The best time to look at your gutters is while you are cleaning them. Even if you have gutters that you aren't supposed to have to clean, you should still check them every year to ensure that everything is working as it should. Here are the things you should check for to see if it is time to replace your gutters instead of just cleaning them.
Rust Or Cracks Are Starting To Show
Eventually, the material that makes up your gutters will start to break down. How this presents itself depends on the material that was used to make the gutters. Older steel gutters will rust with age. While a coat of paint might keep them going for awhile, this is only a temporary solution until you can replace them. Just be sure to sand away the rust before you paint so that you can minimize the damage as long as possible.
Vinyl gutters are another popular choice, but they too are prone to breaking down over time. The plastic used to create the gutters reacts with the UV rays in sunlight. This makes them brittle, and given time, they will start to crack. Newer products have chemicals mixed in that slow down the reaction, but it doesn't stop it completely. Often this coincides with a change in color, so you can see the extent of the damaged sections without testing the material.
Sagging, Dents And Missing Parts
Many gutters are installed by ambitious amateurs. If this happened to your home, it is possible that they weren't quite installed correctly. In particular, if there is too much space between the supports, your gutters will start to sag over time. If the piece sags as a whole, then this will create low spots that will hold water longer than they should. Another way this can manifest is in drooping outer edges. In heavy rains, the water can overflow the gutters and fall around the outside of the house. Since the reason you have gutters is to keep water away from your foundation, once the edges start to droop, it is time to start considering new gutters.
Storms can do more than overflow your gutters. Branches and other debris can dent metal gutters or knock off pieces of any type of material. You can repair a few bits here and there, but if there is enough damage, it might be best to just start fresh.
Multiple Sections Are Breaking Down
If one or two pieces of gutter are all that needs work, replacement is a less expensive option than replacing the whole system. Vinyl on the sunny side of the house will break down faster than gutters sitting in the shade. A branch knocked down in the wind will only dent one section of aluminum, leaving the rest intact. One missing corner can be replaced without reworking everything else.
On the other hand, many of these small problems combined together might make replacing everything a good idea. At a certain point, the cost of replacement will be less than the cost of repair. Even if it isn't, how much longer are the remaining pieces going to last? If they only have a few more years of life, than you might as well go ahead and replace the whole thing.
The early signs of gutter failure are subtle and are tough to see from the ground. Your annual maintenance is the perfect time to get a closer look at what is going on with this part of your home. By checking the condition of your gutters while you are cleaning, you can spot these first indications of failure and start planning for replacement.