Monday, September 26, 2016


In honor of this presidential election season, get your mind into the gutter. The rain gutter, I mean. It’s one of the most prominent architectural features on a home, yet few people make a conscious choice about which style to use.

Your garden-variety ogee (or "K-style") aluminum gutter
and downspout. These make up about 80 percent
of all gutter installations.
Traditional home styles, for example, usually demand some type of molded gutter profile—an ogee or cove, or less commonly, a half-round. On modern home styles, a bolder, more linear profile such as a plain box will generally look best.  Many new homes feature “full fascia” gutters that are deep enough to cover the rafter tails, eliminating the need for a separate fascia board behind them.

Downspouts (technically called “rain water leaders”) should also be carefully thought out before installation time. I’ve seen lots of beautiful houses defaced by downspouts snaking all over the walls. Figure out where they’ll be least visible, and then verify the locations with the gutter installer.

Oops—you forgot to maintain those
sheet metal gutters.
Now it's going to cost you.
If you’re not sure what style of gutter and downspout will complement your home, take a drive through a neighborhood with similar home styles and find one you like. A skilled sheet metal contractor can duplicate most any profile, but bear in mind that complex shapes can get very expensive.  

Here are the most popular types of gutter in use today:

• Aluminum gutters have become the standard of the residential industry. They’re available in traditional ogee and half round profiles as well as more rectilinear modern styles. Most have a baked-on finish that's available in a limited number of colors. Although they're available in twenty-foot lengths, many common gutter profiles can be fabricated onsite from continuous coil stock, allowing gutters of any reasonable length to be fabricated without seams.

Traditional half-round copper gutter and ornamental
leader head—beautiful and essentially maintenance free,
but with a very substantial first cost.
• Sheet metal gutters are much more substantial than aluminum and will hold a crisper bend—an important consideration if you're using traditional ogee profiles. However, while sheet metal gutters are invariably galvanized, they'll nevertheless corrode over time if not properly maintained. Painting the visible surfaces is a must, or rust will get a foothold. Allowing leaves and mud to accumulate inside the gutter will also cause corrosion.

• Copper gutters are similar to sheet metal ones in most respects. The big differences are that copper does not corrode, nor does it require any finishing, since it naturally oxidizes to a beautiful verdigris color over a period of years (if you’re in a hurry, a patinator can artificially age them for you). As you might guess, copper gutters are expensive, generally running about $25 per lineal foot installed.

Plastic gutter and downspout: Looks are not its strong suit.
•  Redwood gutters, commonly installed on tract homes prior to World War II, are milled from a length of solid redwood stock, and use round sheet-metal downspouts.  Although they’re durable, they tend to develop leaks at the joints as they age. That’s why most original redwood gutter installations have been replaced with other materials over the years. The depletion of quality redwood has also (rightly) made these gutters astronomically expensive, so they’re best used when a natural wood look is imperative.

• Metal downspouts for all of the foregoing gutters types are available in a variety of sizes, in both round and rectangular shapes.  Rectangular downspouts are more common, but round ones can be used for a more traditional look.

•  Plastic gutters are made of PVC and are available in a limited number of colors.  Their main claim to fame is simple, do-it-yourself installation.  Although they're cheap and rustproof, plastic gutters have multiple drawback: They're susceptible to degradation from sunlight, often have a wavy or saggy look when installed, and use clumsy looking snap-together joints. On top of all this, they're a petroleum-based product that's not particularly friendly to the environment.

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