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Gutters: How to Choose, Install and Clean Them

We provide you everything you need to know about how to select and maintain these unsung heroes of roof-water management.

Copper Half-Round Gutters And Round Downspouts On Traditional House Designs

An inch of rainfall doesn’t sound like much. But when it falls on an average-size roof, it adds up to a 1,900-gallon torrent sluicing off the eaves. That’s an awful lot of water that can cause an awful lot of damage if your gutters aren’t up to the task of controlling it. Yet we barely give gutters a second thought until they’re clogged and overflowing, or ripped from their moorings by ice and snow.

So now that summer’s here, it’s time to take notice. Maybe a simple cleaning is all your gutters need, or maybe they need to be replaced altogether.

What Type of Gutters Are Best?

If you’re starting fresh, there is a veritable deluge of shapes, sizes, and materials to choose from. Aside from pricey, maintenance-heavy wood troughs and short-lived vinyl ones, the best option for most of us is metal—elegant copper, understated zinc, rugged steel, or affordable aluminum. Metal gutters are durable and need relatively little care.

Find out everything you need to know to properly size your gutters and downspouts.

Anatomy of a Gutter System

Gutter System Anatomy Diagram Illustration by Jason Lee

Gutter: Captures water shedding off roof.

End cap: Closes end of gutter.

Fascia bracket: Attaches to eaves; supports gutters from below.

Downspout: Conveys water from gutter to ground. Also known as a leader.

Downspout bracket: Secures downspout to side of house.

Elbow: Changes direction of downspout.

Man Installing Gutter On House Photo by Marybeth Montgomery

How much do the gutters cost?

The least expensive materials—vinyl, aluminum, and coated steel—run about $1 to $8 per linear foot; the most expensive—copper and zinc—sell for about $9 to $18 per foot. Prices do not include installation.

Should I install DIY or hire a pro?

Straight sections of vinyl or aluminum sold at home centers or online are well within a DIYer's grasp. Call in a pro if your house is taller than one story, or if you want seamless gutters, which are custom-made on site.

How long do gutters last?

Anywhere from a few years to the lifetime of your house, depending on the material you choose and how well they're installed and maintained.

How much maintenance is involved?

If trees tower over them, gutters need periodic cleaning, even when fitted with gutter guards. Pine needles are especially notorious for causing clogs.

Gutter Materials

Vinyl Gutters

Vinyl Gutter Photo by Wendell T. Webber

The least expensive, most DIY-friendly option because the sections just snap together. Color choices are limited, although it can be painted. Vinyl won't rust or rot but becomes brittle in extreme cold and intense sun. It can bend and bow under heavy rain, wind, and snow loads. Available in K-style (shown), half-round, and a faceted U shape. Look for a warranty of at least 20 years.

Cost: About $1 to $2 per foot

Aluminum Gutters

Aluminum Gutter Photo by Wendell T. Webber

This popular, low-cost metal won't rust and comes in an array of colors, including ones that resemble aged copper and zinc. Available in seamless or in sections held together with rivets or screws and sealed with caulk. Lightweight (.025 inch thick) and medium-weight (.027 inch) aluminum are susceptible to denting and bending; heavyweight (.032 inch) aluminum lasts longer, about 25 years.

Cost: About $1.50 to $8 per foot

Steel Gutters

Steel Gutter Photo by Wendell T. Webber

To prevent rust, it's coated in zinc (galvanized), a zinc-aluminum alloy (Galvalume, shown), or blended with chrome (stainless steel). Available in seamless or sections; joints should be soldered. Galvanized steel lasts eight to 15 years before it rusts; Galvalume has a 25-year warranty; stainless steel never rusts. Choose 26 gauge or thicker.

Cost: About $2 to $8 per foot for galvanized, $2 to $4 for Galvalume, $4.50 to $12 for stainless

Zinc Gutters

Zinc Gutter Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Strong, rustproof, and weathers to an attractive matte gray. Pro installation recommended because of its high contraction and expansion rate when temperatures change. Seams are soldered, but the process is more difficult than with copper. Lasts 30 to 50 years, depending on its proximity to saltwater. Vulnerable to acidic runoff from cedar-shingled roofs.

Cost: About $9 to $10 per foot

Copper Gutters

Copper Gutter Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Never rusts or needs painting; should last 100 years in any climate. Available in seamless or sections, and in three weights: 16, 18, and 20 ounces. Seams should be soldered. Oxidizes to a matte brown in a matter of months, blue-green over decades. If you prefer gray gutters that don't leave green stains, select lead-coated or tin-zinc-plated copper.

Cost: About $11 to $18 per foot

Shape of Gutters

Half-Round

Half-Round Gutter 5-Inch

The semicircular trough with its curled front lip or bead is a natural fit on traditional homes. Goes best with round downspouts.

Round downspouts drain water more efficiently than rectangular ones.

Shown: 5-inch, 26-gauge painted galvanized-steel sections, about $5 per foot; Park City Rain Gutter

Half-Round

Half-Round Gutter 6-Inch

Comes in 5-, 6-, 7-, and 8-inch widths. Their curved sidewalls allow half-rounds to drain more thoroughly than K-style.

Shown: 6-inch, 20-ounce zinc, about $10 per foot.

K-Style

K-Style Gutter 5-Inch Photo by Eric Roth

This most common gutter shape became popular after World War II. It has a flat bottom and a profiled face that resembles crown molding; often fitted with rectangular downspouts.

Similar to Shown: 5-inch, .032-inch-thick aluminum sections, about $1.60 per foot; Gutter Supply

K-Style

K-Style Gutter 6-Inch

Comes in 5-, 6-, 7-, and 8-inch widths. Handles more than twice the runoff of a half-round of the same width.

Shown: 6-inch, 16-ounce copper sections, about $12 per foot; The Brothers That Just do Gutters

Leaf Guards

Leaf Guard Gutter With Aluminum Hood And Curved Lip

An aluminum hood with a curved lip draws water into a narrow slot that blocks most debris.

Leaf Guards

Leaf Guard Gutter 5-Inch

These gutters must be professionally installed, at a cost of $15 to $30 per foot, and, when necessary, professionally cleaned—typically an included service.

Shown: 5-inch, .032-inch-thick aluminum K-Guard, about $23 per foot; K Guard

Debris Filters

Gutter Guard Photo by Wendell T. Webber

No device completely eliminates the need to clean, but these add-ons significantly reduce the number of trips up and down the ladder.

Gutter Genius DIY

Water follows the hood's round edge into the gutter; debris slides off. Install it yourself and remove it when the trough needs cleaning. 15-year warranty, about $1.67 per foot.

Leaf Defier XL

Debris Filter Leaf Defier XL Photo by Wendell T. Webber

UV-protected foam lets only water through. A snap to install as long as the gutter has a front lip or hanger. Not visible from the ground. Easy to remove and shake clean when needed. 25-year warranty, about $4.60 per foot.

Gutter Glove Pro

Debris Filter Gutter Glove Pro Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Fine-mesh stainless-steel screens block all debris but have to be swept occasionally to reduce splash-over. Mesh is supported by a stiff aluminum grille that's anodized to allow mounting on copper. 25-year warranty, about $9 per foot; Gutterglove Gutter Guard

Raindrop Gutter Guard

Debris Filter Raindrop Gutter Guard Photo by Wendell T. Webber

A slick plastic grate helps leaves and needles slide off but lets in plenty of water to flush away any small debris that may get in. 10-year warranty, about $3.25 per foot; Raindrop Gutter Guard Systems

Mounting Methods

How To Mount Gutter Illustration by Jason Lee

Gutters attach to the eaves two ways: to the fascia—the boards that cover rafter ends—or to the roof. Fascia-hung gutters are sturdier and more secure, but if the fascia is nonexistent or covered with crown molding, roof mounting may be your only choice.

For Plumb Fascia: Bracket

Cradles trough from underneath, so it's open and easy to clean. Cast brackets are stronger than stamped ones. Place every 32 inches, or every 24 inches in snow country.

For Plumb Fascia: Hanger

Plumb Fascia Gutter Hanger Illustration by Jason Lee

Bridges interior of gutter, largely hidden from view, but interferes with cleaning. Hangers with built-in screws (shown) hold better than spikes and don't mar gutter faces.

Pro advice: To drain properly, a gutter should slope at least ¼ inch for every 10 feet of run. Increasing the pitch increases a gutter's handling capacity, but the gutter may look askew over a long run. The easiest way to check pitch: Dump in a bucket of water and watch how it flows.

Gene Stucky, Park City Rain Gutters

For Angled Fascia: Wedge

Angled Fascia Gutter Wedge Illustration by Jason Lee

Levels gutters front to back. The T-wedge (shown) works best with fascia hangers. For fascia brackets, use solid wedges, like those from Classic Gutter Systems LLC.

For Everything Else: Roof Hanger

Roof Hanger Gutter Illustration by Jason Lee

Use as a last resort, when gutter can't be hung from fascia. In areas with severe winds or winters, choose hangers with rods, which are stronger than flat straps.

Gutter Maintenance

Man Pulling Leaves Out Of Gutter Photo by Keller & Keller

One way or another, debris will find its way into your gutters, and someone—you or a gutter service—will have to climb a ladder and clean them out. Here are some basic tricks of the trade to make the job easier.

Use a standoff. It lets you rest a ladder on the roof, preventing gutter scratches and dents and increasing ladder stability.

Stay on the ladder. Falls are more likely if you work from the roof.

Protect your hands. Wear gloves and use a gutter scoop.

Start at the downspout. You'll give standing water a way out.

Check the elbows. If clogged, use a forceful spray from a hose to open them up. Otherwise, take them apart, drilling out any rivets, then reassemble the pieces with short, stainless-steel sheet-metal screws.

Flush. Once gutters are clean and downspouts are reattached, hose them down to make sure they're draining as they should.

Check the brackets or hangers. Tighten, relocate, or replace hardware if it's loose or if water accumulates in low spots.

Seal leaks. When the gutter is dry, fill small holes and seams from the inside using a butyl-based gutter caulk. Scrape away old caulk and clean the surface before applying the new stuff.

Pro advice: One good way to prevent clogs is to fit your gutters with big downspouts, either 4-inch round or 3-by-4-inch rectangular. Bigger downspouts also allow a gutter to handle more runoff without overflowing.

Tom Silva, TOH general contractor

Accessories

Rain Chain

Rain Chain Gutter Photo by Rick Keating/Cornerhouse Stock, Wendell T. Webber (chain)

Leads water from the gutter directly to the ground, without any clog-prone elbows. Typically anchored to a gravel dry well. Best for houses with deep overhangs; chains tend to splash during downpours.

Shown: Waxed bronze rain chain, about $22 per foot; A. B. Rain Gutters

Conductor Head

Conductor Head Gutter Photo by Laura Moss

Gives downspout extra time to drain in a downpour or consolidate runoff from multiple gutters.

Shown: Copper Windsor conductor head for 4-inch downspout, about $435; Gutter Supply

Downspout Bracket

Downspout Bracket Gutter Photo by Wendell T. Webber

These solid cast pieces fix downspouts to the house, secure against wind and theft.

Shown, for 3-inch round downspouts:

1. Waxed bronze Fleur-de-lis, about $40; A. B. Rain Gutters

2. Brass Rope, about $29; Classic Gutter Systems LLC

For 2-by-3-inch downspout:

3. Brass Fleur-de-lis, about $51; Gutter Supply

Decorative Boot

Decorative Boot Gutter Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Fitted to the bottom of a downspout, it provides a classy and rugged exit point for water.

Shown: cast-aluminum garden boot for 3-inch downspout, $160; Classic Gutter Systems LLC

Fascia Bracket

Fascia Bracket Gutter Photo by Wendell T. Webber

There's no stronger way of supporting a gutter, or more graceful ornamentation, than a solid cast bracket.

Shown:

1. Aluminum Acanthus Leaf, $13.50, and

2. Brass Queen Anne, $29; Classic Gutter Systems LLC

3. Waxed bronze Curled Bracket, $31; A. B. Rain Gutters

Looking for help with home repairs? A home warranty may help. Check out these in-depth guides from the This Old House Reviews Team: