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Everything You Need to Know About Gutters and Downspouts

Rain gutters aren’t exactly the most popular thing among homeowners. They need be inspected, cleaned and maintained. They’re important however, as without them, massive amounts of water during a heavy rainfall could lead to costly water damage. This could include flooded basements, eroding soil, rotted siding, and peeling paint. Gutters are essential, despite the time and energy they require.

With a little knowledge and a little effort, however, you can keep your gutter system operating smoothly and avoid having problems.

Most gutters are made out of aluminum, but there are other materials available such as copper, steel, and plastic. Copper gutters are the most expensive, and are usually installed by professionals. The most common gutter shape is called a K-style gutter. They’re usually five inches in width, however six inches are also available for specific situations.

If the gutters are professionally installed, they’re usually five-inch K-style gutters, made on-site using a special machine. This machine can make seamless gutters where they only joints are at the corners. This is where leaks would be most likely to happen. If you’re installing them yourself, you can buy 5-inch K-style gutters in ten-foot sections that need to be pieced together, although the resulting seams create more opportunities for leaks and blockages to happen.

Another common gutter shape is a half-round. It’s also available in five or six-inch widths. While the half-round shape looks very traditional, it can’t hold as much water as a K-style gutter. 

Downspouts come in the same different types of materials that gutters do. Aluminum downspouts are usually rectangular. Other types of downspouts tend to be round. 

Gutters need to be setup in such a way that they can effectively drain water away from the home. A professional installer will usually try to get a pitch of 1/4 inch for every ten feet of length. Depending on the type of gutters, they might be screwed to the fascia board, or sit in brackets screwed to the fascia. If there’s no fascia board, they might sit in straps attached to the roof. 

The downspout is installed by fitting it over the gutter, and attaching supports for the downspout to the house’s wall. Downspouts should use as few elbows as possible, as the elbows are the most likely places to get clogged. It’s best if the downspout be directed towards some kind of drainage system. If the downspout merely empties on the surface of the ground, make sure it empties at least ten feet away from the house to avoid having any problems. Another option is to collect the water in some kind of rain barrel or cistern, so that it can be repurposed for things like watering vegetation or car washing.

As mentioned above, gutters need to be inspected and cleaned regularly. It’s best to use a ladder with a standoff that rests on the roof. This way the ladder isn’t leaning on, and potentially damaging, the gutters themselves. When cleaning, make sure to check that the gutters haven’t become loose. Gutters can also become dented or misshaped if hit by a fallen branch or some other force. If this happens, it’s usually better to just replace the gutter, rather than trying to replace it. Any joints in the gutter can develop leaks, especially aluminum gutters sealed with caulk. Usually cleaning the joint and resealing it with caulk with fix it.

Galvanized steel gutters need to be checked for rust, as the protective coating can wear off. If you have any rusty areas, you can likely spray them with a finish, but you’ll need to spray these areas regularly so you don’t risk getting any corrosion.

One way to help reduce the need for gutter cleaning is to install gutter guards. There are many different types available. Some are screens that fit inside the gutter, and others are special systems installed by professionals. They cost money, but they can save a lot of time. 

No matter what type of gutter and downspout you use, it’s important to understand and appreciate what they do to protect your home. Regularly inspecting and cleaning your gutters lets them do their job of protecting your home from costly water damage.