A Guide to Buying Rain Gutters: Info You Should Know.

Published: 13th March 2009
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A good rain gutter system is essential to protecting your home from water damage. A rusted, leaky rain gutter is can do as much damage as a leaky roof.

But choosing a rain gutter system can be confusing. Gutters come in a variety of types, styles and materials. They can range from cheap vinyl gutters costing about $1 per foot, all the way up to ornamental copper gutters costing as much as $12 per foot.



Which type is right for you?

Sectional vs. Seamless Gutters

Your first decision is whether to buy sectional or seamless gutters. Unless you are on a very tight budget, this should be an easy decision.

Sectional gutters are sold in pieces through home improvement retailers like Lowe's The Home Depot. Sections are glued or snapped together to form the length of gutter you need. These gutters are inexpensive, but are notorious for developing leaks at the joints over time.

Seamless gutters consist of a single gutter that is custom-sized to fit your roof. Since they are custom-made, they're more expensive, but they are far less likely to have leaks down the road. As a result seamless gutters have become the most popular option for new homes.

Seamless gutters are usually created on-site at your home by a contractor with a gutter machine. This is easier than transporting big gutter sections in a truck.

Choice of Material

You can chose rain gutters made from a variety of materials. Which one is right for you?

Vinyl is the least expensive material, costing about $1 per linear foot. But vinyl has a low durability. It can become brittle and break in cold climates, and exposure strong sunlight will cause the vinyl to break down over time.

Aluminum is the most popular material for gutters. It is inexpensive, lightweight, and rust-proof, plus it is available in many colors. Aluminum costs about $2 per linear foot.

Galvanized steel is strong, durable and should resist rust for 20 years or more. The strength of the material makes it a good choice for homes exposed to extreme precipitation. It costs $2-$3 per linear foot.

Copper is the most expensive gutter material, costing $7-$12 per linear foot. It is strong and rust-proof. Copper will also acquire a greenish patina as it ages, making it a popular choice for period homes. If you prefer the shiny look of new copper, you can buy treated copper that stays as bright as a new penny.

Be aware, though, that copper gutters can be tricky to install, since it can discolor if it comes in contact with oils from your skin or work gloves.



K-Style vs. Half Round Gutters

Gutters come in either a trough shape known as a K-style, or in a U-shape known as a half round gutter.

K-style gutters are more modern and represent the majority of rain gutters found today. Half round gutters have a more traditional look, especially when made of copper. Half round gutters are a popular choice for people wanting a historical look.

Both styles will provide good drainage for your home, so the choice is mostly aesthetic.



Gutter Downspouts

In addition to the gutters themselves, you'll need downspouts to carry the runoff and drain it safely away from your home.



Rectangular downspouts are typically 2x3 inches or 3x4 inches wide, while circular downspouts are typically 3-4 inches in diameter.



You may also need a splash block to catch splatter coming out of the downspout.



Sizing Your Gutters

Your rain gutters handle a lot of water. Consider this: one inch of rain falling on a 1000 square feet of roof amounts to 550 gallons of water flowing off your house. So how big do your gutters need to be?



Calculating the exact drainage of your gutter system is beyond the scope of this article, but a few rules of thumb can steer you to the right choice.

Your gutters should be sized based on the maximum rainfall you can expect, not the average rainfall. That means a house in Dallas, Texas, which can experience strong micro-burst storms, actually needs a bigger gutter system than one in Seattle, Washington, where the rain is more frequent but less intense.



If your home has a steeply-pitched roof, it will collect more water as the wind blows rain onto your roof. A roof with a 45-degree pitch will collect about thirty percent more rain than a flat roof.



Gutters can range anywhere from 4 inches to 8 inches wide, but 5 and 6 inch gutters are the most common.



If your home needs to handle intense storms, you can either install wider gutters or install more or wider downspouts to drain water away more quickly.



Gutter Screens

In addition to gutters and downspouts, it is a good idea to include sort kind of screen in your gutter system. Gutter screens help to keep out leaves, seeds and nuts that can clog your gutters.



These items have a variety of names, including gutter screens, gutter guards, and even gutter helmets. Each name describes a different approach to keeping leaves out, while ensuring a good flow of water into the gutter.



Gutter screens aren't foolproof. Even the best systems will sometimes allow a few pine needles or small seeds to get into your gutters. But the alternative is cleaning your gutters twice a year, which can be a nasty job.



Sock Woodruff is founder and partner of GutterSupply.com, the leading manufacturer and distributor of Gutter, Rain Gutters, and related tools and equipment.



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