From the June/July Issue of Pressure Cleaning Contractor Magazine
by Keith Cox, Sparkle Right Cleaning Service
Editor’s Note: The products mentioned in this article have not been tested by the PCC Magazine staff and this is not an endorsement. The article is based on the author’s experiences/opinions only.
Adding Gutter Cleaning to Your Power Washing Services with Gutterball
From the “Why I Use What I Use” Column of Presure Cleaning Contractor Magazine
“What would you charge for gutter cleaning while you are already here cleaning my home?” For me, this is an opportunity that used to seem like a double edged sword. Either I either had to charge an amount that might disrupt the good situation I was establishing with my customer, or I was going to charge a price the customer would like, but was ridiculously low considering I could suffer an accidental fall. For those reasons, I never actively sought gutters to clean.
As times have economically become more challenging, extracting profits from traditional means in pressure cleaning has become difficult. While my business is surviving, I find that anything I can do different than the next guy can only help. This leads to my unique opportunity that presented itself several years back.
I was lucky enough to get into apartment/townhouse washing and was really attracted to the assembly-line style of washing. Although the prices looked nothing like the residential business that I was conducting, the volume was there.
In the second year of this new-found “goldmine” (or so I thought), I landed my biggest deal yet — 220 townhomes, ½ brick, ½ vinyl, with prices better than the norm (excellent by today’s standards). I started the work and discovered the first day that somehow no one mentioned the gutters had to be cleaned out. I had not priced for this.
We spent the next several days on the roofs two stories up. Luckily, they weren’t built recently and they were safely walkable. On the third work day, the safety administrator for the management company paid a visit. He immediately demanded I evacuate the roofs and attend an emergency safety meeting at his office within the hour.
I found out at this meeting that I would have to spend well over $1000 on new ladders and retractable safety harnesses for me and my one worker in order to continue cleaning gutters with our traditional three- to four-foot wands while on the roof.
That night I went on a mission to find the best deals on this scientific safety equipment. It was during this search that I realized that this was going to slow work by about half our current speed. I failed to mention we were traveling one-and-a-half hours to this jobsite. Half productivity was going to make this situation barely worthwhile with the additional expense of traveling.
I shifted gears and began researching how to clean them from the ground!
Oh, did I mention that these were the worst gutters overall that I have ever encountered? Not only was there an ocean of them, several of them had two- to three-foot tall trees growing in them!
Trial & Error
My first apparatus to dislodge the live plant beds was a hook-shaped nozzle assembly where the pressure nozzle was postitioned to spray down into the gutter from almost directly above. I coupled it onto the end of my 24-foot extention and leaned it sideways to spray down the gutter channel.
My wand rocketed out of control, back and up above my head so quickly it was unbelievable. I had the machine at no more than 2500 psi on a four-gallon machine. You’ve got to be kidding me! This is all there is to clean gutters from the ground?!?! I actually warped the extensions on the wand beyond repair.
My second attempt was with the Flexiwand, which was better at a slighter bend, but still far from being effective due to the recoil.
After several sleepless nights and a week of looking for the magic solution to this problem, I relied on my knowledge of spray equipment from my experience in agriculture. I awoke one morning with the idea of a bilateral nozzle design. This would ensure that at high pressures, one nozzle’s recoil would recoil into the opposing, equally opposite nozzle and balance itself, ridding the recoil problem. Some prototypes were assembled and the gutters were cleaned from the ground using my existing equipment.
As you know, this project was in jeopardy of not being a success from a productivity and profitability standpoint. The idea paid immediate dividends, and we completed the project well before the deadline. It was also completed safely and swiftly – from the ground. Since then we have cleaned close to 3000 homes and towhouses equipped with gutters, up to 2.5 stories.
I am going to shift gears quickly into the real magic behind the product. You hear people say on TV, radio, etc., how some unique set of circumstances placed them into a position to see something like a UFO, or meet their special soulmate, or stumble across a goldmine – or, in my case, a live plantbed that just happened to be located inside the gutters I was supposed to clean. I mention this because I am not your typical inventive type guy. I am very hyper at times and do not possess patience. I would never have come up with this idea without being backed in a corner as I was.
When it comes to the product itself, I knew I needed opposing nozzles. I also knew a slight angle would help performance-wise in order to undercut the material in the gutter and give a little frontal lift. This would be helpful in raising telescoping wands from ground level, keying it as soon as you raise the wand off the ground.
The 45-degree elbow system is where I was fooled initially on the presentation into the gutter itself. I had a phobia of the hook due to its high flying behavior, although I knew the opposing nozzles would eliminate the recoil even on the hook. I just thought a compact, smaller system would be better to bend it over the front wall. I also knew the angle needed to be approximate 45 degrees from the ground to the gutter (more like the hypoteneuse of a triangle) to assure the operator remained out of the exiting debris’ line of fire and to view what you were doing.
When a 45-degree angle is combined with a 45 degree elbow system, I envisioned dropping in the gutter at a full 90 degrees. I have not geometrically measured to see how accurate my wand angle is, but apparently it is steeper than 45 degrees because the Gutter Ball is positioned in the gutter with the spray patterns angled toward the back and bottom of the gutter trough. This is the pure heaven-sent magic that I mentioned above! This lifts the material from the backside, flips it forward toward the front side of the gutter, and then the spray patterns actually make contact with the back wall of the gutter and richochet.
This is similar to throwing a rubber ball at a slight angle down a wall and seeing the result — it bouncing off the wall and away from you and the wall. The backside lift action, combined with the richocheting action, make for a system that places nearly all the material where you want it – on the ground, not on the roof!
So the “magic” of this product is definitely a small miracle in that you have the most unlikely person inventing it due to complete neccesity, and the elbow system making things happen that were not first envisioned. Since then I have played with the nozzle angles and settled on an adjustment just slightly different from what I had started with.
The Gutter Cleaning Market
I have used this product actively within my business ever since its beginnings at the townhomes. I have found that customers – yes, even price-conscious residentials that are seeking exterior pressure washing services – have already accepted the fact that they are hiring their external cleaning needs out, meaning that they have set aside some funding for this. This has somewhat made the sale of any of my services easier than if I was approaching a homeowner standing in their yard on a cold call. The addition of getting their sidewalks done for a fee that is reasonable, or their deck, wood fence, or yes, even their gutters, is quite often not as difficult to add on as you might think.
Cleaning gutters with this product is so effective and fast that I actively promote it on every home where I see gutters present. Even if they appear clean from ground level, look around. If trees are present anywhere remotely close by, most likely something is in the gutters.
Sometimes fees are almost negligible – as low as $30 for a small amount of gutters that appear clean, to several hundred dollars for larger homes with gutters in dire need of dislodging. Gutters with guards present can be cleaned after removing the guards if they are full underneath. Often the guards have stopped larger items – such as pine straw, leaves, sticks – from getting in the gutters, but the shingle pebbles combined with dust from lawnmowers, etc., have filled the gutters partially underneath the guards. I have been successful in even flushing gutters with guards present until the water exiting the downspouts is clean (a true indicator the gutter is clean).
But Does It Really Work?
There is always speculation anytime a new product hits the market. Does it really work? So many times we have seen products on TV that will wipe a scratch away from your vehicle’s hood with hardly any effort, only to find after purchasing it that it does not perform as advertised.
There has been some concern with Gutter Ball about the mess it might create. “How does it not blow stuff on the roof? You know, it just sounds to good to be true.” Well, it almost is!
The material in gutters becomes composted. Pine straw in my area sometimes comes out in arm-length sections woven together tighter than a bird’s nest. The fact that the material in gutters is typically composted and held together by itself helps keep things together when exiting the gutter. Things are not loose and blowing aimlessly.
Landscapes are not like your kitchen or living room floor, where if you overturned a plant pot or a gutter – which would create about the same mess – it would take hours and carpet cleaning equipment to clean it up. Most of the material coming out of the gutter ends up in the shrub beds that surround the perimeter of the home.
In my area, well over half have pine straw as the ground cover, the same thing that is in the gutters. In the event there are no shrub beds present, whatever is in the gutter will match the trees that are present in the yard because the material in the gutter originally came from the surrounding trees (other than the pebbles and dust that lines the bottom).
With this in mind, the material from the gutter can be easily blended back into the landscape by simply blowing the material out into the yard with a regular pressure wand. In the event you have a customer that does not want any of the material from the gutter in their landscape, it still is a lot simpler to bag it from the ground than it is to bag it on a ladder or the roof edge!
Is Gutter Ball too good to be true? Does it have any faults? The answer to both is “yes.” It is too good to be true if you already possess pressure washing equipment. With the addition of, at the most, extensions (if you do not already own them) and the Gutter Ball itself, a contractor or homeowner can be equipped to clean gutters for around $250 to $300. If you already own the extensions, you can be equipped for $100 to $130.
If you do not own pressure washing equipment, then there is the main fault of the product. You have to have a pressurized water supply, which a lot of homeowners would not have. But for a contract cleaner, is this really a disadvantage?
One more thing that should be mentioned. I currently have two different companies that do not allow ladders or contractors to be on the roof at all unless a lift is used to get us there. All other places, I am allowed to use ladders and walk roofs. But these companies are literally one step away from having stricter regulations in place. If a painter, roofer, or any other worker was to make one wrong step, fall, and somehow find a way to insue a lawsuit, they would almost immediately make things a lot stricter. Gutter Ball is truly a product discovered and manufactured by a cleaning professional (contractor) for use primarily by other cleaning professionals (contractors).