Gutters are not the most glamorous features of a home, but they're critical to keep rain and melting snow and ice flowing away from your foundation. Some even add visual appeal to the home while working to help maintain the roof. Since the average cost of new gutters in the U.S. is about $3,000 (or $20 per linear foot) depending on the type of gutters selected (via Forbes), it's worth it to keep them in good condition so you don't have to invest in replacements anytime soon.

Many homeowners may not realize there are several steps to take in order to lessen the risk of replacing them in the short term. Al Spence, the founder of Peak Performance Gutter Protection, offers insight into how to do this, in an exclusive interview with House Digest. "Taking these measures will keep your gutters clean and allow them to do their job of properly removing water. This ultimately keeps your gutters in good working order and prolongs their lifespan," he says.

Getting the job done right

There's no getting around the task of cleaning out the gutters, and an occasional deep clean is one of the most important steps in maintaining your home, advises Spence. "First, use a ladder to safely reach higher areas and wear gloves to protect your hands from sharp debris," he suggests. "Then you can use a trowel or scooping tool to remove leaves and other debris. If you just have some light leaves in your gutters, a blower may suffice to blow them out."

You may already understand the value of removing this debris, but don't stop there. Spence shares that to really clean your gutters right you need to completely clear them out with a second step. "After cleaning, it's important to rinse the gutters with a garden hose to remove any small material that wasn't removed by hand or with the blower," he says. "Flushing with water also helps remove any small plant seeds that could lead to plants growing in your gutters between cleanings. Also, running water through the system allows you to check that your downspouts are not clogged." Pay attention to the movement of water through the roof gutters, into the downspouts, and out into the drainage tile or yard. Is it moving away from the home? That's a good thing. If not, you may need to take a closer look at what's not working properly.

What to do between deep cleans

Once you've got your gutters cleaned, you may think you can tuck away the ladder and not worry about them again until the seasons change. That could be a mistake, warns Spence. "In between cleanings, it's important to check your gutters for any obstructions that may accumulate, such as birds' nests, kids' toys, or balls that could cause blockages and reduce water flow through the gutter system." To see what's in the gutters, stand at a distance from your home for a better visual. Get in the habit of checking out the roofline when you pull into your driveway or walk around the home at least once a month to spot anything that shouldn't be there.

"If left behind, those obstructions prevent water from draining properly, which leads to additional accumulation of leaves and plant debris," shares Spence. Anything that builds up in this space could increase wear and tear on the gutters as a whole, while also making the next clean out much more challenging.

Set up your gutters for success

If just the thought of balancing on a ladder sounds like a terrible way to spend a Saturday, and especially if doing so frequently to check for obstructions is worrisome, look for a long-term solution to minimize what gets into them in the first place. Spence says, "Besides cleaning, guards and screens are a great way to help keep gutters free of debris and reduce the amount of maintenance required." These devices sit within or on top of the guttering system for the long term, working as a type of filtration tool.

"Guards provide a barrier between your gutters and leaves, helping to prevent any large debris from entering the gutter system and clogging it up," reveals Spence. "Additionally, screens allow water to flow through more easily while keeping out smaller items such as twigs or pine needles." Gutter guards are a one-time investment, costing around $1,200 to $2,000 on average, according to Fixr. If that's an option for you, they certainly can improve gutter function and minimize the number of times you have to brave the ladder and dig your hands into the wet muck.

When it's time to bring in the professionals

The gutter system works well only when the entire roof receives proper attention and coverage. Spence notes that there are times when you need more help to keep the system as a whole working well. "If you are unable to reach certain parts of the roof or gutter system due to height restrictions or steep pitched roofs, it's recommended that you seek help from a gutter cleaning professional who has the right equipment and experience necessary for safely cleaning these areas."

That's key to remember in all situations, Spence adds. "When it comes to gutter cleaning, safety is the top priority." That means if you don't feel comfortable on a ladder, don't risk climbing up there. It could be that the ground is uneven or difficult to navigate, or maybe you're unsure of the roof's stability. Call in a professional to handle this job for you, instead. It could save you valuable time while also reducing the risk of delaying such an important part of maintaining your home's value and overall aesthetic.