The importance of a proper gutter system for your home.

Michigan summer is in full swing right now.  Although we’ve been dealing with a drought throughout most of the state through spring leading into summer thus far, we all know that our thunderstorms and torrential downpours can arrive at anytime and without warning.  Of course we’re all concerned about losing power due to downed tree’s, but a less evident consequence of this can be our home’s foundation.

Seems strange right?  Why should I be concerned about my home’s foundation after a heavy rain?  The reason is your gutter system.  Many homes don’t even have a gutter system.  As a home inspector, I often see homes with no gutters.  They seem to be an afterthought, or an unsightly addition to a home that simply requires regular maintenance to keep the debris out of them.  And lets face it, there aren’t many gutter guards that actually work…  So even when gutters are present I often find them filled with debris and rendered useless.

The truth is, a functioning gutter system could save you thousands of dollars in repairs due to damage that can occur without them.  It doesn’t matter if your foundation is a basement, a crawlspace or a concrete slab on grade, they can all suffer costly damage when excessive water saturates the soil and leads to hydrostatic pressure in the soil applied to your foundation.  The list of damages is exhaustive, but one of the most common issues is differential foundation movement resulting in concrete foundation cracks.  The cracks then lead to movement and foundation settling.  You’ll notice these results with floors in your home that aren’t level and begin to slope.  Or your interior doors don’t shut or drag on the floor.  Worse yet, due to the foundation settling, your floor joist can become highly stressed and fail, (crack or break.)

The reason your foundation suffers without gutters is due to the dramatic difference in moisture content of the soil directly adjacent to your home’s foundation versus the soil in your yard.  When soil becomes moist, it expands and can produce tremendous hydrostatic pressure to your foundation. and without a gutter system, the soil adjacent to the foundation will become much more saturated than the soil in your lawn, which will cause it to expand more dramatically which stresses your foundation system.

Let’s apply some simple math to help in understanding this.  If you live in a 1,800 square foot ranch home, (30’ wide x 60’ long) that has a typical gable style roof, you would ideally have two set of gutters – one on each side, (60’ eave) of the house.  Without these gutters, each eave would act as a water trough as half of the roof area, (900 square feet) would drop on the ground next to the foundation.  If we assume that the water below the eave hits a 4 inch wide path x 60’ long, then it will cover an area of no more than 20 square feet.  So here we go – A 900 square foot area of rain will be condensed into a 20 square foot area adjacent to your foundation.  This means that the soil adjacent to your foundation will receive 45 times more water than the soil in your lawn!  Your sump pump will be working overtime when you get a torrential downpour if you aren’t diverting water away from your foundation with a gutter system including downspout extensions.  I recommend extensions be as long as possible in an effort to divert the water away from your foundation.

Below is an image courtesy of interNACHI, (International Association of Certified Home Inspectors) that describes how the hydrostatic pressure of saturated soil can cause damage to your foundation:

Couple of suggestions:

If you already have a gutter system – You can take a proactive approach and inspect your gutters and perform a little preventative maintenance. Do they need cleaning? Do you have end caps installed? Are seams leaking and in need of resealing? Do you have downspout extensions that divert water away from your home’s foundation?
If you don’t have a gutter system – Maybe now’s a good time to consider investing in a gutter system. Remember, a small investment in a gutter system may prevent a rather large investment into repairing a foundation system…

You can also review your foundation to see if you’ve already suffered damages due to the lack of a gutter system. If you have a block foundation, do you see mortar cracks and separation between your concrete blocks? (I’ve seen home’s where you could stand in the basement and see “outside” due to a ¼” or more wide crack in the concrete wall! Those home’s almost never have a functioning gutter system.)

In closing, If you think you may have a foundation issue, you reach out to Elite Inspection Services. We’d be happy to take a look for you and make a recommendation. We’re a fully certified home and commercial inspection company and we’d be happy to provide you with our services.

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(989) 260-2969