Fall is the perfect time to put your mind on your gutters — cleaning and maintenance issues need attention now for good reasons. Keeping gutters and downspouts clean and flowing protects your home from moisture damage. Most leaves will have fallen by now, so it's a good time to clear them.

"Check for buildup of leaves, acorns and debris," says Britt Parsons, owner of Britt Gutters in Medford. Clogged gutters block the flow of water down and away from your house. Water spilling over and down the side of your house can ruin your paint and get in cracks and around windows. Saturated soil can begin to rot your foundation walls.

Cleaning out should be done at least twice a year as spring blossoms, seeds and new leaf debris are also gutter-clogging culprits. It's a messy job, so put on your old clothes and gloves. Scooping out debris can be done with your hands, garden trowel or a special scoop sold in hardware stores. It's also a dangerous job, so make sure your ladder is securely placed on the ground and exercise great care if you climb up onto the roof. Regular cleaning and maintenance can be done professionally, says Parsons.

Can cracks or leaks be fixed? "It depends on how bad it is and how old the gutters are," says Parsons. A high-quality sealant can be used on small leaks, but if the metal is rusted, this Band-Aid approach won't last long, he says. If it's time for new gutters, he recommends continuous (seamless) steel or aluminum gutters, not the PVC ones sold in big box hardware stores, which leak and crack sooner.

"There is a lot of difference in the quality of installation," says Parsons. Check with the Oregon Contractor's Board for installers who are licensed, bonded and who carry workman's compensation insurance to cover workers if they get hurt. Without it, homeowners could be liable for injuries. Another common mistake of installation is failure to allow room for expansion and contraction of the metal in hot and cold weather.

From the gutter, the water flows down into a drainpipe that is installed underground taking it away from the house. "This is different from a French drain," says Todd Munroe, owner-operator of A-1 Quality Gutter Service in Medford. A French drain is an underground drain system that collects excess ground water and disperses it through small holes in the pipe. "You don't want holes in your roof drains because you're taking the water away," he explains.

The drainpipe can be corrugated black plastic or hard schedule 40 PVC. Corrugated plastic can be crushed or penetrated by tree roots, so he recommends the hard PVC. Escaping or accumulating water or soggy ground is a sign of a leak or a clog. If you have a hard pipe, there are companies who will find and clear the clog. In the event of a leak, the plastic pipe is easy to cut and repair with PVC fittings and the proper glue. The corrugated plastic will have to be dug up and fixed or replaced.

"Many insurance carriers, home lenders and some municipalities require gutters and drains round all sides of your house," says Parsons. Keeping the water flowing away will prevent a soggy mess in your yard and may save you thousands of dollars in damage to your home's exterior and foundation.