Here's the situation when I was on the ladder.
• The ground under the garage gutter sloped hard from right to left.
• Plants prevented ideal positioning of the wobbly painter's ladder.
• And I was already tired from cleaning the gutters in the front of the house.
All the conditions were present for a classic weekend DIY accident.
Balanced on the penultimate step, I reached hard to the left for a handful of debris that was just beyond my grasp. The black ooze and brown leaves taunted me. I reached harder. The ladder rocked. My heart froze.
For dramatic purposes and as a lesson to young readers, I suppose the ladder should have toppled, causing significant harm.
But here's the thing: I didn't fall. I actually got away with it. If one were to estimate the odds of that outcome, he'd probably come up with something in the neighborhood of 50 to 1.
Several semi-related points about the incident:
A guy in New Jersey wanted me to pay him about $500 to repair my gutter, damaged by a falling branch. I almost caved. But for the heck of it, I threw on some protective hand gear, screwed off the wire mesh protection system and went fishing up there. After pounding the gutter back in shape with a hammer (and pair of pliers), it looks and works better than ever.
About five years ago, another gutter salesman came to my house on a dark, moonless night to inspect my gutters. He shined a flashlight at an area that measured about 3 ins. He turned to me with the confidence of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and said: "Oh yeah, you need new gutters."
He was right. I needed new gutters. But there was no way he could know by shining a flashlight at a 3-in. sample.
There's an old saying: How do you know a gutter installer is trying to sell you a gutter? His lips are moving.
This high-quality video from ConsumerReports.org shows an installer in action.
And here’s the 2010 rankings of best gutter proection systems, with LeafFilter topping the “pro-installed” category, and Gutterglove Pro ranked first among the “homeowner-installed” varieties.
I don't believe in gutter guards any more. At least, that's my view for my specific leafy, needle-infested, seedy street in New Jersey. I'm going to give the open-gutter-with-regular-cleaning method a chance. The maple twirls are so numerous that they wedge into the wire mesh and have to be pulled out individually.
A final word on safety: The most dangerous move of the weekend actually had nothing to do with the gutters. It was in the pachysandra patch, where an ominous stalk of what could have been poison oak grew above the little green skyline. This species has a history in my backyard. I spent an entire hardware industry trade show once smothered in calamine lotion, hopping in an out of a cold bathtub and fighting an itch. Don’t let that happen to you.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is no better feeling than saving yourself $500 by fixing your own gutter.