Gutters are simple yet complex. Everyone is familiar with what gutters are, but few know how they are constructed and how they work. At IBP of West Palm, we’ve put together this “Gutters 101” guide, based on the most common questions we receive from our clients in Florida.
What Are Gutters?
Gutters are a structural feature that removes water and debris from you so that it can be deposited far away from your foundation. Gutter systems comprise the gutters, gutter guards, end caps, fascia brackets, downspouts, downspout brackets and elbows.
The gutter captures the water as it drains off the roof, while the end cap ensures that the water stays in the gutter. Gutters are usually angled towards the end of the gutter near the endcap, where the downspout is attached. This transfers the water towards the ground until it reaches the elbow, at which point the water is directed away from the foundation. The system is held together with fascia brackets and downspout brackets that secure the gutter to the house’s eaves and side.
Gutters can be made from vinyl, aluminum, zinc, steel or copper. Vinyl is one of the least expensive, yet most durable options. Properly installed, it will last around 20 years. Aluminum is also a popular choice due to its low cost, light weight and longevity, which can extend as far as 25 years.
Steel is ideally suited to create a strong and visually appealing appearance. However, even though it is coated with zinc, it doesn’t last as long, with an expected life span of 8 to 15 years. Conversely, zinc gutters are strong and rustproof. These will weather to an attractive gray finish and will provide solid protection for up to 30 years. Finally, copper gutters are the most expensive, but they are also the most beautiful and long-lasting. Properly installed, copper gutters can provide up to 100 years of protection for your home.
Along with a wide range of materials, there is also a wide range of gutter shapes. Half-round gutters feature a semicircular shape, which is ideally suited for traditional houses. The shape facilitates drainage and creates an appealing aesthetic.
The most common gutter shape in the U.S. is known as the K-style. This style features a flat bottom that allows for the rapid draining of the gutter. In fact, it can remove roughly twice as much water as the half-round, which makes it a very popular gutter style in Florida.
Why Do You Need Gutters?
Without properly installed and well-maintained gutters, the water flowing off your roof will erode the soil away from your foundation. This can cause serious (and costly) structural damage to your home. Moreover, the water running down the sides of your home can damage siding, leak through windows and cause considerable damage to the walls, ceilings, etc.
Gutter maintenance isn’t hard. Most systems require only that you regularly clean the gutter and ensure that the brackets, end caps and other fittings are firm and properly attached. While you may need to repair the occasional dings and dents caused by falling/blowing debris, most gutter maintenance tasks require little more than a hose, a brush and a screwdriver.
When Is Gutter Repair/Replacement a DIY Job? And When Should You Hire a Professional?
Some things don’t require a professional hand to fix. Many simple problems with your gutters can be fixed with some simple tools and a little patience. Loose gutters can usually be taken care of by tightening the screws/bolts that connect the fascia hanger bracket to the roof. However, if you find that rotted wood is the cause of the loose gutter, you will want to hire a professional to remove the damaged wood before reattaching the gutter.
If your gutters are leaking, you can usually fix this by applying a seam sealer. Applied similarly to caulking, the sealer penetrates down into the seam to create a solid barrier. However, if your leak is because of significant damage to the gutter or because the gutter has rusted through, you will want to hire a professional to resolve the problem.
Of course, one of the biggest problems with gutters is they can fill with leaves and other debris. This can weigh down the gutter and cause spills, and it makes it easier for water to penetrate beneath the shingles around the lip. Adding gutter guards is an easy fix that will keep your gutters from clogging up. Most gutter guard systems require little more than a drill, a ladder and other basic tools to install. This is one where you can do it yourself or hire out to a professional.
Finally, cleaning isn’t as hard as you might think. A ladder, plastic spatula and a hose are all that is needed for most gutters. When cleaning your gutters, be sure that you wear shoes with solid tread and follow basic safety procedures. These include thoroughly inspecting your ladder for damage before use. Each year, tens of thousands of homeowners fall while cleaning/repairing gutters. Many of these are because of damaged ladders or improper usage. If you are ever in doubt about the reliability of your tools or your ability to safely clean your gutter systems, don’t hesitate to hire a professional for the job. We guarantee that a thorough, professional gutter cleaning is far less expensive than a trip to the emergency room.
Fun Facts About Gutters
- Gutters date back more than 5,000 years and were initially made of stone, brick or wood. The style of gutter we are most familiar with in today’s day and age was invented back in the early 1900s. And while gutters have varied in size/shape/style over the years, the basic function remains the same.
- Standing water in rain gutters can be hazardous to your health. That’s because pools of standing water are breeding grounds for mosquitos and bacteria.
- Rain gutters do more than just protect your roof. They protect your landscaping from oversaturating, protect your foundation from erosion and protect your basement from flooding.
- A few drops of rain add up quickly. Just two inches of rain can deposit up to 1,000 gallons of water on a residential roof.
- If your gutters are prone to overflowing, that doesn’t mean you need bigger gutters. In fact, most often, all you need to do is install more downspouts to increase the capacity of your gutter system.
- Gargoyles do more than just scare ghosts and ghouls away. These decorative features serve a functional purpose that involves diverting rain flow away from the building the same way as modern downspouts.
- Exciting technology is in the works. Patents are currently being developed for a wide range of products that will monitor water flow, detect leaks, direct water towards “dry” areas in your lawn and much more.
- Five- and six-inch gutters are the most common sizes in Florida, and most downspouts are either 2 x 3 inches or 3 x 4 inches in diameter.