A guide on selecting the proper gutter material and style for your home.
Whether you have experienced heavy snow and ice storms or severe thunderstorms, your gutters have probably taken a beating over the past few years. Some gutters may only need a few minor repairs, but other homeowners may choose to replace there gutters and downspouts with a more durable and appealing alternative.
Rain gutter repair and replacement is relatively simple for the professional installer and can usually be completed in less than a day for most homes. There are some considerations that homeowners should be aware of to ensure that the job is completed properly and there are no issues in the future.
There are several materials currently used for gutters and downspouts that you can choose from, however the majority of gutters are either Vinyl/PVC or aluminum. Aluminum and copper are usually fabricated into a seamless unit whereas all other gutter materials are sectional pieces that must be connected by either coupling, screws, or soldering.
Vinyl gutters typically come in white, but can also be found in bronze, copper, green, black, gray, charcoal and brown. The main advantages to using vinyl gutters are that they will not rust and they are relatively inexpensive. The main drawback to PVC gutters is that they can be damaged during extreme weather conditions such as high winds, heavy snow and ice accumulations, and extreme cold. Freezing temperatures cause the vinyl to become very brittle and the gutter can easily crack or shatter if it is struck by a falling branch or ice and snow hang over the edge of the roof. Vinyl gutters cost around $5 per foot installed. Keep in mind that these gutters come in 10-foot sections and use couplings to connect them together which can leak other time. Due to their lightweight, there are usually more hangers required to install them as well.
Aluminum gutters are probably the most popular gutter and downspout material. Aluminum is lightweight, easy to work with, and can be painted to match the color of the roof or eaves. Aluminum is also inexpensive, coming in at around $8 per linear foot installed. One of the biggest advantages to aluminum gutters is that they can be made seamless when the aluminum coil stock is fed through a seamless gutter machine. Aluminum coil stock usually comes painted on one side and have a clear protective coating on the interior to help withstand mildew and corrosion. Aluminum will last around 25 years but it can be dented easily by falling limbs or ladders.
Galvanized Steel Gutters
Gutters made of steel are resistant to damage caused by branches and heavy snow loads, but the corrosion-resistant zinc coating may only last 10 to 20 years depending on your local weather conditions. Galvanized steel guttering comes in several colors, but its normal color is a dull gray. These gutters must be inspected regularly for punctures or dents which can damage the galvanized coating and lead to accelerated corrosion. These gutters are very economical and cost between $4 and $8 per linear foot installed.
Galvanized Steel Gutters
Made of part aluminum with zinc and a steel coating, galvalume has the durability of galvanized steel and the rust resistance of aluminum. This material has a metallic gray appearance that gradually fades over time. Some manufacturers offer an enamel coating which can last up to 50 years. Standard galvalume gutters costs slightly more than galvanized gutters, so expect to pay about $8 to $9 per foot.
Stainless Steel Rain Gutters
Stainless steel is one of the most durable materials for gutters and downspouts that is rustproof, strong, and typically lasts over fifty years. It is rather expensive with costs of about $20 per foot for installing gutters and downspouts. Stainless steel can withstand the elements as well as its absence of paints and coatings makes stainless steel an environmentally friendly choice as well. Stainless steel can be used anywhere in the country and is used along coastal regions where salt can corrode steel gutters and damage aluminum and galvanized materials.
Copper is a classic building material, but it is also one of the more expensive gutter materials used today. Aside from the price, copper gutters are aesthetically pleasing, durable and long-lasting. A copper gutter installation can last up to one hundred years. This product is well suited to coastal areas and rarely develops any leaks due to the soldered connections. Copper gutters and downspouts cost around $20 to $25 per foot to install, but over the long run copper is an excellent choice since it is recyclable, has a long useful life, and requires little maintenance.
Copper Gutters (Half-Round)
Copper Gutter (K Style)
Some of the first gutters were constructed out of solid slabs of wood and incorporated into the eaves of houses. These wood gutters had to be painted on the outside and waterproofed with tar on the inside. This maintenance was ongoing to prevent leaks and rotting. Wood gutters are not usually installed except for restoration projects. Many gutters of this type made out of cedar and lined with copper. The gutters cost about $25 per foot installed but this does not include the maintenance and painting required to prevent damage to the fascia, roof and walls.
Gutter Repairs and Installation
Frequent problems can occur when inexperienced tradesman perform improper installations. Some of the more common problems are when installers do not keep the roof’s drip edge inside the gutter, improper or insufficient gutter hangers, improper slope, and insufficient allowances for expansion; aluminum expands twice as much as steel.
Proper material selection is just as important; coastal areas typically use copper, stainless steel, or aluminum due to the salt air; in the South, aluminum or steel can be used since there are no or infrequent freeze/thaw cycles; the North and Midwest typically use because of freeze/thaw cycles and snow, but also use aluminum.
Size and Style
A standard gutter is 4- or 5-inch K Style for residential installations. Our suggestion is making sure you have enough downspout and that they are large enough. Remember the gutters are there to catch the water—not hold it. With today’s building designs, downspouts usually are put out of view so they do not obstruct the design of a building. This creates longer runs and less downspout. In this case, size of the downspout matters.
There are guidelines that describe the expansion of sheet metal and this is an important factor to consider when installing new gutters. When the gutters are fastened to the fascia the nails or screws restrict expansion. The maximum length for a gutter is usually 40- to 50-feet. This will cover almost any home, but if there are gutters longer than this the section should be divided in half and end caps placed back to back on each section with about 1/8 inch gap between the two section to allow for expansion. This gap is covered with a special cleat at the top so water does not leak between the gaps.
Every building is different, but most will settle over time. Depending on the way the building has settled, the installer may follow the natural settlement of the building and install the gutter in line with the roof and eaves. In most cases only a slight pitch is required to allow the rainwater to run to the downspouts. In longer runs you may want to pitch the gutter in both directions from the center and install two downspouts.
Almost as important as the gutter is the downspout. A 2x3 inch rectangular downspout works well on a5-inch gutter, but it all depends on your area of the country and the typical rainfall amounts. Here is a very good reference for gutter and downspout sizing: http://www.guttersupply.com/file_area/public/File/gutter%20sizing(2).pdf
On small sections of roof, you may want to use a chain instead of a downspout. In times past an actual steel chain was attached to a hole in the gutter and the water would follow the chain down to the ground. Today you can purchase many different styles of “rain chains” but remember that they are not recommended for severe weather conditions and water damage may result from their use.