What kind of gutters should I have?

Gutters come in various shapes, materials and sizes. Learn how to choose what's right for you.
Gutters perform the task of re-routing rainwater to protect your siding, windows, doors and foundation.

Steel or vinyl gutters have to be replaced at some point. Generally, you should start paying attention at the first signs of rust to avoid extensive repairs that will demand more time and money.

You will start to notice the rust when it shows up through the paint as little orange speckles, usually at the end of downspouts or at gutter seams that are separated or leaking. If you are seeing rust on the outside, it means your gutters have already started rusting on the inside.

Consider these four things when choosing gutters:

1. Gutter Material
2. Seamless or Traditional Style of Gutter
3. Gutter Shape
4. Gutter Size

Gutter Material

The material you choose for your gutters will affect the look, durability, and amount of maintenance needed in the future. Choose a material that fits within your budget and home maintenance style.
  • Steel
    If you live somewhere with heavy precipitation and are looking for strength, a steel guttering system is your best choice. Steel holds up to the elements better than any other gutter material. Ideally, they should last forever. However, if left untreated, steel gutters will rust over time.

  • Copper Gutters
    Aesthetically, copper gutters look great and are an excellent choice for homes. They are easy to maintain and are almost as durable as steel. The major drawback with copper is that it can discolor over the years. Over the years, the shiny gold metal can turn dark brown or green due to oxidation. However, there are sealants you can apply to help prevent oxidation. But this in turn increases maintenance costs and time.

  • Aluminum
    Aluminum guttering is light weight and affordable, and are the most economical choice. However, aluminum is not as strong as steel or copper, but they still hold up well to the different weather elements. This might be a good choice if you live in a moderate to low-precipitate climate. The biggest drawback to aluminum gutters is maintenance, as they require more frequent attention than other metal gutters. If you decide on aluminum, ask whether the material is primary or secondary aluminum. Primary aluminum is more likely to be of a consistent quality.

  • Vinyl
    Vinyl gutters are lightweight like aluminum, but are virtually maintenance free. They also come in a variety of colors to choose from that other gutters do not. However, they do not have the durability and strength of metal other gutters, and vinyl is subject to deteriorate more quickly in extreme hot and cold climates. If you live in a relatively moderate climate with low precipitation, vinyl gutters may work for you.
Types of Gutters: Seamless vs. Traditional
    Seamless Gutters

    A seamless gutter system offers several advantages that a traditional gutter just can't give. The biggest one being that there isn't a break in the gutter. However, don't rely on the myth that seamless means no leaks. Seamless gutters do still have "seams" and places where leaks can develop. There is a seam at each end of the gutter, at each outlet tube, and there is a seam every time the gutter turns a corner (bends). Leaks may start in any of these places.

    So, don't buy a seamless gutter because you think it will never leak.

    The greatest benefit of seamless gutters is that they require less maintenance. Depending on your choice of material and configuration, you could get away with many months of consistent use without any major cleaning. Seamless gutters are also hung far more securely than traditional gutters, lending an additional level of security to the home. Plus, chipmunks, birds and other pests have a harder time getting into seamless gutters.

    Another advantage is that seamless gutters can be configured to many different colors and styles to match up perfectly with your home's exterior.

    The biggest disadvantage to choosing seamless gutters is the cost. Since seamless gutters are cut to the exact lengths on site, you'll have to utilize the services of a professional seamless gutter installation company.

    Traditional (Sectional) Gutters

    Traditional galvanized gutters are pre-manufactured steel gutters, and need to be painted by the homeowner or a painting contractor after the installation. Galvanized gutters have an average life span of 18 years if they are cared for and cleaned on a regular basis. Typically galvanized gutters have an expansion joint every 20 feet.

    Another benefit of traditional gutters is that they can be replaced in sections. When you start seeing rust or damage, you should take action. The earlier you replace your gutters, the better -- if you get it done early enough, you may only need to replace a few areas.

Gutter Shape
    You will have two shapes to choose from: half-round (also called U-shape) and K-style. Thought there is no real difference in performance, a smaller K-style gutter will drain the same amount of water as a larger half-round gutter. U-shape gutters are typically considered the 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.

Gutter Size
    There are three sizes to consider: The gutter size, downspout size, and thickness.The most common gutter sizes are 5" and 6", although 4" 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.

    To determine the right sizes for your home, consider the climate and rainfall density of the area you live in. Also, take into consideration the shape of your roof and the surrounding foliage. A home that sees a lot of rain or has a steep roof should have a larger gutter system. Similarly, a home surrounded by tall trees will need a larger system to prevent clogging from falling leaves.

    The thickness of your gutter material is rated differently, depending on the material you decide to use. The thicker your gutter system, the sturdier, durable, and more expensive it will be. Again, you should choose the right gutter system size to fit your home's needs as well as your budget. Aluminum systems range from .019 to .032 inches in thickness. Thickness of copper is usually rated in weight, with heavier weights indicating greater thickness. It is common to see 16 oz and 20 oz options for copper systems. Steel may be rated in either inch-thickness or gauge. Ask your gutter professional for recommendations and always get a second opinion.

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