Start a Gutter Cleaning Business

Gutter cleaning (or eavestrough cleaning) is one seasonal business that can create a substantial amount of money in a very short period of time. Though the gutter cleaning season can be short (depending on where you live), you can be busy 6 or 7 days a week performing this “in demand” service for many homeowners in your community.

Demand is high because people would rather pay someone to do this tedious, dangerous, and dirty job, than do it themselves. In their mind, its money well spent.

For the gutter cleaning entrepreneur, this creates a huge opportunity if you are organized and have the necessary equipment. Using proper techniques, you can complete most jobs in a fraction of the time that it would take a homeowner.

The job

Cleaning gutters involves removing debris (leaves, sticks, pine needles, shingle grit, muck) from the rain gutters of homes. There are a number of techniques available; however, the deciding factor is usually the style of house and landscape. Here are the usual techniques:

Manual scooping from the roof

If you can safely walk on the roof, you can simply go around the perimeter, picking up and bagging debris right from the roof. Never stoop and collect debris with your hand. The pitch can cause you to lose your balance. Use a pole with a gutter spoon (or scoop) on the end – this way you don’t have to reach so low. Always make sure that you are wearing fall arrest equipment and that you are tied off properly.

Leaf blower

Many companies will use a leaf blower on roofs that have a gentle pitch (i.e. you can walk on it). This is an extremely fast method, and most jobs can be completed in 15 minutes, or less. But, before you get too excited about making a hundred dollars an hour, you should know that very few jobs will have dry debris in the gutters. 90% of the time, there will be some kind of moisture such as water, wet leaves, and muddy compost. If you try to blow out a wet gutter, you will get that black muck over everything (walls, windows, landscape). In fact, even if the gutters are dry, you will still have to clean up/rake/bag the leaves on the ground. Oh, and don’t forget that gutter gunk will stain sidewalks, walls, and pretty much anything it comes into contact with.

Ladder method

If the roof is too steep to walk on, you must access the gutters by way of a ladder. Make sure you have a long extension ladder (at least a 32ft) that will easily reach the roof of a 2 story home. If the gutters are 3 stories, and the roof is too steep to walk, you might want to consider passing on the job since it will require at least a 40 ft ladder.

Use a scoop on a pole to clean more gutter with each ladder placement and save time as you remove the debris by hand and into a bucket. This method will require several ladder placements around the house. Make sure you calculate this into the estimate as you will be taking much more time to complete the job.

Gutter cleaning is a physically demanding, dangerous, dirty job that is often done in cold/wet conditions. You will find yourself fighting all kinds of weather in order to get your jobs done before winter sets in. For this reason, it is important to wear proper clothing and to have rain gear if needed. In the worst case, the debris might be half frozen or a layer of snow or ice will have to be removed first. Make sure you have heavy rubber gloves for this.

Equipment

Ladders

Your biggest expense will be ladders. It is advisable to have at least one long extension (at least 32ft), and one medium extension (20-24 ft), plus a step ladder or multi position ladder. Make sure they are at least contractor grade. This is a legal requirement.

Ropes

Invest in a good safety rope and hardware, including a few carabineers, lanyard, and a harness. It is highly recommended that you take a fall arrest course in proper rope techniques, equipment, and safety methods.

Miscellaneous

The rest of your equipment is relatively inexpensive. You will need a 5 gallon bucket, heavy rubber gloves, gutter spoon/scoop, 16 ft extension pole, heavy plastic bags, paper yard waste bags.

Gutter cleaning season

The bulk of your work is going to occur in the fall. Though some people leave their gutters until they actually have water overflowing during heavy rains (in the spring/summer, etc.), so you can have odd jobs come up at other times of the year as well.

Depending on where you live, gutter cleaning can last anywhere from a month to the entire year. Some companies actually do this full time in warmer climates. As long as the debris is not frozen, you should be ok. However, in many areas, gutter cleaning season starts as the last of the leaves fall until permanent snow is on the ground and the temperatures fall below freezing for an extended period. I’ll be using an example of a person operating this business in the northern United States or Canada. In this climate, you might only have the month of November to complete your work. Understandably (or not), people always wait until the last leaves have fallen before they call.

If you have a short season, it’s critical that you work every day from sunrise to sunset. Get to your first call early and work until dusk. In Canada and the northern States, it is completely dark at 5pm in November. Averaging one home per hour, you can complete 5-7 homes in one day in the same subdivision. Schedule your jobs smartly by grouping them in the same neighborhood for that day.

Count on working for 30 days, however, you will always be at the mercy of the weather. Snow, freezing temperatures, and rain can really mess up a tight schedule. Try to keep a day or two open in case you need to re-schedule some jobs.

Unfortunately, there will be some jobs that you will not be able to get to before winter sets in for good. That is the nature of the business and something that should be communicated to your customers that book late in the season.

Marketing

Flyers

Print up several thousand flyers and distribute them to homes in your area at least one month before the season starts. Once you start filling your schedule, you can distribute just enough to keep your appointment book full. Try to concentrate on areas that have large, mature trees surrounding the property. This will slow down your progress however, as you will be hitting and missing homes along streets. Some neighborhoods won’t even be worth the effort. This type of flyering can be very time consuming.

Newspaper

This method is quite effective because it covers the entire city/town. While you may not be able to get your message right in your customers face, it is a source that many people turn to for jobs like this. Start advertising early (a month ahead). Even though people may not call you right away, they will clip your ad, or write your number down to have handy when they are ready.

Door to door

Before you consider knocking on doors, make sure there is no bylaw preventing you from doing so. Some municipalities require a permit and ID that you must wear while canvassing the neighbourhood. Some communities don’t require anything. And some simply do not allow it at all.

This can be a very effective strategy. Many companies are even prepared to do the work on the spot. This is perfect for people that have either not thought about getting their gutters cleaned, or have been procrastinating. To be able to have them cleaned on the spot is very tempting.

Even if you are not able to do them right away, and can only book them for an appointment, this sales method can’t be beat. It also saves another trip to give an estimate.

Local Online Classified Ads

Local free online classifieds such as Kijiji and Craigslist can be another income stream that you can explore. While the volume may not be high, it’s free and it only takes a few minutes to create your ad.

Pricing

The price for gutter cleaning varies greatly, depending on your area. The job is usually priced per linear foot of gutter. For single story gutters the price can range from 75 cents to $1.50. For 2nd story it can go from $1.00 to $2.00 per linear foot.

For example:

A house with 4 sides of second story gutters equalling 120 linear ft (times $1.00/linear foot) and a garage of 60 ft (times .75 cents/linear foot) would cost $165. That is on the cheap side. Many companies would charge well over $200 dollars.

Does that sound like a lot?

Not really. Considering how dirty and dangerous this job is, it’s not outrageous to bill that amount. Always charge what the market will bear in your area. Never undercharge for this service. After all, you are risking life and limb to get the job done. Why do you think the homeowner isn’t up there?

One thing you need to be aware of is the low-baller. This person will go door to door in prime season and offer to do gutters for half of what you are charging – or less! They are usually not an established business and don’t carry insurance (of course the homeowner doesn’t know this unless they ask). Safety and quality is usually the last thing one their minds as they canvass the neighbourhood trying to cram in as many jobs as possible in an 8 hour day. Many times, the “business” consists of 1-3 people going door to door offering to do gutters on the spot. They are usually equipped with one old ladder, a pail, and a leaf blower.

Safety

Gutter cleaning is a dangerous job and you must take certain precautions to avoid personal injury. Most of the time, you will be either perched on top of a ladder, or walking on a roof. It is in your best interest to be fanatical about safety and not take shortcuts – even if your schedule is tight!

You must also invest in fall protection equipment and use it every time. Many homes now have an anchor at the peak of the roof that is attached to the roof frame. It is approved to be used as an anchor in a fall protection setup and is rated to withstand a pre-determined force. However, many homes don’t have this feature.

The best thing you can do before starting to work at heights is to take a certified fall protection course. Here, you will learn the legal requirements established by the occupational safety and health administration (OSHA) and how to implement and use a fall protection system on the job. If you’re wondering where to start, try contacting any major manufacturer or distributor of fall protection equipment. They will steer you in the right direction.

Though your own personal safety should be your number one reason for adopting a safe work environment, you also have a legal obligation to follow the rules of the OSHA when it comes to ladders and fall equipment. It would be very beneficial to go to their website and familiarize yourself with their rules. Do a search in Google for OSHA followed by your country.

Here are some basic safety tips when it comes to gutter cleaning:

1. Never walk on a wet, frosty, icy, or snow covered roof. If there is frost in the morning, wait a few hours for the sun to hit the shingles.

2. Don’t attempt to walk on a steep roof (anything above 4:12 pitch). Use ladder placements all the way around the house and scoop into a bucket instead.

3. Don’t attempt any job if strong winds or storms are occurring or are imminent.

4. When on the roof, never lean downhill towards the gutter. Never stoop down to place your hand in the gutter. This causes your body weight to shift dangerously toward the edge of the roof.

5. Avoid using a water hose to flush the gutters from the roof. A wet roof is extremely dangerous. After the debris is removed from the gutter, the inside will still be dirty with traces of gutter muck. Though you could clean it with a hose, the first few good rains should clean most of that up.

6. Always use heavy gloves and never put your bare hands inside a gutter. For one thing, the gutter mud could have all kinds of things in it, including animal feces and urine. Also, you will likely cut your hand on the sharp edges or screws inside the gutter (especially around the downspout area).

*Ladder Safety – 6 Steps*

1. Always look up before placing a ladder. Many homes still have high-voltage power lines leading to the house from a pole on the street. Try to use fibreglass, non-conductive ladders. There is a reason the utility companies use only fibreglass ladders.

2. You must know how to correctly place a ladder. The basic configuration is to have the ladder feet one foot out from the house for every 4 feet of vertical height (measured from the ground to where the top of the ladder contacts the house). Make sure it is footed solid and level. Investing in a ladder levelling device could save your life. Most new ladders have a diagram of a horizontal/vertical line on the side to aid with levelling.

3. When accessing a roof from a ladder, make sure that the top of the ladder protrudes 3 rungs above the point of contact at the edge of the roof. Most falls occur during the transition from the ladder to the roof, or vice versa.

4. Never, overreach when perched on a ladder. Make sure that the bulk of your weight never moves outside the side rails of the ladder. A good rule of thumb is to ensure that your belt buckle always stays between the left and right rails of the ladder.

5. Always maintain at least 3 points of contact when climbing a ladder. Usually, this means both feet and at least one hand must be in contact with the ladder at the same time. Of course two hands and two feet are preferred.

6. You will not be able to do every home that comes your way. Always do a physical estimate of the property before committing to the service. There is no shame in refusing a job that cannot be performed safely. Some reasons to refuse a job could be: Close proximity to electrical wires, uneven or impossible ground for a safe ladder placement, extreme height, extreme roof pitch, or odd roofline characteristics. This is obviously a judgement call on your part. However, be realistic about your ability to complete the job in a safe and professional manner. Never compromise your safety for the matter of a few dollars.

Bottom Line? Besides the danger and physical aspects of this business, the most challenging thing will be scheduling all those jobs in such a short time-frame. You will be almost overwhelmed for a month or more, but at the same time, you’ll be raking in some serious cash.