Gutters 101

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Gutters 101

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When shopping for a gutter system, a homeowner will have to choose among a variety of materials, including aluminum, galvanized steel, vinyl, copper, and wood. Installers price gutter systems per linear foot, but this price should include all the necessary components for a gutter system, including the gutters, downspouts (the vertical section), corner joints, end caps, and hanging brackets.

Gutter Materials and Pricing
Aluminum is the most popular gutter on the market, as it is relatively inexpensive, durable, and easy to work with. Unlike steel, aluminum will not rust over time, and is available in a wide range of colors. Gutter installers will often quote a price (which includes installation) at a “per linear foot” price; although costs for an aluminum system will vary, homeowners may expect somewhere around $3-6 per linear foot.

Steel gutter systems are usually galvanized, although stainless steel options exist as well. Galvanized steel gutters will eventually rust after 20-25 years, but steel is strong and durable, making it a popular option for regions that experience extreme weather, heavy rains, and snow. Steel is slightly more expensive than aluminum; with prices averaging around $8-10 per linear foot. Stainless steel, which doesn’t rust, sells for upwards of $20 per linear foot.

Copper is also one of the more durable gutter options. Copper brings a certain aesthetic to a home’s facade, appealing to property owners looking to customize their home. “Copper is one of the strongest metals,” says Mike Milliman, a partner with the RainTrade Corporation. “It is suitable for any region.” Copper sits at the high-end of the gutter market, selling for anywhere from $12-25 per linear foot. Homeowners who are interested in a copper gutter system should consider the “patina” aspect of copper, which gradually ages and changes color with exposure to the elements. “A copper gutter system will only stay shiny for the first month or two,” Milliman says. “It will turn brown, dark brown, purple, and eventually a greenish color. Homeowners need to expect these changes.”

Vinyl is one of the least-expensive gutter options on the market, and is also very easy to cut and work with, making these gutters suitable for DIY installations. Vinyl gutter systems are prominent in home stores because of the easy of assembly and availability of component parts. At around $3-5 per linear foot, vinyl is most affordable option for gutter installations. Vinyl tends to become brittle and break in colder climates. It is also not as sturdy or durable as metal counterparts.

Shape, Size, Seamless
Homeowners will have two main gutter shapes to choose from: half-round and K-style. A smaller K-style gutter will drain the same amount of water as a larger half-round gutter. Half-round (also called U-shape) gutters are typically considered a traditional shape, as this was the original gutter shape dating back to the early 1900′s. K-style gutters didn’t emerge as an option until around the 1950s. Downspouts generally come in round or rectangular shapes.

When it comes to size, a homeowner will have to choose from gutter size (the measurement of the top opening), downspout size (length and width or diameter), and thickness. The most common gutter sizes are 5 inches and 6 inches, although 4 inches is available as well. Downspouts are commonly 2 x 3 inches and 3 x 4 inches in size or 3 or 4 inches in diameter.

When determining the size of a home’s gutter system, a homeowner should consider the area’s rainfall density. Such facts can usually be found on gutter supply websites. A home that sees a lot of rain or has a steep roof pitch should have a larger gutter system. Similarly, a home surrounded by tall trees will need a larger system to accommodate falling leaves without clogging.

Thickness is rated differently, depending on the material used. A thicker gutter system will be sturdier, more durable, and more expensive. Aluminum systems range from .019 to .032 inches in thickness. Copper is usually rated in weight, with a heavier weight indicating greater thickness. It is common to see 16-ounce and 20-ounce options for copper systems. Steel may be rated in inch-thickness or gauge.

Finally, a homeowner will have to decide between a sectional or seamless system. Traditionally, gutters came in sections that had to be pieced together, leaving seams. Today’s aluminum sectional systems require gutter sealant at the seams to prevent leakage. This sealant usually has to be re-applied as regular maintenance. Sectional copper or steel systems are actually soldered together at the seams, eliminating the need for a sealant. Proper installation of a sectional copper or steel system should include soldering, although some installers will use a metal sealant. Seamless systems are growing in popularity, and require professional installers. In a seamless system, an installer will use a special machine on-site to form long stretches of gutter (usually copper or aluminum) that will run the length of the roofline without a seam.

Proper Pitch
Gutter installation should follow a couple basic rules. Gutters must be pitched so water will flow to the downspouts. The rule of thumb for this slope is a vertical 1/2 inch for every 10 feet of horizontal run. If the run is more than 35 feet long, some specialists recommend installing the high point of the system in the middle and sloping the gutter downward in both directions to downspouts on both ends of the run. Water exiting the downspout must always be directed away from the foundation.

Gutter Add-Ons
The gutter industry has seen an explosion in the accessory side of the business. Screens, barriers, and other devices used to keep foreign objects out of the gutter are literally everywhere. When considering such accessories, homeowners will want to evaluate the types of debris that may land on or in their gutter. “Homeowners will want to consider everything from the number of trees to the types of leaves,” says Milliman. “Will there be whirlybirds, or pine needles?”

Hybrid products that combine solid hoods with screens exist, as do the more recent gutter foam products like Gutter Stuff and GutterFill. These foam products actually fill the length of the gutter, allowing water to run through and drain while keeping solid objects out. Additionally, homeowners may look into splash blocks on the ground that guide water away from the foundation or “rain chains” that replace traditional downspouts with Japanese-themed decorative links or chains. Rain chains are aesthetically pleasing, and come in a number of design options.