Proper gutter cleaning is crucial to preventing roof and foundation damage. (Photo: Dreamstime/TNS).

Your gutters provide an important service to your home’s well-being, and clean gutters are absolutely crucial in winter. Falling leaves, even if trees aren’t near your gutters, create blockages. In some areas, water that gets backed up into the gutters can freeze and cause roof or soffit damage, or help create ice dams that can cause a lot of roof damage. Clean gutters also help your basement or foundation, because water that overflows and pools near the foundation can damage the stone over time. So, it’s important to pay attention to them. Follow this checklist to see if your gutters need attention right away.

1. Have your gutters been cleaned lately?
Your gutters need to be cleaned regularly to stay in good shape – debris buildup defeats their purpose. Experts recommend doing it at least twice a year, in spring and autumn. It’s not too late to hire a professional for a cleaning this season, before the truly cold months hit. You can expect to pay about $150 for a standard gutter cleaning — more if you have a very large house or more than two stories. Checking for licensing, bonding and insurance is always a good idea, but it’s particularly vital on any job involving ladders, because you don’t want to be responsible for damages if someone falls and gets injured.

2. Are they sagging?
If your gutters sag, you need to address it as soon as possible. Once gutters begin to lean or pull away, the problem gets worse quickly. Your fascia board could rot. Or, the gutters might collapse entirely. Broken spikes and hangers usually cause sagging gutters, so replace this hardware as necessary.

3. Can you see leaks?
If your gutters aren’t blocked but water is still escaping, you probably have a leak. These sometimes open at the joints between sections. In those cases, you can reseal them. Cracked gutters will need to be replaced, though.

4. Do your gutters show signs of damage?
Several telltale markers can give you early warning of gutter damage. If paint is peeling on or around them, it may mean water is present. Pools of water or mildew near the foundation indicate trouble. If you see water marks or water damage beneath the gutters, water is probably escaping. Hire a pro to investigate any of these problems.

5. Are they pitched correctly?
Gutters must be slightly pitched towards the downspout. Most gutters are pitched at 1/8 or 1/16 inch per foot. You usually can’t determine this by looks alone. But if water pools and there’s no blockage, your gutters are probably improperly pitched. Pitch adjustment is a delicate job that must be done precisely. It’s best left to a professional. Also check to see if your downspouts direct water at least three feet away from the house, to prevent pooling. Four or six feet is even better.

By Paul F.P. Pogue, Angie’s List. Paul F.P. Pogue is a reporter for Angie’s List, a trusted provider of local consumer reviews and an online marketplace of services from top-rated providers. Visit