Autumn leaves pose a couple of big problems for homeowners. One problem, of course, is collecting and disposing leaves that fall on lawns, driveways and similar surfaces. A second problem is dealing with leaves that stick in rain gutters, clogging them and preventing effective disposal of rain water.

Clogged gutters are a major cause of basement water. In this column, I'll concentrate on some methods of keeping leaves out of gutters.

One method is hand cleaning, laborious and sometimes hazardous, but effective. Hand cleaning gutters usually means getting on a ladder with a bucket. Leaves are scraped or spooned out of the gutter and transferred to the bucket. A wide putty knife is an effective scraping tool. After four or five feet of gutters are cleaned, the ladder must be moved to a new position. Clogged downspouts can be cleaned with a plumber's snake (flexible cable) or strong stream of water from a hose.

All sorts of strategies have been devised to eliminate hand cleaning or to make it easier. These include covering the gutters to allow water but not leaves to enter and using special tools to clean open gutters from the ground.

Such tools include tongs used with an extension rod, hose extensions that shoot jets of water and hook-shaped extensions for vacuum cleaners.

How well do these tools work? I tried the vacuum extension, sold at some home centers, and found it awkward and difficult to use. It picked up dry leaves but would not pick up wet, matted leaves. I haven't tried the other tools, but I suspect most of them would also be awkward to use, especially on two-story houses.

Open gutters should be checked and cleaned at least once in the fall, preferably after most of the leaves have fallen, and again in spring. Pay special attention to areas around downspouts, where leaves are prone to collect. If downspout inserts are used -- small screens intended to keep leaves out of downspouts -- they should be checked frequently because the inserts themselves can quickly clog.

Covered gutters are another strategy. These covers are generally solid metal with a curved and slotted front end that lets water enter the gutter but sheds leaves. Several manufacturers, such as Gutter Helmet (, make these systems. Some covers can be installed on existing open gutters; others are self-contained gutter systems.

Screens are still another device for keeping leaves out of gutters. Screens are available at most home centers. Both metal and plastic screens are sold, including some flimsy plastic screening sold in rolls. I prefer strong metal screens and use them on my own rain gutters. Metal screens are usually sold in sections about three feet long, and many have clips that make them fairly easy to install. The clips also act as hinges that permit the screens to be lifted up if debris gets through the screens.

I've found screens effective and have no plans to change to another system, even though I live in an area with huge quantities of leaves and needles.

The biggest problem with screens, I've found, isn't material that gets through them but debris that collects on top of them, clogging the openings and causing rainwater to run off the top of the gutters. This clogging usually occurs in spring, when some deciduous trees, notably maples and oaks, shed seeds and other material that can form a mat on top of the screen. Fortunately, this mat is easy to scrape or brush off, and I do it every spring as part of a thorough gutter inspection.

Questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422. Send e-mail to Questions cannot be answered personally.