The rain gutter—an often-overlooked element of home protection. Gutters play a minor role in the way a house looks. Most homeowners don’t give a lot of thought to the guttering on their home, until something goes wrong. But your gutter system plays a major role in protecting your home’s foundation and infrastructure.

When it rains, water pours from your roof. The rainwater must go somewhere, and if you do not have properly placed and installed gutters, the water will damage your siding, erode the foundation, and even leak into your basement or crawlspace. Properly placed gutters will force the flow of the water away from the foundation of your home; through a system of channels the rainwater, or snowmelt, is diverted safely to the ground or to a rainwater saving system.

The Gutter System

Gutters, or rain gutters, come in a variety of shapes, materials, and sizes. The shapes and materials can range from functional to beautiful.  But all gutter systems should have similar components.

  • The gutter: this is the trough that catches the rain water or snowmelt coming from the roof. Gutters are attached to the eaves of the house by fascia brackets.
  • The endcap: closes off the end of the gutter, usually at the downspout.
  • The downspout: this attaches to the gutter and carries the water to the ground, away from the house. Downspouts should be attached to the house with brackets.
  • The elbows: these change the direction of the downspout

Gutter Materials

Gutters are constructed from several types of material. They vary in price, from the cheapest vinyl at around $2 per foot, to the most expensive copper at about $18 per foot. Installation is not included in these prices.

Vinyl

Vinyl gutters are the least expensive option for gutters. They are the most user-friendly for do-it-yourself gutter installation because the pieces snap together. There is not a large selection of color options, but the vinyl can be painted. The vinyl has a tendency to become brittle in extreme temperatures and can bend or flex under heavy rain or snow.

The cost for vinyl gutters is about $2 per foot. Warranties can extend to 20 years.

Aluminum

Aluminum gutters won’t rust and are popular for the variety of colors available. you can even find aluminum gutters colored to resemble copper. They come in sections or as seamless. Aluminum gutters come in different weights, with the heavier weight more able to withstand large amounts of rain or snow. Select the weight depending on your climate, remembering that lightweight aluminum can bend under pressure.

Aluminum gutters are priced according to weight and shape and run from $2 to $8 per foot. They should last about 20 years.

Steel

There are three types of steel gutters: Galvanized (coated in zinc), Galvalume (a zinc aluminum alloy), and stainless steel. Stainless steel gutters will never rust, while those made from galvanized steel should last about 15 years before beginning to rust. The zinc-aluminum alloy gutters are usually warrantied for 25 years.

Each type of steel gutter has its own price range. Galvanized costs $2 to $8; Galvalume $2 to $5; and $5 to $12 for stainless steel. Warranties should cover 15 to 25 years, depending on the type of steel.

Zinc

Zinc gutters are preferred for their longevity and their durability. The zinc is rustproof, although it will fade in color to a dusky grey. Zinc is susceptible to erosion from the acid in cedar shingles and to their proximity to salt water. These gutters really should be installed by professionals because of the soldering required in the seams.

The price for zinc gutters is about $9 to $10 per foot. Depending on the climate, they should last 50 years.

Copper

Shiny and bright at first, copper gutters will oxidize to a dark brown in months, and the famous Statue-of-Liberty green over decades. Copper gutters are impervious to rust and climate conditions. They should be professionally installed as the seams require expert soldering. The copper comes in three weights, and your weight choice will be determined by your climate.

Copper gutters range in price from about $11 to about $20 per foot. They should last forever, or at least a hundred years.

Shape and Style

The most popular shape for gutters today is the K-style. This has a flat bottom, with the house side on a right angle and the outer side at an angle that sort of looks like crown molding. It comes in 5-inch to 8- inch widths. This shape handles a lot of water runoff, but the flat bottom will sometimes hold water.

K-style gutters are usually paired with rectangular downspouts. They will require a gutter guard of some type to keep leaves and squirrels out of the gutters and downspouts.

Another popular shape for gutters is the half-round. Like its name implies, the half-round is a semi-circle that allows for all water to run to the downspouts. They also come in 5, 6, 7, and 8-inch widths.

Half-round gutters are generally installed with round downspouts. These also require a gutter guard to protect the gutters from debris and animals.

Gutter Guards

Your gutters cannot be a closed system, as it must allow water to flow from the roof into the gutter. However, it is important to protect the gutter from debris and animals. Not affixing a gutter guard, also known as a debris stopper, will require much more maintenance by the home owner.

Gutter guards tend to fall into two categories: grates and hoods. The grate type lies flat over the gutter pipe and will accumulate debris, but will keep leaves and things from entering, and clogging, the downspout. These guards require maintenance as the debris must be swept from the grate.

The hood type of gutter guards only rarely requires maintenance. They are built to angle away from the house and allow water to flow into the gutter, but debris will slide off the guard. These guards can be attached to the gutter pipe. Some gutter guards are actually part of the gutter system and will be installed as the gutter is installed.

Installing gutter guards will significantly reduce the amount of time you will spend on cleaning and maintaining your gutters.

Maintenance of Your Gutter System

Whether you have left your gutters open or have installed gutter guards, your gutter system will require regular maintenance.  At least twice a year, once in the spring and once in late fall, remove any debris from your gutters. If you have guards, this may require nothing more than a broom or a leaf blower; if you have open gutters, you may have to scrape out leaves or seedlings. You don’t want to have mini-maple trees growing from your gutters.

Every year you should check the brackets on your gutters and downspouts. Wind, rain, snow, and small animals can put pressure on the brackets and weaken your system. If you find weakened brackets, replace or re-secure them.

Gutter Repair

There are two common gutter repair types that most homeowners can perform without calling in an expert: sagging gutters and leaky gutters.

Sagging gutters are caused by age and wear. It is easy to repair a sagging or bulging gutter by simply installing an additional bracket, or gutter hanger. Gutter hangers attach to the top of the gutter pipe. Hook the hanger under the front edge of the gutter, then over the back (house side) edge. Screw the bracket to the eave or rafter. Be sure that the wood is not rotting, as this could allow the entire gutter system to collapse.

Most gutter leaks occur at the endcap, where the gutter pipe is capped off, usually beyond the downspout. Water can accumulate here, eroding the original seal. To repair the leaky endcap, be sure to thoroughly clean the area of debris, rust, and general build-up. Get it as clean as possible using household cleaners and cleaning materials. Do not use a harsh metal brush, like a grill brush. Once the area is clean, make sure it is completely dry before applying a sealant. Use a sealant specifically for use on gutters.

Do It Yourself

Your home is probably the biggest investment you will make. Protect your investment with a good gutter system and regular maintenance of that system.

Gutters are usually installed by professionals as the house is built. If you are reasonably handy with tools and are physically able to work from a ladder with your arms over your head, you can install, replace, or repair gutters yourself.

Most home improvement stores carry the materials and accessories for DIY gutter systems. If you are replacing the existing gutter system at your home, the money you save by doing it yourself may allow you to upgrade the whole system.

Maintenance of gutter systems can also be a do-it-yourself activity. Be sure that you have a sturdy and safe ladder, and use a spotter while you are climbing the ladder and cleaning the gutters.

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