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Gutter guidance: Professionals offer advice on when, how to make roof repairs

Steve Smith uses a hammer
Steve Smith, of D&J Construction, uses a hammer to do some guitar repair in Front Royal. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

Smith taps at a gutter
Smith taps at a gutter in Front Royal as Dave York, owner of D&J Construction in Front Royal, keeps the ladder steady. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

By M.K. Luther -- mkluther@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- As temperatures begin to inch up and the snow begins to melt, David York is beginning to dig out from the remnants of the blizzard -- not with a shovel, but with a ladder.

York is an independent contractor and owner of D&J Construction based in Front Royal, specializing in home improvement, renovations and repair. He and his wife, Linda, have spent the weeks following the record snowfall comforting concerned homeowners and explaining that when it comes to repairing gutters damaged by snow and ice, patience is key.

"It is a waiting game, really," Mrs. York said.

The weight of the snow and the ice can easily pull a gutter away from the house, but contractors and repair men recommend that any substantial gutter repairs be done when the snow melts.

"As far as the weather we are having now, there is not a whole lot you can do until we get the thaw," Mrs. York said.

George Sempeles, of Tradesmen Builders in Winchester, an independent contractor with more than 20 years of experience, also said homeowners have to wait for warmer weather before repairing damaged gutters or roofs.

"Let mother nature take its course," Sempeles said.

Sempeles said the ice damage from the winter storms has been heavy this year, but has mainly affected metal roofs and older houses with "old-style guttering."

And while many were worried about the effect of heavy snow standing on flat roofs, the storms did the most damage to building and home gutters, twisting many away from the roof and causing some to fall completely.

A homeowner should not try a do-it-yourself fix on snow-damaged gutters -- even trying to remove icicles can cause more harm than good and also can put the homeowner in a precarious situation.

"It is never advisable for a homeowner to climb on a roof in ice," Sempeles said. "It is cheaper to fix a broken gutter than a broken neck."

The best way to check for damage is to look for signs the gutter is weighed down enough that it is being pulled away from the seams, Mrs. York said.

"If you see a gap there between the house and the gutter, you've got problems," she said.

Considering the 30-plus-inch snowfall of the past month and the cold temperatures that delayed melting, she said a gutter that is still intact is capable of withstanding a large snow load.

"If it is not on the ground right now, you are in good shape because [the gutters] are holding a lot of weight," she said.

A downed gutter can damage a house, Mrs. York said, and can become especially dangerous if it is close to an electrical line.

"If that guttering comes down, it can really wreak some havoc," she said.

Scott Burkart, of Northern Virginia Home Improvements, said homeowners should be aware that often a pulled gutter can be repaired.

"If [the gutters] are pulled way from the house, they just need to be reattached," Burkart said. "If they are folded up and over, they need to be removed."

Burkart, who is based in Strasburg, said he generally recommends customers contact a specialized seamless gutter company to do full replacements.

"You definitely want someone who is going to stand by their work," Mrs. York said. "It is better to contact somebody who is licensed and experienced and somebody you trust."

Gutter replacement costs vary depending on the type and style of gutter, as well as the size of the house.

Sempeles estimates an average gutter installation for replacement runs between $4 and $5 a foot. A new replaced gutter could sustain another round of winter weather, but Sempeles cautions customers that even modern gutter systems are not immune from the heaviest snow and ice.

"When the hand of God touches it, all bets and warranties are off," Sempeles said.

The Yorks advise homeowners to contact their insurance company to check if gutter repairs or replacement are covered.

"A lot of people are holding on and talking to insurance companies," Mrs. York said.

And while it might be tempting for a frustrated and worried homeowner to try minimal gutter repairs themselves, builders and contractors recommend homeowners contact a professional.

Gutters can also be weather-proofed and prepped prior to heavy snowfalls to prevent damage by tightening spikes or investing in newer, heavyweight gutters.

"You should always make sure your guttering is up tight and make sure you have heavy guttering up," Mrs. York said. "If you have that real weak guttering, most likely that guttering is going to come down on you."

Sempeles said if re-roofing is done, a layer of asphalt sealing can be applied as a water and ice shield to protect the roof from future water and snow damage.

"It is a good safety measure," Sempeles said.


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