The Importance of Gutters
Many residents do not fully understand the importance of gutters. By collecting and carrying water safely away from the home, gutters protect the home in many ways. Most gutter problems are relatively easy to identify if you don’t mind a walk in the rain; leaking or overflowing gutters and clogged or misdirected downspouts are among the most common problems. If untreated, these problems can cause other larger problems—not only for the gutter system but for the entire home.
Issues from Faulty gutters
Basement water damage. Problem gutters can dump gallons of water directly onto the ground next to the foundation of a house. This water sometimes leaks through the foundation wall and can create water issues in the basement or crawl space.
Undermined driveways, patios, and walkways. Excess water flowing into the ground near the house can erode the dirt directly beneath driveways, patios, and walkways. As the dirt is washed away, the driveway, patio, or walkway is no longer fully supported and can settle, crack, or even collapse. If you have already experienced this type of damage to a paved area, fix the gutter or downspout problem before replacing or repairing the driveway, patio, or walkway.
Leaking roofs. When excess debris clogs the gutters, water cannot properly enter the gutter and exit through the downspout. It may flow back up onto the roof and under the shingles, penetrating the layers below and seeping into the home through the ceiling or walls.
Damaged fascia, soffit, and exterior walls. Fascia and soffit are the wood structures that fill in the space between an exterior wall and the lower edge of the roof extending past it; they are adjacent to the gutter. Problem gutters can compromise a home’s structural integrity by allowing water to seep into and damage the fascia and soffit as well as run down the exterior wall.
Cracked foundations. The looser fill dirt underneath a home’s foundation settles over time. When one area settles faster than another, stress put on the foundation causes cracks and structural issues. Excess water dumped next to the foundation by faulty gutters intensifies this issue.
Landscape washout. Many homeowners have reported experiencing damaged landscaping caused by faulty gutter systems.
Insects. Standing water builds up in dirty gutters and at any of the system’s low points, which provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Termite colonies, too, need water to thrive and reproduce, so gutters that dump excess water near the house encourage termite infestation.
Gutter and Downspout Sizes
Gutters are typically sold in five-inch or six-inch sizes. Six-inch gutter troughs are usually required around steep roofs to minimize overflow. Downspouts are usually two inches deep by three inches wide or three inches deep by four inches wide. Larger downspouts drain faster and do not clog as easily, which lessens the stress on the gutters and may add several years of optimal performance to their lifespan.
Correct fastener spacing and slope are key to successful installation. To effectively drain water, contractors should install gutters with a slope or pitch that leads water toward the downspout. However, excessive slope can cause a gutter to be so low that water running down the roof overshoots it. On the other hand, not enough slope can result in overflow and standing water. This is also true when not enough downspouts are installed. A structurally sound gutter will have fasteners that are relatively close together; spacing the fasteners too far apart makes for a weak system. Additionally, the back of the gutter should be installed behind existing roof flashing to prevent leaks between the gutter and fascia board.
Gutter Covers and Screens
A gutter cover is a smooth piece of curved metal installed over the top of the gutter to keep out leaves and other debris. Gutter covers can either be painted or clad in composition roofing granules that match the home’s roofing shingles. When it rains, the design draws the water around and underneath the cover and into the gutter; leaves and other debris fall to the ground. Leaf screens are another option for many homeowners. Instead of a solid piece of metal that covers the gutter trough, leaf screens are made of a mesh material that allows water into the gutter while keeping out leaves and debris. Leaf screen systems can be easier to install than gutter covers, and they come in a variety of materials, styles, and colors.
A number of gutter cover products are on the market, and they all operate on the same basic principle. Gutter cover protection systems are often more expensive than conventional gutters, but many come with extended warranties that protect the homeowner from having to pay for repairs or cleanings if the system breaks down or a clog occurs.
The slope of a roof has a huge impact on the effectiveness of gutters and gutter protection systems. Steep roofs combined with improperly sized gutters or the wrong protection systems can cause large amounts of water to overshoot the gutters. This issue is specific to individual roof design, so seek advice about the best gutter system for your home from a competent gutter contractor.
Aluminum. Aluminum is the most common type of gutter material. These gutters are cost effective and typically last more than 20 years. Seamless aluminum gutters are manufactured to specific lengths and are available in a variety of sizes and colors. However, aluminum gutters are more susceptible to dents, such as those inflicted by a ladder.
Copper. Copper gutters are expensive to manufacture, and installation is labor intensive. Many homeowners consider the elegant look of copper gutters worth the added cost, however. The newly installed, bright copper acquires its characteristic green color within about ten years. Well-maintained copper gutters can last the lifetime of the house.
Zinc. Like copper, zinc gutters are an expensive, but attractive, option. Zinc is durable and there is no need to paint it, as it will develop a patina over time.
Steel and galvanized steel. Steel gutters are strong and come in a variety of colors, but they are also prone to rust. Galvanized steel gutters, which are steel gutters coated with a layer of zinc, are more resistant to rust, but may still begin to rust after five to ten years.
Vinyl. Vinyl is lightweight and inexpensive, which makes it a good choice for do-it-yourselfers. However, the thin material will usually dent under the weight of a ladder and may crack in severe cold.