Rain gutters are a feature that virtually all houses share. Care, some basic knowledge, and a good contractor will help you make selections as to the type and size of rain gutters most appropriate for your house and locality. And locality matters. Arizona averages just over 7 inches of rain per year while Mobile, Alabama, averages 67 inches. Water, water everywhere. What Gutters Do : Rain gutters are open-topped troughs that are installed just below the eaves of your roof to collect and carry off rainwater. Normally they are constructed of metal. Downspouts are connected to the gutters and carry the water down to ground level. The water is then discharged on splash blocks on the ground to direct the water away from the foundation. Occasionally the system discharges into a cistern or reservoir to collect the rainwater for subsequent use. Gutters are shaped to form a specified profile, often a U-Shape (half-round), or a modified rectangular trough which is referred to as K-Shape. They need to be sized for your “worst-case” downpour. Sizes vary from 4 inches to 7 inches in width. Your gutter contractor will be able to recommend the size best suited to your local conditions.
Gutter Materials : The metal stock from which the gutter is formed can be aluminum, galvanized steel, copper, or a hybrid version of one of these metals. Specialized materials include copper penny aluminum, Copper Plus (copper plated stainless steel), Galvalume (steel stock with a coating of aluminum and zinc), and lead-coated copper. Often the exterior face is painted, with a wide variety of colors available from which the customer may choose. Seamless gutters made of aluminum are the most common today. The overall design of a gutter system has a number of different parts. These include the gutter, end caps, miters (corner pieces), drop outlets, downspouts, elbows, and various kinds of hangers and support systems. Metal gutters were originally assembled from sections that were joined together with snap-in-place connectors.
Why Seamless Gutters? : Seams are always possible leak points in a gutter system. These joints may allow water to leak out of the gutter and drip down, possibly damaging the siding, splashing dirt onto the house, or eroding your yard. Seamless gutters virtually eliminate this leakage problem. Seamless gutters have been available for more than 40 years and are the most common items selected by homeowners today. Seamless gutters are not totally seamless, but there are fewer seams that can create such leak points.
Seamless Gutter Machines : Seamless gutters are formed, at your home, using a special seamless gutter machine. The gutter is shaped from a coil. A wide variety of colors are available to match the paint, siding, brick, or stone color of your house. Each horizontal run of gutter is formed and cut to the exact length required for your installation, thereby minimizing the number of seams or joints. The stock materials from which the gutters are made vary in thickness from 0.019 inch to 0.032 inch. This is a place where attempting to save money is usually a mistake. Buy the heaviest material you can afford—it will last longer and resist damage better.
Advantages and Disadvantages : If you want to undertake constructing the gutter system yourself, your only choice is sectional-type materials. You still have a variety of materials and finish colors from which to select, but you are on your own. You are the designer and installer. If you have the skills required, and the time required, you can save some money over having a contractor install a system. Most people will probably choose to use a contractor, and with seamless gutters you have a lot less hassle. In addition to the metal gutter materials discussed above, vinyl gutters are available. Vinyl material is the least expensive, but vinyl becomes brittle in very cold weather and is much more likely to crack. Galvanized steel is strong and will usually last 30 years or more. However, sooner or later it will rust. You can protect against this by periodically painting the inside of the gutter, but this adds to your load of home maintenance chores. Aluminum does not rust or crack, and is therefore a popular choice.
Choices: As with most things, you have to decide what your goals are and what you can afford to invest. A moped and a Maserati will both get you from point A to point B, but there is a great difference in the style and grace involved. A careful review of your needs and goals—and some consultation with and quotations from several different contractors—should help you develop a plan that will fulfill your needs and provide a gutter system that will last many years.
Sock Woodruff is founder and partner of GutterSupply.com, the leading manufacturer and distributor of gutter supplies,gutter machine, and related tools and equipment.