5 Common Reasons Your Gutter Downspouts Aren't Working

Scott Dylan Westerlund
Reviewed by Jose Figueroa
Updated June 8, 2022
Holder gutter drainage system on the roof
Photo: Grispb / Adobe Stock

Is your downspout down in the dumps?

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Why aren't my gutter downspouts working like they should? It's one of the most frustrating questions a homeowner can ask. There are a few common reasons for your finicky gutters, and some simple ways to unclog them.

1. Your Downspout is Clogged With Debris

Clogs create the biggest downspout and gutter problems. The telltale sign that you have a downspout clog is water that's pouring over the edge of your gutters. The water in this situation is prevented from properly filtering to your downspouts. You can also check the gutter from a second story window and see if there is standing water in the gutter even after the rain is over.

What Causes Clogged Downspouts?

Everyday debris like leaves, twigs, and pine needles are the top causes of gutter clogs. Gutters should be checked regularly after big storms to ensure that clogs haven't formed due to heavy winds.

“One lesser known cause for clogged downspouts is tiny shingle pieces and granules. If you recently had your roof replaced, it's natural for it to shed some shingle granules after the first few rains. You can think of it like a new set of towels that create extra lint the first few times you wash them,” says says Jose Figueroa, Expert Review Board member and crew supervisor and sales representative at Artisan Quality Roofing in Apex, North Carolina.

How Do You Unclog Downspouts?

A man cleaning gutters
Photo: gmcgill / Adobe Stock

Bring in someone with the tools to keep gutter downspouts clean if your tool lineup is sparse.

You may also have the right tools without even knowing it! The easiest way to fix a gutter clog is to vacuum out your gutter using a special attachment. A long attachment on a shop vac or leaf blower can help you clear the clog without getting up on a ladder.

You can also get a more precise angle on your clog using a plumber's auger (snake). Here's the process:

  • Place the auger's end into your underground gutter

  • Turn the auger handle clockwise

  • Turn until it's difficult to turn. This means you've found a clog!

  • Reverse the auger to free the clog

2. Your Downspouts Are Too Small

Tight downspouts invite clogs from organic debris around your home. That's why gutter installers typically say that bigger is better for downspouts.

How Do You Fix Downspouts That Are Too Small?

Consider a downspout upgrade if you have perpetually clogged gutters. When you choose a replacement, make sure you increase the size of the hole and gutter outlet that connects to the downspout. This way, you’re getting the most out of your downspout upgrade because it’s less likely it will get clogged.

3. Your Downspouts Are Too Short

A short downspout is the easiest way to end up with water in your basement. That's because downspouts need enough length to direct water completely away from your home's foundation.

How Do You Fix Downspouts That Are Too Short?

You have a few different options when you need to elongate your downspouts to prevent water from pooling in your basement. Consider these:

  • Add a permanent extension

  • Add hinge kickers that allow you to tip any square or rectangular downspout

  • Replace your downspouts

Tip: Gutter pros don't often recommend downspouts that run along the ground because they don't drain well, create more clogs, and can get crushed or damaged.

4. Your Home Doesn't Have Enough Downspouts

Not having enough gutter downspouts causes existing spouts to carry loads that are too heavy until they malfunction. Your home's gutter system should have a downspout placed every 30 to 40 feet for efficient drainage away from your foundation.

Consider local weather and wind conditions when deciding how many downspouts your property needs when getting your gutters done.

How to Add More Downspouts to Your Gutters

A particularly handy homeowner could DIY this project, but it’s typically a job best left to a gutter pro. That’s because most homeowners don't know if there will be a proper pitch where the downspouts will be added. There’s also a risk of damaging your gutter. But if you want to give it a try, here’s what to do to add more downspouts to your gutters:

  • Locate the spots where you want to place new downspouts

  • Keep that recommendation of every 30 to 40 feet in mind

  • Measure from your gutter to the wall of your house

  • Measure from the gutter to the ground

  • The two numbers will equal how many feet of straight downspout is needed

  • Buy downspouts, connectors, and elbows

  • Add your new downspouts

5. You Have a Cracked Downspout

A man clearing autumn leaves from a gutter
Photo: rekemp / Adobe Stock

Downspouts can crack from heavy debris, ice buildup, and wildlife interference. Here are the signs that your downspouts are compromised:

  • Peeling paint

  • Messy landscaping around the spout

  • Gaping joints

  • Collapsed/dented joints

  • Basement moisture/flooding

How to Fix a Cracked Downspout

There are several fixes for broken downspouts. Try these tips based on the severity of your crack:

  • Seal the crack with silicone calk

  • Seal the crack with rubber spray sealant

  • Replace the cracked/damaged section

You may need to replace the entire downspout if the crack is located anywhere besides an elbow. Don't forget to consider a completely new gutter system. This is especially important for people who have inherited old gutters after purchasing homes. Cracks could be indicative of an inferior gutter material that will only continue to give you problems as time goes on.

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