The reasons your gutters overflow in heavy rain can range from an incorrect gutter slope to wood rot. Clogged gutters and physical damage to the gutters are common causes of overflowing gutters.
Gutters only have one job, collecting and directing water runoff from the roof. Anything that impairs that one function, like clogs, damage, or incorrect sizing, reduces the effectiveness of the entire guttering system.
Gutter overflows result from insufficient capacity, improper installation, and even the amount of rainfall. Overflowing gutters is among the most destructive effects uncontrolled runoff can cause. If it happens over landscaping, you may not notice the damage immediately as it’s often hidden. Yet, the result is soil erosion, which causes many problems and is expensive to correct.
Overflowing gutters can directly cause mold growth, wood rot, and significant damage to your roof. The water is also likely to attract destructive insects, including carpenter ants and termites, potentially causing significant structural damage.
We’ll review the top five reasons why your gutters overflow in heavy rain and how you can determine why they’re overflowing. A gutter professional can inspect your gutter system, but as a homeowner, there are signs of overflowing you can look for.
What Causes Gutter Overflows?
Many gutter overflows are avoidable with regular maintenance and proper sizing. Damaged gutter sections are sometimes repairable or can be replaced to restore the original function. However, the first step in correcting gutter overflows is identifying the cause.
Homeowners should never ignore gutter overflows as the damage might seem minor when it is, in fact, severe.
If you witness overflowing gutters during heavy rain, document it and take photos. This will help you recall the location and assist a gutter professional in finding the source of the problem.
Here are five of the most common reasons gutters overflow.
By far, the most common cause of overflowing gutters is a clog. Clogs occur when something other than water, such as leaves, needles, and debris, get lodged in the downspout.
The downspout is always connected vertically to the end of the gutter closest to the ground. On most homes, the opening in the downspout is only 2” x 3”, so large leaves can easily cover the opening.
Overflows usually indicate a clog somewhere. The overflow will likely be on the downspout end if the clog is minor. If the clog is severe, the entire gutter may overflow.
Clogs are avoidable with either regular cleaning of the gutters or by adding gutter guards that prevent the debris from entering the gutter.
Strong winds are a significant contributor to gutter damage. High winds can snap off weak limbs overhanging the home, falling from a high distance onto the gutters. The impact can physically bend and dent the gutters and knock the gutter’s slope out of alignment.
Damage is usually easy to see. A gutter professional should be consulted immediately to determine if a repair or replacement is required.
3. Improper Installation
Gutters should never be installed onto weak and damaged fascia boards because they will fail prematurely. Even if the fascia boards are in good condition, if the slope is off by as much as ⅛”, the effectiveness of the gutter can be affected.
Improper installation can be difficult to diagnose if the gutter slope is the culprit. The slope is subtle and often requires tools to confirm. If fasteners have detached from the fascia, the culprit is usually an improper installation.
4. Insufficient Capacity
Gutters must be sized according to how much runoff they are projected to have to handle. Large roofs can overwhelm standard residential-size gutters (5”) in heavy rain, so sometimes the larger 6” or 7” version is a better option.
If your gutter slope meets other usual specifications and there are no obvious problems, the gutters are probably too small for the roof. The solution is to upgrade both the gutters and the downspouts to larger sizes capable of handling the water volume.
5. Heavy Rainfall
If your gutters only overflow during heavy rain, they are too small. In regions with heavy annual rainfall, oversized gutters add the capacity that prevents overflows, even during an inundation of rainfall.
Even if the roof area is small, the gutters should be large enough to control the water they receive in heavy rain.
What Are the Consequences of Overflowing Gutters?
Gutter overflows allow runoff to flow uncontrolled, often falling several feet before impacting the ground. Over time, these overflows will change location depending on the gutter’s condition.
Here are just a few problems overflowing gutters can cause:
Overflowing gutters allow the runoff to moisten the wooden framing. This leads to rot and can turn a smaller problem into a bigger one.
If your roof or fascia begins to sag, an overflowing gutter has probably weakened the framing. Water damage repair is tricky, so hiring a professional is best, even if only for advice.
Those sensitive to mold will often suffer when gutters overflow, as the water hastens the growth of mold spores. Mold growth is usually around the overflow area and is typically brown or green.
Overflowing gutters should be repaired as soon as possible because the mold spores will not die until the moisture evaporates.
Foundation issues are caused by overflowing gutters that erode the sidewall support around the footings. If dirt washes the footings away, they’ll have less support and may crack.
A homeowner will usually discover a foundation issue after the damage occurs. It’s best to correct any overflows (especially during heavy rain) to avoid troublesome repairs in the future.
Landscape erosion can also go undetected until the damage is severe. Heavy rains that cause a gutter to overflow can wash away mulch, flowers, plants, and softscaping features.
But the erosion is preventable if you inspect your gutters during heavy rain to look for any small overflows that could worsen.
A pest infestation, such as carpenter ants and termites, results in costly frame damage. Gutters that overflow can provide the moisture these insects require to live and thrive. Often, you can avoid using pesticides by just removing the water source.
Make sure any potential overflowing is addressed promptly by a gutter professional. If damage has already occurred, contact a pest control company as quickly as possible.
How to Fix Gutter Overflows?
Regular maintenance and frequent inspections are the best strategies to prevent overflowing gutters. Here are a few common fixes:
Clean the Gutters
If clogs are causing your gutters to overflow, a simple cleaning is often the trick to removing the clog. Keeping your gutters clean before heavy rain will prevent overflows if your system is designed and installed correctly.
Ideally, hiring an experienced gutter cleaning professional is the safest and fastest way to clean your gutters, but you can use a garden hose and water to help dislodge any debris.
Seal the Gutters
Sealing your gutters with high-quality sealant can prevent leaks and worn-out seals from causing an overflow.
Homeowners can often perform gutter sealing, but the job is physically demanding. Hiring a pro is the best option, as they will have everything needed to carry it out efficiently.
Replacing your gutters is the best option if yours are too small or are in disrepair. You’ll spend more money on repairs than upgrading the gutters will cost.
Replacing your gutters solves all of your problems at once. New gutters will be perfectly sealed and set to just the right slope to prevent overflows.
Install Gutter Guards
Installing gutter guards is among the easiest ways to prevent gutters from overflowing during heavy rain. These gutter guards sit on top of, or inside of, the gutter, preventing debris from causing an overflow.
Installing gutter guards is best left to roof and gutter professionals. Almost all types of gutter guards, specifically reverse curve versions, require professional training and installation.
The Bottom Line: Gutter Overflows are Preventable and Fixable
Keeping your gutters clean and sealed is the first step to avoiding gutter overflows in heavy rain. Reducing clogs, repairing damage, and correcting the gutter slope is also helpful.
Gutter pros are trained to solve gutter overflow problems, regardless of the cause. Savvy homeowners have learned that involving a roofing or gutter professional on the front end of a gutter project saves them time, hassle, and money.