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The Ins and Outs of Gutters and Downspouts

Gutters April 8, 2005 Matt Weber

There’s not much glamour in gutter systems, but when properly installed, they do a great job of directing roof runoff away from your home. Flowing gutters drain hundreds of gallons of water away from the foundation. This keeps basements and crawlspaces dry, protects siding and windows from harmful backsplash, and prevents staining and rotting the walls of your house. So, while they may not be flashy, gutters are an important feature of the home, which require a balance of practicality and aesthetics.


Sizing Up Your Options

The first rule of selecting a new gutter system is to be practical. Gutters and downspouts are available in a wide range of materials, styles and prices. Choices include aluminum, vinyl, galvanized steel, stainless steel and copper. Even wood is an option, but wooden gutters are rare and primarily used in restoration projects. Because of the moderate pricing, galvanized steel gutters are popular choices. Aluminum gutters are slightly more expensive but require less maintenance. Vinyl gutters are inexpensive and can be easily installed by a do-it-yourselfer in a single weekend. Copper gutters, on the other hand, are very expensive, but they have a handsome appearance, never rust and never need painting.

Gutters are also available in various sizes and shapes called profiles, but are generally limited to rounds, half-rounds, ogees and rectangles. The most popular options are half-round and “K” profiles, in which the front profiles resemble the letter K. The ridges of these profiles not only add to the stylish appearance but also add structural integrity. Gutter channels are available in 4-, 5- and 6-inch diameters. Downspout sizes also vary in size, and come in round or rectangular shapes.

Colors vary as well. More than 25 factory-finished colors are available for sectional aluminum and steel gutters, making it easy to match house and trim colors. Brown or white have long been the most popular choices. Keep in mind that colors on gutters fade over time. You may also have to replace a section because of tree or storm damage. In such a case, faded colors can cause the replacement pieces to mismatch with the existing gutter. White is a standard gutter color due to its strong resistance to discoloration.


All gutters are either sectional or seamless. A seamless gutter means that a straight gutter is made of one continuous piece of gutter material. The only seams are on corner miters and downspouts. Sectional gutters are sold in pieces and installed as component systems. Seamless gutters are considered more durable because the seams of sectional gutters can weaken over time and cause leaks 10 or 15 years down the road. This is because constant expansion and contraction of the gutters tends to crack the seam caulk of sectional systems. In this case the seams have to be re-caulked from the inside with a special gutter caulk.

A good contractor will help you choose the best system to fit your home. But if contracting the work, carefully choose someone who professionally installs gutters and check their references. Gutter installation is an easy start-up business, and as a result there may be many new contractors in your area who don’t have much experience. And always get more than one bid, but don’t necessarily fall for the lowest price. If one bid is significantly lower than another, then the gutters used by the low-bid contractor may be made of a thinner, less durable metal. When specifying metal gutters, choose the thickest you can afford; 0.032-inch metal is recommended.

Finally, check the warranty of the gutters and accessories. A warranty that extends at least 20 years is advisable. And ensure at least one-year coverage on any contracted labor.

 (Photo courtesy Slate & Copper)