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The 6 Best Gutter Alternatives (2024 Guide)

Does your home really need gutters? We researched six gutter alternatives to find out.

Default Author Icon Written by Mike Miller Updated 04/24/2024

Rain gutters perform an essential function—by directing water away from your home, they help prevent soil erosion and preserve your home’s foundation. Although they perform an essential function, traditional gutters are not the only rain management option available to homeowners. Whether you dislike the look of gutters or can’t stand clogs, you may want to consider a different drainage solution. Some gutter alternatives may even save you money compared to the cost of gutter installation.

For those interested in replacing their gutter system with something else, we rounded up the top six gutter alternatives. We also researched the disadvantages of gutters and whether they are really necessary.

The Best Gutter Alternatives

The best gutter alternative depends on your specific goals and preferences. What don’t you like about gutters? Is it the aesthetics, the cost, the maintenance, or something else? Knowing the answer to that question will help you identify the best solution for your home.

Below are six gutter alternatives for homeowners to consider. 

Rain chains attach to the edge of your roof to collect water. Several styles exist, but most feature a series of decorative cups connected by chain links. Rust-proof copper chains are popular for their durability, but you can also find rain chains made from galvanized iron, aluminum, or steel. 

The chain reaches from your roof to the ground. Water from your roof should drip down the chain and collect in the cups. If your area often experiences heavy rain, you might connect your rain chains to an underground drainage system to direct water farther away. If you choose an underground rain chain system, you can select a product without cups. Anchoring basins can secure the rain chain to the ground and provide a place for water to pool. 

Your home likely already has drip edges, regardless of whether you have gutters. Drip edges consist of metal flashing installed along your roof. The metal starts beneath your shingles and extends slightly past the roof’s edge so that water drips directly onto the ground rather than running down the soffits, fascia boards, and siding.

Drip edges alone may not be enough to manage the runoff from your roof effectively. Although they can help prevent water damage to your siding and wood rot along your fascia boards, they do not provide much protection for your foundation or landscaping. As a result, they are typically paired with a drip path, French drain, or traditional gutters.

A drip path consists of large blocks, pavers, or other hard surfaces placed in the ground beneath your roofline and angled downward away from your foundation. The angle of the blocks will help direct water away from your home. Drip paths can be made of plastic, concrete, or metal, and installing them is a relatively simple DIY task.

French drains are essentially ground gutters. Like regular gutters, French drains collect water runoff and direct it away from your home’s foundation—but they do so at the ground level. You can install a French drain wherever water tends to collect, including along the perimeter of your home.

A French drain system consists of a perforated pipe buried in a trench beneath a layer of gravel. Water filters through the gravel and makes its way into the pipe, which funnels it to a designated drainage area. Your French drain could empty into an underwater rain barrel or cistern, your city’s sewer system, or a storm drain. Alternatively, you could allow the water to drain above- or below-ground safely from your home.

Grading involves adjusting the slope of your yard so that water flows away rather than pooling around your home’s foundation. To achieve this effect, your yard needs to slope downward at a rate of at least 6 inches per 10 feet.

Although built-in gutters are technically a type of gutter, we included them in this list because they solve a few of the issues homeowners have with regular gutters. Also known as hidden gutters or box gutters, built-in gutters are installed inside or under the roof overhang. This placement hides them from view and makes it more difficult for debris to enter the gutters without the need for expensive gutter guards.

As you might expect, installing built-in gutters is much more challenging than installing traditional gutters. They also cost more. However, they look better and last longer than most types of gutters. Many hidden gutters are lined with copper or another weatherproof material that resists corrosion. They are less prone to clogs and blockages, making them relatively low maintenance.

Keep in mind that each of the alternatives listed above has its own pros and cons. Some provide better curb appeal but handle rain less effectively than traditional gutters. Others are easier to maintain and equally effective but cost significantly more than aluminum gutters.

Are Gutter Alternatives Effective?

The products listed above can be effective alternatives to traditional gutters in some cases, especially if your home sits on top of a hill or your area has a relatively dry climate. In other cases, gutters may be necessary.

Of course, not all of these gutter alternatives are equally effective. For instance, French drains and built-in gutters can handle a higher volume of water than rain chains or drip paths. Consider combining multiple solutions, such as pairing rain chains with an underground drainage system.

In the video below, This Old House general contractor Tom Silva installs an alternative to a gutter when a traditional one does not work.

What Are the Disadvantages of Gutters?

A high-quality gutter system, especially one with built-in gutter guards, can be extremely effective and durable. However, gutters do come with some potential downsides:

  • Maintenance: Over time, debris can build up in your gutters, forming clogs that obstruct water flow. Experts generally recommend that you clean your gutters twice per year. Gutter guards can reduce the difficulty and frequency of this task, but they do not eliminate it entirely. If you have sectional rather than seamless gutters, you will also need to reseal the seams every few years to prevent leaks.
  • Cost: Older gutters can develop leaks or other issues. Depending on the nature and extent of the damage, the cost to repair gutters can be hundreds of dollars. The expected lifespan for most gutters is only 10–20 years, and installing a new system can easily cost thousands. High-end options, such as copper gutters, can last 50 years or longer but can be cost-prohibitive for many homeowners.
  • Curb appeal: Traditional gutters extend beyond the edge of your roof, and many homeowners consider them an eyesore. You might find copper, zinc, or hidden gutters more aesthetically pleasing, but they cost significantly more. Gutters can look especially out of place on a historic home or one with a strikingly modern or minimalist design.

Our Conclusion

Gutters can suffer from various issues, including blockages, leaks, ice dams, and sagging. You might be nervous about the cost of installing, repairing, or replacing gutters. Some people are less than thrilled by the maintenance required by gutters or loathe their look. Or, perhaps you benefit from a sloped yard or dry climate that makes gutters unnecessary.

In any of these cases, it may be worth exploring alternative solutions. We recommend getting a professional opinion before deciding to forgo a traditional gutter system. Gather quotes, research your options, and weigh the pros and cons of a traditional system versus one of these rain gutter alternatives.

FAQ About Gutter Alternatives

Do rain chains work as well as gutters?

No, rain chains do not work as well as gutters. However, that does not necessarily mean you should discount them as an option. Rain chains may be sufficient if you live in a dry climate or have a properly sloped yard. You can also make them more effective by pairing them with an underground drainage system.

Why do old houses not have gutters?

Gutters did not become common until the mid-1900s. Before that, gutters were rarely installed on residential buildings, either due to the cost or because they simply were not offered as an option. However, some high-end historic homes were built with box gutters hidden in the eaves.

What is the function of a gutter?

The function of a gutter is to collect rainwater that flows off the roof and direct it away from the home. Depositing water at least 4 feet away helps prevent soil erosion and preserve the home’s foundation.

Is it okay not to have gutters?

In some situations, it is okay not to have gutters. You might not need gutters if any of the following apply to you:

  • You live on top of a hill.
  • Your yard slopes away from the foundation.
  • Your roof overhang is 6–10 inches long.
  • You live in an arid climate.
  • Your home is surrounded by concrete (such as patios, sidewalks, or streets).
  • You have French drains around your home’s perimeter.
  • You have installed another alternative drainage system.

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