[Another] Chicago Two-Flat

A chronicle of our adventures as owners of a two-flat on Chicago's north side.

Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Great Gutter Cleanout

Ah, the exciting stuff one encounters day-to-day as a homeowner...

A few weeks ago, I can't remember when exactly, we had a monsoon of a storm. I have never seen so much rain in such a short time. I happened to be working in the garage (cutting wood for the storage unit, subject of another post) so I got to see up close the drainage aspects of our lot. It wasn't too bad. The back yard did turn into a lake for about 15 minutes, but it just as quickly drained away once the rain settled down. Other good news - the basement didn't flood, not one bit. I couldn't believe it. But just as I was celebrating the wonders of the dry basement the tenant on the second floor came down and said there was water in her back porch - the enclosed porch on the back of the buidling. You can kind of see what it looks like here - the back porch is the part of the building with vinyl siding (the rest of the building is brick):

So I run up there and she that she has about 1 foot of water on her floor, with still more pouring in from the windows (it was still raining hard, although not monsoon-like). When I say "from" the windows, I mean like from the top of them, straight through the window frame, not from running down the outside of the wall but from running THROUGH the wall.

Well, it was lucky that my wife and I were around when this happened because we were able to run and get the shop vac and and suck up the water before it caused any visible damage downstairs. We've also had a dry enough summer that I am hoping the wall will dry out pretty well and not get moldy...

Anyway, this moved up one of my projects on the urgency scale. Back when we bought the place the inspector warned me that the rear gutter (there is only one gutter on the place) needed to be cleaned out. Well, that was quickly place near the bottom of my list, as something I knew had to be done, but that I would get to later. My hypothesis is that the gutter overflowed because the opening to the drainpipe was clogged with leaved and muck and because of poor design and/or installation, the overflow poured back into the wall. I saw something like this on the condo building we used to live in.

Finally, last Friday, I got around to squeezing through the roof hatch and getting on the roof to clean the gutter. This was also my first look at the roof. Below are some pictures:

General view of the roof, not in bad shape but some low spots that might turn into problems:

And the roof hatch that I managed to squeeze through:

The gutter has a mesh screen on it, but it doesn't seem to be doing much good because the debris just washed under it and into the gutter. The downspout was clogged, as suspected, and the design of the gutter is such that any overflow will roll backwards towards the roof. There is flashing sealed with roofing tar to prevent the water from cascading into the wall cavity, but in a few places the flashing was not sealed properly and in a few other places had apparently been resealed - as if this problem had existed before. The net effect is what we witnessed: a heavy rain that produced too much flow for the downspout would flood the inside of the wall and flow out of the window frames, among other places. This will happen even if the downspout is not clogged if the rain is heavy enough, but with the downspout clogged would happen with even a moderate rain. For a short-term fix I cleaned the gutter and got the downspout working again. That should protect us in all but the monsoon-type situations. A complete fix would require resealing the gutter-flashing connection and/or reinstalling the gutter with a slope that allowed it to dump away from the wall when it overflowed. Also, maybe some scuppers would help.

Time will tell how well the cleanout fixes the problem. Ultimately we want to tear down the porch anyway, so I am not too concerned about any water damage back there.


Blogger Tom Macek said...

Sounds like we have the same building. I've had the same problems with my gutter. My problem still occurs with a clean gutter and downspout. I've had a gutter/roofing guy out several times, he re-hung the existing gutter, reflashed the roof and finally recommended replacing it with a larger industrial gutter and adding a second downspout. The first two fixes helped with the big picture, but now I get water rolling over the top of the gutter, running down the siding onto the top of the window, filling the window sill and running into the house. Luckily this only happens in a heavy downpour on the window in the unfinished part of the enclosed stairs. I will probably have to replace the gutter and add the second downspout. I'm reluctant to do it because the existing unit matches the red siding (a new one would change the look). Compromises...compromises!

It's also my experience that it's hard to get a contractor out to look at it since there is only one gutter on the entire house. These guys want the big jobs. Good luck.

7/14/2005 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger M said...

Thanks for the comment. I was getting long-winded in my post and forgot to mention a couple of things that you remind me of. We two-flat we rented before buying our current one also had this problem and it seems to have been successfully addressed with a gutter cleanout. But it totally makes sense to me that a simple cleanout would not completely solve the problem, especially under heavy rains. I have thought about putting in a second downspout and will probably do that. I really hate how the situation is basically not fail-safe. If the gutter fails, there is water damage. That's not right! It should be that if the gutter fails you get water in the yard, not in the wall. I'm also seriously considering the scupper thing. This was used in our condo building and seemed to work. The idea is to basically install a few short, round pipes that will take the overflow and dump it a foot or so from the building before the water has a chance to flow back into the wall. Actually, this combined with a second downspout combined with a little more roofing tar and a yearly cleanout will probably work. Or so I hope. I'm not too thrilled with getting a roofer to look at it because it seems that the standard way of addressing the problem is not sufficient, and in our case, at least, it appears that someone - a roofer probably - has already attemped to fix it and failed.

7/14/2005 01:39:00 PM  
Blogger Arek said...

We had a problem with water coming down the back wall of our two-flat. A neighbor suggested getting a hose on the roof, filling up the gutter, and seeing where the leak was. I blocked the downspout and filled the gutter with water. No leak. However, I did discover that when the hose was close to the gutter, water would run across the straps that hold the gutter up, run across the gutter, and drain down the back of the building. Bingo. I put a dollop of silicone caulk on the straps, and we have not had any more water run down the back of the building.

12/06/2008 10:27:00 AM  

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