28/11/2014

National Gutters Day

Gutter maintenance - neglect it at your peril!

Autumn is upon us, or as our friends across the Atlantic call it, 'the Fall', the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness when leaves fall from the trees... and some of those leaves could well end up in your church’s gutters.

Gutters are a critical component of your church building. They are designed to carry rainwater off the roof, transporting it via the downspouts to ground level without it touching the fabric of the building. In a torrential downpour, the gutters could be handling several gallons of water every minute. It is therefore very important that your church’s gutters are free of obstruction. Fallen leaves are not the only potential blockage - from tennis balls to dead birds, any number of items which can stop the flow of water.

Water always takes the path of least resistance, which may mean it overflows the blocked gutter, under the flashings and in to the roof timbers. If left unchecked, over time, this will lead to rot in the roof structure. Often by the time this is discovered it will be too late and extensive (and expensive) repairs will be required – one church I know is facing a huge six-figure repair bill as a result of the exact scenario I have just described. Remember that old poem about how for want of a nail to hold a horse’s shoe in place a whole war was lost? Gutter maintenance is the nail which could save you losing the battle to keep your building.

A gutter inspection and maintenance programme is the most important investment of time and money you can make in the care of your church.

Once a month, the gutters should be visually inspected, preferably by the same person or small group. This doesn’t require any special training or equipment although a notepad to record any damage and maybe a camera will be useful, as will binoculars if your gutters are a long way up.

The best time to inspect your gutters is whilst it is raining, so you can spot any leaks. Dry, sunny weather is not such a good time as leaks are harder to spot and you may be looking up against the sun. NEVER look up against the sun through a camera or binoculars as you risk serious eye damage by doing so!

The first thing to check is, are the gutters intact? It should be fairly obvious where sections of guttering are missing; small cracks and gaps between sections can be harder to spot, especially in dry conditions.  Also look at the brackets holding the guttering in place. They should be intact and free from damage.

Are the gutters clear? Unless you can safely get to a high level, it might not be easy to spot blockages from the ground but the behaviour of water in wet conditions will give you an indication of where any blockages might be. One certain sign of a blockage is plant growth in the gutter which indicates not only that the gutter is blocked but that it has been blocked for some considerable time.

You should also check the hopper heads which act as a funnel to prevent overflows of water between the gutters and downspouts. Again plant growth is a clear sign of a blockage which has been left unattended for too long.

Finally you should inspect the downspouts. Check that they are intact, securely affixed to the wall and that the holding brackets are in good condition. You should check that they are running clear; again this is more easily achieved in wet weather. A tip for inspecting cast-iron downspouts (it doesn’t work with plastic ones) is to gently tap them with a small hammer or similar object. If you hear a clear bell-like ringing sound that suggests the downpipe is clear at that point. A dull muffled sound indicates a blockage.

Staining or saturation of brick or stone behind a downspout is another clear sign that there is a blockage or a leak. Where your church has internal downspouts which are not directly visible from outside the first sign of a problem may well be saturated brickwork.  Any missing sections of gutters or downspout should be replaced as soon as possible. It is better to make a temporary repair using plastic than to leave the building unprotected.

In addition to regular inspections of the gutters, hopper heads and downspouts (which are collectively referred to as 'rainwater goods'), maintenance should be carried out at least once a year but preferably twice, in November and May, if possible. Your contractor should clear all debris out of the gutters and hopper heads and jet through each downspout to clear them out. If your church is surrounded by high deciduous trees the gutters may need to be cleared three or even four times a year.

If you want to learn more about maintaining your church’s rainwater goods, come to a Maintenance Days which Heritage Support Officer Ian Simpson runs. There are four scheduled for 2015:
  • Wednesday 15th April
  • Wednesday 27th May
  • Wednesday 8th July
  • Tuesday 20th October.
Maintenance Days run from 10am to 3.30pm. There is a small charge of £15 per person to cover the cost of materials and a buffet lunch. Venues to be confirmed but will be advertised in the Diocese Bulletin and website.

If your church would like to host a Maintenance Day, or if you have any queries about rainwater goods – or any other aspect of church inspection and maintenance – please do not hesitate to contact Ian on ian.simpson@liverpool.anglican.org or phone 0151 705 2127.