Gutters
Photos by: Ned Martura
Gutters aren't glamorous. But unless there are long overhangs on your roof and your property is steeply graded, they're essential for routing roof runoff away from your home. Installed properly, gutters keep basements and crawl spaces dry, preserve topsoil, protect siding from backsplash stain and rot and shield windows and doors from water infiltration and damage. WHICH MATERIAL?
Gutters and downspouts - the vertical sections that send runoff down to the ground - are made out of aluminum, vinyl, galvanized steel, stainless steel and copper. Wood is also an option, but wood gutters are rare, except for restoration work. They're also expensive, starting at about $12 per linear foot installed and, depending on the wood species, running as high as $20 per linear foot. Copper is another material usually reserved for classic restorations. It's handsome, never rusts and never needs painting. But at about $15 per linear foot, it's also expensive. Stainless-steel gutters are strong and rust-free, and maintain their high sheen for years. But as with other high-end custom materials, the drawback is cost: about $20 per linear foot. For this reason, galvanized-steel, aluminum or vinyl gutters are the predominant varieties. Steel and aluminum gutters are the types most homeowners choose. With prices ranging from about $4 to $8 per linear foot installed, galvanized-steel gutters are the most economical. Steel gutters can stand up to ladders and fallen branches better than aluminum. But even thick galvanized steel eventually rusts through. Aluminum gutters, however, never rust. And at $5 to $9 per linear foot installed, they're still relatively inexpensive - two reasons why aluminum has the edge in popularity, according to Lyle Brandt, of All New Gutter Service, an installer in Fargo, North Dakota. "Ninety percent of what we install is aluminum," Brandt says. "If downspouts get plugged and water collects, you don't have to worry about rust, as you do with steel." When buying any metal gutters, choose the thickest you can afford - optimally .032 in. Though .027-, .025- and .019-in.-thick gutters are available, they won't hold up as well. When buying aluminum gutters, insist on primary aluminum, which is the thickest and most consistent kind. Avoid secondary aluminum, a recycled product that's often plagued by inconsistent thickness. Vinyl gutters, besides being impervious to rust and rot, are easiest to cut to size; you can install them yourself in a weekend or less. But vinyl can get brittle with age or in extreme cold. And while gutter sections cost just $3 to $5 per 10-ft. length, they still wind up at about $3 and $5 per linear foot installed when you factor in the cost of couplings, hangers and downspouts. SIZING UP YOUR OPTIONS
Choosing new gutters also brings several other decisions that involve balancing convenience, esthetics and long life. Sectional versus seamless. All gutters are either sectional or seamless (or continuous). Sectional gutters are sold in pieces and installed as component systems. All do-it-yourself gutter systems are sectional, though pros install these, too. The sections themselves can be over 20 ft. long each or cut to any size with a hacksaw. Snap-in-place connectors join gutter sections to each other and to downspouts. All sectional systems have end caps, corner pieces and drop outlets for connecting to downspouts. The drawback to sectional systems is that all those seams can eventually invite leaks. Seamless gutters won't leak at seams because there are none; sections join only at inside and outside corners and at downspout outlets. That's why they're the most popular configuration. Seamless gutters, made of aluminum, galvanized steel or copper, are extruded to custom lengths on site using a portable machine. But, as you might have guessed, seamless gutters must be installed by a contractor. Sizes and shapes. Most gutters come in several sizes and shapes called profiles. These include U shapes as well K configurations, in which the ogee-shaped front looks like the letter K. Gutter channels are available in 4-, 5- or 6-in. diameters; 5-in. Ks are the most common. You'll also find downspout choices that include 2X3-in. or 3X4-in. rectangular shapes, as well as 3- or 4-in. round pipes. Particularly in leafy areas, use larger downspouts, which minimize clogs. Color. Sectional aluminum and steel gutters come in more than 25 different colors - ideal for matching trim and house colors. Gutter colors are baked on at the factory. Vinyl typically is brown or white; the latter color holds up better in intense sun. Copper is prized for its natural color and comes unpainted. If you like the look of copper but not the price, Alcoa sells a faux-copper gutter made of aluminum. Called Musket Brown, it sells for about $9 per linear foot installed.
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