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The Evolution of Gutter Cleaning Services – Gutter Cleaning Program Care

Overflowing GutterIn order to maintain a healthy business relationship, both sides must feel good about a service agreement; the purchaser and the service provider.  This can be especially challenging with gutter cleaning based on expectations for results of the service.  Can one visit in the fall to clean the gutters at a strata ensure that they are functioning properly until the same time next year?  Sometimes.  But often, this is not the case.  This is due to the differences between cleaning gutters and other services.   This has led to us to:

The Evolution of Gutter Cleaning Services

Most service providers offer a 1 X Gutter cleaning service.  In fact, in the GVRD, this is what most property  managers expect  is the only option that they are able to find for gutter cleaning.  However, in 2009, ServiceMaster Clean Residential introduced a higher level of service in order to meet the actual demands of gutter maintenance around the GVRD.  We believe this is the next step in the evolution of gutter cleaning service.  It has been met with great success over the years.

We realized that the same issues arose each year during gutter cleaning season and determined it was time to do something to address that.  So we took a look at what we routinely faced.  We found this necessary in order to ensure both we as the service provider and our customers felt good about the service arrangement.

We found the most common issues are:

-Small areas around a strata needing extra attention, or getting clogged up weeks or months after the initial service was performed.
– Minor issues that due to repair work needed rather than cleaning
-Strata’s not knowing what was done or not, as gutters can be difficult to see inside.
-Understanding what a ‘clean gutter’ is. (Click here for an article on what a clean gutter is)

We found that the approach most people had to addressing any issue with their gutters, was to phone our office and demand that we come back as we had ‘not done the job right.’

While everyone makes mistakes  and sometimes things might get overlooked during a service, we found that in the majority of these instances were related to one or more of the four issues outlined above.  So in many cases we would do a spot clean for the customer for free, or, clean the area but take photos proving it had been cleaned previously and then charging for the time, or, insist we needed to meet someone on site in order to show them that other problems existed that required repair and could not be fixed with cleaning.   No matter what both sides were not left feeling good about the way things unfolded.  And that’s not the way we want to do business.  We want our customers to feel great about using our company for services.  So what we needed was a way to address the reality of the situation so that everyone felt respected, valued, and treated fairly.  We did this by adding additional levels of service for low cost in our ‘Gutter Cleaning Maintenance Program’ offering.

Includes all Standard Gutter Cleaning PLUS

  • 6 SERVICE CALLS INCLUDED FOR 12 MONTHS AFTER INITIAL CLEANING (Potential Value $ 900.00)
  • INVESTIGATE and REPORT ON ANY ISSUES DISCOVERED
  1. SERVICE CALLS – By including 6 free spots cleans, our customers know we are dedicated to taking care of their ongoing needs, and that we understand a 1x visit to clean gutters does not always provide enough attention to keep gutters functioning properly throughout the year.  We anticipate that new clogs can and do happen, and are prepared to fix them as they come up over time.  We also look at the bigger picture to  determine how best to ensure that the customers gutter systems are maintained.

    Do new problems arise because a section of the strata has gutters in heavily treed areas?  Did the first service get done early in the season, and a lot of leaves fell after that service was complete?  Did a gutter get plugged up because some kids playing with tennis balls sent one up into the gutter that plugged the top of the downspout?  It doesn’t matter what the reason – we’ll take care of it, quickly, and at no additional charge when a strata has chosen a Gutter Maintenance Program.

    Does this mean we have less incentive to ‘do it right the first time’?  Absolutely not!  Every trip to a strata costs us in fuel and labour charges.  We don’t want to have to go back.  But we also want our customers resting assured that we will if necessary to take care of them.  That builds a stronger business relationship, and leads to approaching problem situations with a spirit of cooperation and understanding.

  2. Report Any Issues Discovered

This focuses primarily on providing information regarding the gutter system beyond our ability to address.  If there are areas that are off-slope and need to be adjusted, we can inform the strata.  We’re also looking for areas of heavy damage, areas which were not installed properly, or areas that are not functioning well due to overtaxing their capacity (may need another downspout installed, etc.)

This information can then be used if strata chooses to adjust their system so that its function is improved

So how can we afford to include all this extra work and service visits?

We charge a small amount more than for a regular gutter cleaning service, yet one additional service call could be $250-$475 at regular price.   We can afford to offer this to our customers because with such a large pool of customers each paying a bit more for the full maintenance plan, those who need it can benefit.  It’s like insurance; not everyone needs to use all of their service calls, and we can draw upon the pool to ensure our workers are paid for their time.  We also grow our business because our customers know we put them first, even if it may cost us a little.   That’s something very important to us; great customer relationships.

So if your strata’s haven’t considered a gutter cleaning maintenance program, they should take a look at the option.  It’s a solution to the real world issues faced during gutter cleaning to ensure that everyone wins.

What Is A Clean Gutter?

cleaned gutterGutters exist for function, not beauty.  So when a service company is hired to clean the gutters on your building, it is to ensure that they are able to perform their function properly, not to ensure that they look good.

The challenge then for a strata when they hire a service provider to clean their gutters is: how do they know that they got good value for their money?  What is a ‘clean gutter’?

Let’s consider all aspects of that as it relates to gutter cleaning and see if you agree.

Function

Gutters exist around the edge of building rooflines to direct the rainfall in a safe manner away from the home.  If water fell all around the edge of the roof around the building, then landscaping would be ruined, and the foundation potentially damaged.  So instead, the gutters help direct the flow of rainwater away from the building in a safe manner.

Cleaning a gutter allows for this function to continue.

Therefore, a dirty gutter, or a gutter which requires service is a gutter that has its function impeded.  Gutter cleaning is to remove those impediments to function.

When leaves and other debris fall into a gutter trough, they restrict the flow of water through the gutter channel, or possibly choke it off completely.  This causes the gutter to fill with water and overflow, leading the type of scenario the gutter was installed to eliminate in the first place.  It can also clog downspouts with the same result.   So the leaves, debris and other items must be removed by the cleaning service to allow the water to flow through the channel, down the downspout, and away.

If the debris has been removed and water can flow freely, then looking down into the gutter channel should reveal a gutter trough free of impediments; not necessarily a gutter trough that looks clean.

“Looking Dirty”

This is where a lot of confusion arises.  Usually, when we clean something, it is to keep the area or item sanitary, and improve appearance.  The challenge is that this is not the way we need to judge a gutter cleaning service.   If all of the impediments to function have been removed from a gutter trough, it may still ‘look dirty’ (see pic above). There may be algae scum adhered to the sides of the trough, or a thin layer of silt or dirt still clinging to the inside.  However, if the proper function of the gutter has been restored, the the gutter is ‘clean’, or ‘fixed’, or returned to its proper state.  The aesthetic appearance doesn’t matter because it doesn’t affect the function of the gutter at all.  Anything remaining in the trough may look dirty, but a gutter doesn’t need to be disinfected or look good to function well.  And, if it were cleaned to the point where it does look good, then the extra labor time and cost to get it to that state is essentially wasted money on the part of the purchaser of the service.  Why pay extra to over perform in an unnecessary manner?  After all, rainwater will strike the roof surface and carry surface dirt and sediment down and into the gutter the next time it rains. In very short order, the gutter won’t look good again.  But really, what does it matter?  We don’t want to look out into our gutters, we just want them to work.

Value/Quality of Service vs. Function

Some stratas want the inside or outside of the gutters to ‘look good’.  On the outside, this can make sense if it improves the overall appearance of the building.  But this type of aesthetic clean should not be confused with what is commonly referred to in the industry as a gutter cleaning service (for function).  Combining this type of cleaning with an inside clean or cleaning of siding may make sense, but don’t expect a regular gutter cleaning service to include an aesthetic clean.  As discussed, it isn’t necessary, and so should be considered an additional option for which the purchaser is paying extra.

Here’s a suggested breakdown to look at gutter cleaning.

1x Cleaning Service For Function.

This is a ‘standard’gutter cleaning.  It includes cleaning the inside of all of the gutter trough on the building for function.  All impediments to rainwater collection and flow should be removed.

Additional Levels of Service

Additional cost should be considered for adding any of the following:

-Aesthetic clean of the inside of the gutter trough
-Aesthetic clean of the outside of the gutter trough
-More than one visit
-Repair work to gutters (refastening downspouts, recalling seams, realigning gutters that are no longer sloped properly to drain, etc.)

If a purchaser considers a standard 1x gutter cleaning should include any of the above, then the price would go up. If after accepting a quote for service, a purchaser insists that any of those items be included, then the provider will feel that they have underpriced the work, and not want to perform the additional work above the definition of a 1x gutter clean.  Setting expectations before work begins is therefore paramount.

New Issues Arising After A Gutter Cleaning Service Is Complete

What about a clog or problem arising after a 1 x gutter cleaning service has been performed?  If water is seen to be overflowing over the side of a gutter, does that mean that the service wasn’t performed right and the service provider should come back at their own cost to fix the problem?  Does it mean the job wasn’t done right?

Perhaps.  The answer is not yes in all situations however.

Factors to consider:

-time since the initial service was complete
-condition of the gutters (a repair may be necessary)
-slope of the gutters (trough may be sitting on an angle which doesn’t allow for proper drainage.

Time

If within days a gutter is overflowing again in heavy rainfall, then yes, a service provider should inspect the gutter system to ensure that nothing was missed.  At the same time, the cause of the overflow should be discovered and reported so that the situation can be rectified.

If several weeks or months have passed however, and a gutter overflows, then it cannot be immediately assumed to have been a flaw with the original service.  The gutter should be checked to see if a section was missed during the initial service.  However, in most cases the cause will be that new debris has fallen into the gutter causing a clog.  This happens because:

-trees shed their leaves at different times during the autumn
-most gutter cleaning services in our region cannot be timed perfectly between when all leaves have fallen and prior to water in gutters freezing, so there are always new leaves which may cause potential clogs in future.
-pine trees shed their leaves throughout the year, and can cause new gutter clogs at any time
-heavy wind, rain, and other inclement weather can blow debris onto roofs which then gets washed down by rain into the gutter system, causing clogs.

In order to address the issue of new problems arising around a strata after an initial service, ServiceMaster Clean Residential introduced our “Gutter Cleaning Program” service, which benefits our customers by including 3 free service calls for a year after the initial cleaning service, to address these issues when they arise.  (See next article below for more details).  Problem areas do present themselves periodically, and this has proven itself to be an effective method of addressing those issues.

So, a clean gutter is a gutter that is performing its function properly, based no being in good repair and free of impediments.

Gutter Guard / Leaf Guard: To Use or Not To Use?

A customer recently asked my opinion about gutter guard (also known as leaf guard). I was happy to provide it, and I think that having previously worked for a company that used to install it, and having cleaned gutters around the GVRD that both have it and don’t, I think I have an informed opinion.

Gutter guard is a big investment for a strata, and the idea is that is should save them on maintenance and save them money long term. Is that actually the case?

Answer: it might cost MORE in maintenance, depending upon the type of leaf guard installed. Or, it may save a bit of money, but in almost all case it does not work as expected.

Gutter guard is supposed to prevent leaves from sitting in your gutter while allowing the water pass through perforations, into the trough, and then be carried away as desired. This is great in theory, the problem is that it ALMOST NEVER works that way!

The worst kind of gutter guard I’ve seen yet was a plastic lattice work or netting that was supposed to sit over the top of the gutter. However, this net sank into the gutter under the weight of the leaves, and the perforations were so large, that it trapped the leaves in them. The result: leaves that couldn’t be cleaned out of the gutter! This was a disastrous, worst case scenario, and certainly cost more than a regualr gutter cleaning. The leaves were held tight like fish in a net, unable to be removed, choking up the gutter system. The only way to get rid of the junk was to remove the netting, which should have been disposed of along with the leaves. I don’t remember what actually ended up happening in that case.

The best designed product is one that I used to install. It is a flat, perforated aluminum that clips onto one side of the gutter, and is fastened down to the other side with screws. Durable, solid, with holes not too large, this looks like the perfect solution. Leaves can’t fit in the holes, water can seep in, it should work perfectly, right?

Wrong.

I’m glad I don’t install this product any more, now that I work with ServiceMaster.

This is Vancouver. We get a lot of leaves falling, and a lot of rain. What happens ot those dead leaves when they’ve been soaked by a day of heavy rainfall? They start to decompose, they compress under their own weight, and become a sticky, thick pasty mess kind of like paper mache. Paper mache, as we all know, sticks to things. What do leaves do that are thick and pasty? They stick to the roof. They stick to the top of the gutter guard.

That is the flaw in the whole scheme. The dead leaves sit on top of the gutter guard, plug up the holes, and the water now runs off the roof, over the leaves, and falls over the edge of the gutter to the ground. That is the scenario gutters are installed to avoid in the first place.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Well, the idea is that the leaves are supposed to be blown off the roof by the wind, and harmlessly swept up off the ground. The missing part of this formula? Vancouver rain. Not enough wind. The leaves stay on top the gutter guard, which now needs to get cleaned anyway. So, a maintenance service still has to be done. A ladder has to be set up to the roof, all the leaves swept off or peeled off. You might think, well, that sounds easier than scooping them out of the gutter, right?

Not necessarily. We’re not talking yet about pine trees. Those little needles that they shed are small enough to get through the little holes. Rotting leaves sitting atop the gutter guard break apart and send particles down through the holes. Over time, these things accumulate in the gutter and cause problems. However, now you can’t get into the gutter trough to clean them out – there’s a cover screwed down over your gutter. Now the gutter guard acts as a lid preventing that stuff from being removed.

So, what I’ve found in the industry is that gutter guard, which is often a very expensive investment for stratas, is not really worth it. Why put a perforated lid on system that is going to need cleaning out anyway? The expectation that it will eliminate the need for maintenance is also false. You still have to have someone get up there and sweep off the top of the gutter guard and sweep leaves off the roof.

This has been my experience, anyway.

I’d love to hear feedback from anyone else out there who has had either positive or negative experiences about gutter guard. Leave a comment. Start a discussion. Are there things that I’ve missed here?

Thanks for reading e-tips!

 

Overflowing Gutter Issues

“Why is this gutter still overflowing?  We repaired the caulking at the seams, repaired the downspout.  It (the gutter) has been cleaned, so why does it keep spilling over?”

This is a question we received from a property manager regarding a situation we’ve encountered often before.   The answer was confirmed on site by one of our gutter division technicians.

If gutters are not working correctly necessary repair may include reattaching damaged or disconnected downspouts or re-caulking leaky seams.  In the instance involved with this question, both items had been performed at this particular section of gutter, which was found to still be overflowing.  Then, investigation into additional factors occurred.

Bringing a hose up to the gutter and flooding it with water demonstrated the problem.

By doing this we ensure the downspout is draining properly by observing the water level, but it also demonstrates the angle at which the gutter is sitting.  This angle can be incorrectly set during installation, or can change as the building settles and shifts over time.  Watching the water level rise as the technician pumped it full of water showed that the gutter was sitting at the incorrect angle.  Water flowed to the end of the gutter that was capped, rather than to the end with the downspout.  Therefore, during heavy rain, the gutter would fill up and spill over rather than flow down and out the drain spout as it should.

My crude pictures demonstrate on a short length of gutter how the water always fills a vessel and yet remains level, regardless of the angle of the vessel (in this case gutter) in which it sits.   Take the example above of the second gutter above, and apply it to a long section of gutter, and you get something like this:

During heavy rainfall, water will accumulate faster than it can drain out, especially since the low end floods and fills first, only being allowed to drain once the water level rises high enough to start escaping through the downspout.

Solution: The gutter needs to be removed from the building, and reattached at the proper angle to allow the water to flow down and out through the downspout.

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