Gutters aren't the prettiest part of a home's exterior, but they are incredibly important. Without gutters, rain can pose a serious threat to your roof and foundation.
What Do Gutters Do?
Gutters act like funnels that are ready to catch the rain when it falls and redirect it away from your home. The downspout or leader is the part of the gutter system that allows the water to flow down and away from the foundation.
Without the gutter in place surrounding a roof, rainwater pours onto a home's siding and can cause damage over time, including discoloration, weakened siding, or mold. Water standing on a roof can also get under shingles and cause similar damage. If the shingles or siding become extremely deteriorated, the water damage could infiltrate the interior of a home and lead to additional, and more costly, issues.
Continuous rain pouring down from the roof can also cause the soil around a home to erode. As the soil washes away, water can begin to collect directly adjacent to the home's foundation and eventually make its way into a basement.
A gutter and downspout system mitigates these problems by collecting rainwater and making sure it is released at a safe distance from the home.
Types of Gutters, Downspouts, and Related Items
There are several different styles of gutters from which homeowners can choose.
K-style gutters, also known as Ogee or formed gutters, have a flat bottom and back. The outward-facing wall of the gutter is usually flared outward with a decorative shape that often mimics crown molding. These typically hold about twice as much water than half-round gutters and cost more as well.
Half-round gutters, also simply called round gutters, are typically found on older homes. They are U-shaped and hold significantly less water than a K-style gutter.
Square or box gutters have flat bottoms, backs, and fronts.
Round downspouts connect to round gutters.
Square downspouts connect to either square gutters or K-style gutters. They are usually rectangular in shape, with dimensions of either 2 inches by 3 inches or 3 inches by 4 inches.
Spiral or otherwise decorative downspouts are also available, though they are typically more expensive than round or square downspouts.
Guards are sometimes added to protect gutters from excessive wear and tear that the changing seasons may bring. Leaf guards keep leaves and debris from building up inside the gutter, while snow guards protect gutters during harsh winters.
Just as gutters come in several shapes, they can also be crafted out of various materials. Each has its pros and cons. The most common size and shape is the 6-inch K-style gutter, and the pricing information that follows refers to this combination.
The most popular material is aluminum, which is lightweight, doesn't rust, and is easy to install. They can also come in various colors and be painted to match a home's siding. About 70 percent of gutters are seamless, which means they are installed right onto the home from a long spool of aluminum shaped and cut to size.
Pricing is typically:
- $2-$3 per linear foot
- $4-$9 per linear foot for a professional installation
- $5-$11 per linear foot for seamless installation
The only gutter material less expensive than aluminum is vinyl, which comes with several downsides. Vinyl gutters don't hold up well in cold weather, the color will easily fade in the sun, and they don't support ladders leaned against them. On the plus side, they are easily installed and aren't heavy.
Pricing is typically:
- $1-$2 per linear foot
- $3-$5 per linear foot for a professional installation
Steel is strong and will resist rust for about 5 to 10 years. It can also come in a variety of colors and easily be painted to match a home. However, it is heavy and difficult to install.
Pricing is typically:
- $4-$6 per linear foot
- $8-$10 per linear foot for a professional installation
Many copper gutters are the half-round shape and found on older or historic homes. Their better qualities include their exceptional beauty compared to other gutter material options and their resistance to rust, even after many years. In time, though, the copper will develop a patina, or layer of oxidation, which many homeowners prefer. However, they require a professional installation, unlike the other metals that can be installed by an adventurous or knowledgeable homeowner. Copper is also one of the more expensive materials.
Pricing is typically:
- $12-$25 per linear foot for a professional installation
Zinc gutters will last a very long time and are typically used in historic renovations and high-end homes. There is no need to paint them, and, like copper gutters, they will develop a patina after a few years. Also like their copper cousins, zinc gutters must be installed by a professional. Zinc gutters are only available in the half-round shape and are usually 6 inches across.
Pricing is typically:
- $10-$24 per linear foot for a professional installation
Many homes built before the 1960s had wooden half-round gutters installed. Some homeowners like the traditional or natural look of wooden gutters. However, they require special maintenance. Wooden gutters should be oiled regularly to prevent drying, cracking or deterioration. They are also heavy compared to metal versions.
Pricing is typically:
- $10-$18 per linear foot for redwood gutters between 4 inches by 4 inches to 4 inches by 6 inches
- $10 per linear foot for fir gutters
- $175 for the setup
Common Gutter Problems
Just like any other important home feature, there will come a time when you will have a problem with your gutters. Luckily, there is usually a quick fix for most gutter issues.
Most homeowners have had to address clogged gutters at some point or another. This is typically an autumn-related issue, as falling leaves land in the gutters. Cleaning them out should be an annual or semi-annual chore, depending on how many leaves and other debris commonly build up in your gutters. The chore can be tedious, time-consuming, and dirty but is easily done by anyone who isn't afraid of heights and owns a ladder. However, if this doesn't sound appealing to you, it's not hard to find a professional who will do it for between $50 and $250, depending on how large your home is.
Downspouts That Drain Too Close to the Home
The purpose of the downspout is to direct rainwater a safe distance away from a foundation to mitigate water damage. To that end, downspouts should drain at least four to five feet away from the home. If a downspout is draining too close to a foundation, an extension can easily be added, usually for the same per-linear-foot price as the material of the gutter.
A leak or hole in a gutter system completely undermines the purpose of the gutter. It's important to get this issue fixed before the next rainstorm to prevent residual damage. If the leak is located at a joint or seam, caulking is usually a good fix and is easy to find at any hardware store for about $5. The remedy for holes elsewhere in the gutter depends on the size. Smaller holes can be addressed with gutter sealant. Bigger holes might require a patch or some metal flashing, also sold at most hardware stores.
Gutters with the Wrong Pitch
For the rainwater to be guided to the downspout and away from the home, gutters need to be slanted so the water can easily slide down toward the opening. If the gutters are too level, standing water can become heavy and cause damage. Mold can build up and, eventually, the gutters can overflow and cause water damage to your home or foundation.
The ideal pitch is angled one-quarter of an inch down for every 10 feet across. If your gutters were installed professionally and you notice standing water, call the company and request that they come address the issue. If you installed your gutters yourself, you may need to rehang the gutter.
Sagging or Pulling Gutters
Gutters that are sagging or pulling away from the house generally don't have enough support for how much they weigh. Installing a few more hangers in problem areas can usually alleviate the issue.
How to Maintain Your Gutters
While it's not unusual to experience one or more of the aforementioned problems during your time living in a home with gutters, there are some measures you can take to prevent these issues. Clogged gutters can be avoided by cleaning them before buildup becomes a problem. When doing so, be sure to pay close attention to the downspout, and see that all water can flow smoothly through the whole system.
Leaf guards could help in heavily wooded areas where leaf buildup is a common problem. Also, snow guards can help prevent snow and ice from building up during the winter, which could put undue stress on the gutters.
Wood gutters should be oiled to help them last longer and remain effective. Shingle oil is a good product that will protect against weathering and allow the wood to breathe.
Replacing Your Gutters or Downspouts
Though gutters will typically last many years, there may come a time when replacement is inevitable. If you have patched aging gutters for several years, it might be time to replace the whole system. To do this, you'll have to decide whether you want to take on the project yourself or hire a professional.
A professional is required for:
- Copper gutters
- Zinc gutters
- Seamless aluminum gutters
A professional is recommended for:
- Steel gutters
- Wood gutters
A professional will make replacement easier, but isn't always necessary for:
- Aluminum gutters
- Vinyl gutters
Choosing a Gutter Installation Company
If it's time to replace or repair your gutters, hiring a professional is often the best way to go, especially if you are inexperienced with this type of home repair. Professionals will be able to spot a small problem before it becomes a big one, and they know how to safely work with the tools required for the job.
Before hiring a professional, make sure they have workers' compensation insurance and liability insurance.
Additionally, it's important to recognize that a gutter installation or repair can affect the roof. Before you agree to any work being done on your gutters, be sure that your roof warranty won't be affected. Your roof is one of the most important features of a home, and should you run into an issue with it, you'll want your warranty to be valid.
Before hiring anyone, get as much detail about the job as possible. Ask about:
- Warranties for the gutters as well as the installation
- How much the installment or repair will cost, and get this in writing
- Whether a down payment is required, and how much it is
- How long it will take
- Whether they install gutter covers as well
Getting references before hiring a professional of any kind will give you a good idea of what their customer service is like as well as whether they do quality work. Talk to friends and family who have hired the gutter installer before making your decision. If you don't know anyone who has worked with this company before, go online to find reviews, or simply ask the company for references.