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Do It Yourself: Rain gutter joint leaks can prove frustrating

Sun., July 24, 2011

Q. Our aluminum rain gutters leak onto the patio and deck below them, causing stains and ugly dirty areas. I have tried to stop the leaks, but they always come back. Can you help?

A. Aluminum gutters generally leak at joints, where the lengths of gutter are joined together or where they connect with elbows or downspouts.

Sagging or clogs can also cause leaking. In any case, leaks can cause more damage than just stains and dirt; water can collect behind the leaking areas, causing rot in the fascia and other parts of the roof structure, and in cold-climate areas puddles can freeze and make a slipping hazard.

Unfortunately, gutter leaks are not always easy to fix, even though there are lots of products that promise lasting repairs. Do-it-yourself gutter repairs also usually require working from a ladder, which can be hazardous for the unskilled.

The solution to clogs, of course, is to clean the gutters of leaves and debris, making sure the downspouts are also open. Leaks caused by sagging can usually be repaired by adding support brackets to the sagging areas.

Several types of brackets are available. One popular type slips into the grooves in the top of the gutter and is fastened to the roof framing by a screw.

Another widely sold type consists of long aluminum spikes; these are driven through the rim of the gutter and into the supporting wood of the roof.

The best type of spike has a screw end and a Phillips-screw head. The spikes are driven through metal sleeves that keep the gutter from being crashed.

Joint leaks are the most frustrating to fix. There are two approaches to joint leaks: caulk and waterproof tape.

When caulk is used, it is important to clean the interior and exterior of the joint. I prefer clear silicone caulk for the repair; it can be used both inside and outside the gutter and doesn’t have to be painted. Silicone sticks well to clean metal and is flexible enough to allow for some expansion and contraction of the joint, which is what causes most patches to reopen.

I have also tried waterproof tapes; these are generally self-adhesive and simply span the leaking area. Tapes can be bought at some hardware stores or on the Internet; search for “tapes for leaking rain gutters.”

The tapes I have used have usually loosened in time and allowed the leaks to resume, but newer versions might work better.

Q. We recently bought a house with a stone fireplace. Some of the stones are very dirty or blackened with soot. How can we clean it up?

A. A good method uses a solution of trisodium phosphate (TSP), a heavy-duty powdered cleaner sold at many paint stores (some dealers sell a phosphate-free substitute).

Start by vacuuming the dirty stones with a brush attachment to remove as much loose dirt as possible. Spread plastic sheeting around the base of the fireplace. Wear safety glasses and rubber gloves when using the cleaner.

Mix one-half cup of TSP with a gallon of hot water and start scrubbing the dirty areas with a stiff-bristled scrub brush dipped into the solution. It is usually best to clean lower areas first; this makes it easier to remove streaks that form when dirty water runs down as the top stones are scrubbed.

When the stones are clean, rinse them with a sponge and clean water. You can also buy special cleaners at most fireplace-supply dealers, and there are several homemade formulas that work on some stones (one is oven cleaner).

Be sure to test any cleaner, including the TSP solution, on a small area first. If bricks are being cleaned, keep in mind that they are especially prone to damage from strong cleaners.

Q. Our brick patio looks great after a rain, but when it dries it is dull and the bricks appear faded. How can I preserve that glossy appearance?

A. There are masonry sealers that give a glossy appearance to bricks and some other types of masonry. One that I have used, and got good results, is Behr’s Wet Look Masonry Sealer, sold at Home Depot.

Clean the bricks as thoroughly as possible, rinse with a hose and let dry. Follow directions on the container for applying the sealer, which goes on quickly with a roller or pad.

A caution: Glossy sealers can be slippery when wet, especially on very smooth surfaces.

Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at Send regular mail to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.

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