Check gutters and downspouts this fall

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rain gutter

I’m probably going to hear about it for suggesting one more item for your “to-do” list as summer rolls swiftly into fall — and harvest season, but spending a few moments after the leaves have flown and the corn is picked on this simple task could be well worth your time come spring.

Few things can be more aggravating — and potentially damaging — for a homeowner than a damp or wet basement. A basement can hold the potential to add great value to a home by providing space for storage, additional areas for living, hobby or recreational space, and generally easy access for plumbing, heating and cooling systems.

Most homeowners also agree that the additional heated space under living areas can also make for a more comfortable climate in the home.

Hole in the ground

The potential downside to any basement follows right along with its most basic attribute: A basement is really just a hole in the ground.

While measures to prevent or cure basement dampness could fill volumes, I will touch on perhaps the simplest strategy of all — and one that hit very close to home for me when I was a new homeowner.

My wife and I first looked at our then 75-year-old, two-story frame house for the first time in early September. The house had been empty for two years and although it smelled a bit dusty there weren’t any musty smells or mildew problems evident.

The basement was cool but dry. We moved in at the end of October and were entirely satisfied with our purchase. Obviously, there was a great deal of work to do, but a good roof and sound walls made for a good platform to begin.

Dose of reality

When springtime came, along with April showers and the like, we got a big dose of first-time homeowners’ reality as every time it rained with any degree of intensity, we’d see a stream of water spring from under the south wall of our basement and run in a sinuous path to the floor drain across the room near the opposite wall!

Panic ensued, and in those long-ago days before the Internet and Google, we were at the mercy of the Yellow Pages in seeking advice. There was talk of water-proofing, sump pumps, open cuts of our basement floor, massive excavations on the outside of the house and thousands and thousands of dollars in expense.

For a pair of newlyweds who had just dumped everything they had into a down payment, it was, for lack of a better term, horrifying!

Good sense and serendipity prevailed as before I signed off on any of the above remedies, I asked a neighbor across the street if he had experienced any such issues, adding that I thought it was crazy that we’d have such a problem, given that our house was at the very top of our neighborhood hill.

“I’m glad you asked,” he said. “No, I’ve never had that problem, but I have a really good idea where yours is coming from.”

Unlikely cause

He went on to explain that he’d watched the neighbor kid lob a tennis ball onto the roof of the then-empty house dozens of times over the past few years.

“I suspected that sooner or later one of those balls wasn’t going to come down,” he said. “Now, every time it rains I watch all of the water from the south side of your roof run into the gutter only to overflow at the downspout. I’d say that ball is right up there.”

A borrowed extension ladder and a quick visit to the suspected corner was all it took to solve the problem! When water can’t find a way away from your basement, it will almost always work to find its way inside.

Remember, your basement is basically “just a hole in the ground.” With fall right around the corner, it’s a great time to do a walk-around inspection of your home’s gutters and downspouts.

While it might be ideal to examine the whole system with a ladder, you may do nearly as thorough a job by walking the perimeter in a good steady rain (please beware of lightning) to make sure all of your gutters and downspouts are working as intended.

And it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do the whole thing again once the leaves have flown for good at the end of fall. An occasional inspection may just save you a full-blown panic come springtime!

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John Lorson is the district technician with the Holmes Soil and Water Conservation District. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from The University of Akron. Reach him at 330-674-2811 or email jlorson@co.holmes.oh.us.

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