How to Fix Clogged Underground Gutter Downspouts

gutter downspout in house

Don’t let a clogged underground gutter downspout rain on your parade! We’ve all been there, sipping our morning coffee, only to spot a mini lake forming in our backyard after a night of rainfall. We’re here to lift the clouds of confusion and show you exactly how to fix clogged underground gutter downspouts. With this article, you’re just steps away from mastering this essential homeowner skill. So, let’s get those gutters flowing freely again, shall we?

Understanding Your Downspout Drain System

Let’s talk about your downspout drain system and its crucial role in maintaining your home’s health. You see, the downspout, also known as the downpipe, is like a dedicated water highway. It takes the rainwater from your roof, collected by your gutters, and whisks it away from your home’s foundation. That’s vital because if water starts to pool around your home, it could lead to serious issues, like damp basements and even structural damage.

But how does your downspout get the water away from your home? In some homes, the downspout channels water onto a ‘splash block,’ spreading the water into your yard. Yet, in others, it links to an underground system like a PVC pipe or French drain

But here’s the key—these underground paths must remain unblocked. If an underground downspout gets clogged, it can create costly damages. This is why understanding how to fix clogged underground downspouts is a key skill for many homeowners.

Tools Required for Unclogging Underground Gutter Downspouts

As with any DIY project, having the right tools is half the battle. So before you begin your downspout unclogging mission, you’ll need to gather the following:

  • Safety goggles and gloves
  • A garden spade
  • A plumbing auger (also known as a plumber’s snake)
  • A pressure hose

Unclogging Your Downspout and Underground Drain

Step 1: Inspect the Downspout

First, begin your inspection at the point where your downspout meets the gutter system, which could involve using a ladder to access your roof safely. Leaves, sticks, and other debris can easily clog the downspout, causing a backup. Check for visible blockages near the downspout entrance and use your hand to remove any obstruction you find. Remember, safety first—wear protective gloves to avoid injury!

Step 2: Insert a Plumber’s Auger

If the clog is not within reach, you may need to use a plumber’s auger. This flexible rod can be pushed through the downspout or downspout extensions to dislodge the clog.

Step 3: Apply Water Pressure

Next, use a pressure hose to flush water down the downspout and through the underground drain. This should help dislodge and clear out any remaining blockages.

Step 4: Digging and Drain Pipe Inspection

If your downspout is still clogged, it might be time to inspect the underground portion. Use your garden spade to carefully unearth the PVC pipe or French drain connected to the downspout. Be mindful of your landscaping and try to cause minimal disruption.

Step 5: Clear the Buried Downspout

With the underground pipe exposed, inspect it for blockages, particularly from tree roots. Using your auger, clear out any blockages you find. Remember to use caution and avoid causing damage to the pipe.

Step 6: Flush and Check Again

After successfully clearing the blockage, proceed to the top of the downspout and use a pressure hose for a final flush. This final wash will help ensure that the blockage has been fully removed and that water can flow freely through the system. Once you’re done, test your gutter system by running water through the gutters and checking the flow at the end of the downspout. 

Other Methods for Unclogging Underground Gutter Downspouts

1. Blow Bag

A blow bag is a useful tool for unclogging a blocked downspout. It’s essentially a sturdy, rubber bladder which is attached to a hose and then inserted into the downspout’s entrance. When the water is turned on, the bladder expands, exerting pressure on the clog to break it up and clear the path. However, it’s imperative to exercise caution when using this method as excessive pressure could harm the pipes, particularly old ones with weak joints. 

2. Hydro Jetting

Hydro jetting is a technique used by professional plumbers to clear stubborn blockages. It involves the use of high-pressure water jets to effectively break up the clog and clean the inside of the pipe. Given its power and efficiency, it is particularly beneficial for heavy-duty and complex clogs.

3. Picote Milling Machine

A Picote milling machine is a more advanced tool, primarily used by professionals for severe blockages. It’s a mechanical device with specialized cutting heads that can grind away at hard obstructions like tree roots or hard sediment. As it operates, it also scours the inside of the pipe, leaving it clean and obstruction-free.

Preventing Future Blockages

installing a leaf gutter guard
Photo Credit: IndyEdge / Canva Pro / License

The old adage “prevention is better than cure” holds true for gutter maintenance. Here’s how you can keep your downspouts clear and your drainage system running smoothly:

  • Gutter Guards: These can prevent leaves and other debris from entering your gutters, reducing the chances of a clog. It’s a simple addition that can save you a lot of trouble in the long run.
  • Regular Gutter Cleaning: Even with gutter guards, regular cleaning is important. Small particles can still accumulate over time and cause blockages. A bi-annual cleaning (in the spring and fall) is generally a good schedule.
  • Monitor Tree Growth: Keep an eye on any trees growing near your gutter system. Tree roots can infiltrate your underground drains and cause blockages. Regular pruning and trimming can also help prevent leaves and twigs falling into the gutter system..

Recognizing the Symptoms of a Clogged Downspout

Now, let’s shift gears and consider the problems that might arise if your downspout isn’t working right. Keep an eye out for these red flags:

  • Overflowing Gutters: If your gutters resemble Niagara Falls every time there’s a downpour, there’s a good chance you have a blockage in your downspout or underground drain.
  • Soggy Landscape: Persistent soggy patches in your yard could be a telltale sign of an underground drainage pipe blockage.
  • Slow Draining Gutters: When the rain stops, the water in your gutters should drain out relatively quickly. If it doesn’t, you may be dealing with a clog.
  • Water Damage in Basement: If you find water damage in your crawlspace or basement, this is a clear indication that you have a clog which caused water to pool around the foundation. 

FAQ About Unclogging Underground Gutter Downspouts

Can a plumber’s auger damage my pipes?

Yes, it’s possible to damage pipes if you apply too much force or if the auger is not used correctly. That’s why it’s important to use the tool with care. If you feel uncomfortable or uncertain, it’s always best to call a professional.

Can clogged gutters damage my roof and attract pests?

Yes, clogged gutters can result in water overflow and subsequent rot of the fascia board behind the gutter. Excessive debris may also weaken the gutter’s connection to the fascia, causing additional damage. Furthermore, the moisture attracts pests like termites, and if left untreated, mold and mildew can develop.

Can gutter guards completely prevent blockages?

While gutter guards can significantly reduce the amount of debris that enters your gutters, they cannot completely prevent it. Smaller particles can still slip through, so regular cleaning is essential.

Can tree roots damage my underground drainage system?

Yes, tree roots can cause significant damage to underground drainage systems. They can infiltrate the pipes, leading to blockages or even structural damage. It’s important to monitor the growth of trees near your drainage system and consult with a professional if you suspect an issue.

What are some unusual items that can clog my gutters?

Apart from leaves, various items, from too-long screws to toys or even golf balls, can clog your gutter. Small obstructions can escalate into significant blockages over time. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for small animals or birds to find their way into gutters and cause clogs.

When to Call Gutter Professionals

While we’ve armed you with knowledge and a step-by-step guide on how to unclog your gutter downspouts, we understand that not everyone is a DIY enthusiast. Dealing with clogged downspouts and buried drainage pipes can be challenging and messy. This is where gutter cleaning professionals come in. They have the right tools, training, and experience to handle even the most stubborn clogs.

Gutter maintenance is a crucial part of home ownership. It may seem like a minor detail, but a well-maintained gutter system can protect your home from water damage, saving you a significant amount of money and stress in the long run. Happy gutter cleaning!

Main Image Credit: Virynja / Canva Pro / License

Rela Catucod

Rela Catucod is a dedicated writer with a love for DIY projects. Her hands-on approach to home improvement means she's always eager to learn and share how to fix common household issues. From patching up walls to unclogging drains, Rela enjoys empowering others with practical home solutions.