage with a French drain system. This system uses a perforated pipe called a drain tile, which is buried in a trench full of gravel. You’ll also likely need to install a sump pump at the system’s end to actively pump excess water away from the home, often to a specific drainage area or to a municipal sewer.
To install a French drain, you’ll first need to dig a trench that slopes down at least one inch for every 10 horizontal inches to ensure gravity-assisted water drainage. Proceed by lining the trench with landscaping fabric, which will filter out dirt, debris, and grass as the water flows into the pipe. Cover the fabric with a layer of gravel, and then lay the drain tile. You can purchase special flexible perforated piping or drill holes in a regular PVC pipe. Cover the pipe with more gravel and filter fabric.
We recommend professional installation for this complex job.
Rain Collection Systems
There are a handful of alternatives to extending downspouts and pumping away water, depending on your aesthetic preferences and the frequency of rainfall in your area. Planting a rain garden in areas of your yard where runoff collects will help expel water and allow it more time to absorb into the soil. You should consult with a landscaper to pick the best plants for your climate, but you can often plant and maintain them yourself.
Installing rain barrels at the base of downspouts is another worthwhile option. Make sure barrels are large enough to prevent overflow in a storm. You can use the collected water to irrigate your lawn or wash your car.
Inspect your gutter system routinely to ensure it’s working correctly. Most gutters need cleaning about twice a year, but you may want to clean more frequently if you have a lot of trees in your yard or if you notice more frequent clogging.
Gutter cleaning is best done by hand because blasting gutters with high-pressure water can damage gutters and cause a mess. If you want to hire pros, gutter cleaning prices range from about $73 to $467.
The right gutter drainage solution for your home will depend on where you live and the intensity of the problem. Try simple, cost-effective DIY solutions such as splash blocks and aboveground downspout extensions first. If these aren’t effective, we recommend contacting a professional to explore options for underground drainage. Don’t ignore the problem, as poor drainage can cause serious and expensive structural issues.
Gutter Drainage Solutions FAQ
What are the best gutters for drainage?
Consider the amount of rainfall in your area as well as your roof’s size and pitch when choosing gutter dimensions. Most homes will need five- or six-inch gutters, but homes in very wet climates may need eight-inch gutters.
How far should gutters drain from the house?
Gutter downspouts should drain at least four to six feet away from a home’s foundation, but 10 or more feet is ideal.
How do you drain water away from a house?
Downspout extensions, good yard grading, and French drains can all move excess water away from a house.
What causes gutters to clog?
Leaves, twigs, seeds, dirt, pine needles, and other debris can all collect in gutters and cause clogs.
How often should you clean gutters?
Most homes should have gutters cleaned at least twice a year. If you have gutter guards installed, you can reduce cleaning to once yearly.