Rain gutters, which run along the base of a roof, do more than keep downpours from drenching people as they come and go. By channeling water out and away from your home's foundation, rain gutters reduce the risks of a flooded basement or damaged siding and minimize erosion and harm to your landscaping. What's more, folks hoping to conserve water can direct runoff from gutters into a rain barrel to serve as a reservoir for the garden. Although rain gutters are simple structures, they come in a variety of configurations and are typically manufactured from five different materials-so whether it's time to replace old and rusted gutters or you're installing them for the first time, here's what you need to know to make the best choice.
First, figure out if your house really needs rain gutters. Most do, but there are exceptions, so consider the following:
- If your roof has no overhang or only has a few inches of overhang, it's likely that water will accumulate against the foundation, damage flowerbeds near the foundation, and/or pour down on people as they enter or exit your home. In this scenario, gutters are a must.
- If your home has a sharply peaked roof with an overhang of 12 inches or more, rainwater will naturally tend to cascade out and away from the house, rather than dripping straight down to the ground to puddle against the foundation. In this case, gutters may not be necessary.
- If your house is higher than the surrounding landscaping, water is unlikely to pool around the foundation, making gutters optional. But if the house is slightly lower than the surrounding ground, gutters are required to channel runoff a sufficient distance from the foundation.
- If your house is completely surrounded by concrete in the form of patios, walkways, or driveways, rain gutters might be optional, as the concrete serves as a protective layer between the runoff and the foundation.
- If you live in a very arid climate, you might opt out of installing rain gutters.
Rain gutters come in these three styles.
1. Half-round gutters, shaped like a tube cut in half, carry water very effectively.
Their open, trough-like shape makes them prone to leaf and debris clogs-the reason many homeowners choose to install leaf guards. Plus, their curved sides mean they don't sit flush against the fascia boards, so generally, brackets are required to keep them in place. While half-round gutters aren't particularly decorative, they are the traditional style found on homes built prior to 1960; if you live in an older neighborhood or in a historic home, local ordinances might require this type of rain gutter.
2. K-style rain gutters somewhat resemble the letter K when viewed from the side.
This is the most common type for homes built within the past 50 years, though many owners of older homes still install them today. Thanks to the flat back of the K-style gutter, you can nail it directly to the fascia board, no brackets required. But what really makes K-style gutters so popular is the typically decorative front side, which generally resembles crown molding. Thanks to their flat bottoms and straight, outwardly angled sides, K-style gutters usually can carry more water than half-round gutters, so they're especially suited to rainy climates. On the downside, K-design gutters are a little harder to clean than half-round gutters, as the inner angles collect rotting debris.
3. Custom-built fascia gutters have a sleek, contemporary look.
Unlike K-style or half-round gutters, fascia gutters aren't sold in sections that fit together, leaving seams that are prone to rust and leaks. Instead, fascia gutters are custom built for the house out of one long stretch of aluminum. Fascia gutters are pricey and must be professionally installed; you can pay as much as twice for them as half-round or K-style gutters, which you could install yourself. This can add up to hundreds of dollars, depending on the size of your home.
Wood, once the common material for constructing rain gutters, is prone to rot and weathering. So while you might still see wood gutters in very old, historically significant neighborhoods, today's rain gutters are generally made from aluminum, vinyl, zinc, steel, or copper. Half-round and K-style gutters made from all of these materials; fascia gutters are only made of aluminum. Here's how the five materials compare.
1. Aluminum is the most popular material for rain gutters, whether seamed or seamless.
Aluminum gutters come in three standard thicknesses: .025 inch, .027 inch, and .032 inch. While the thinnest aluminum is the least expensive, it's also likely to dent or bend; thicker metal is slightly pricier but generally worth it, particularly if you live in an area with heavy snowfall in the winters. You'll find 10-foot lengths of aluminum gutters in most home improvement centers for DIY installation. Expect to pay around $2 to $3 dollars per linear foot for DIY K-style aluminum rain gutters, and twice that if you have them professionally installed.
+ Won't rust
+ Lightweight and easy to install
+ Available in many colors and can also be painted
+ Can last up to 25 years
- Can dent or bend
2. Vinyl is the least expensive choice, and the easiest for DIY installation, as it's lightweight, fairly easy to cut, and snaps together.
You'll find vinyl gutters in a few different colors, and they can be painted to suit. Vinyl is the least durable gutter material; you'll typically get around 20 years' use from vinyl gutters in climates that aren't too severe. It's also prone to fading in bright sunlight. Expect to pay around $1 to $2 per linear foot for DIY vinyl K-style rain gutters and up to $5 per linear foot for professionally installed
+ Lightweight and inexpensive
+ Can be painted
+ Easy for DIY installation
+ Not damaged by salty air
+ Won't corrode or rust
- Becomes brittle in high heat climates and can crack when exposed to hard freezes
- Color fades with intense sun exposure
- Prone to cracking if a ladder is leaned against them
3. Zinc rain gutters are expensive but highly durable, resisting corrosion, weathering, and warping.
You can expect up to 50 years of use from your zinc gutters (somewhat less if you live near the ocean or anywhere else with salty air). Although they start off a dull gray, zinc gutters will develop an attractive patina over time. Zinc gutters require professional installation, as the joints and ends must be welded, and are usually only used on historic or high-end homes. Expect to pay around $10 to $22 per linear foot for professionally installed zinc rain gutters.
+ Very long-lasting
+ Won't rust, warp, or fade
+ Develops an attractive patina over time
- Not suitable for DIY installation
- Somewhat intolerant to salty air or acidic runoff from cedar-shingled roofs
4. Steel rain gutters are more durable than aluminum gutters, particularly in severe-weather climates.
Most steel rain gutters are galvanized to increase rust-resistance, but oxidation will generally still take hold within 10 to 15 years. And while leaf guards help extend the life of any type of rain gutter, they're especially important with galvanized steel gutters, as sodden masses of fallen leaves speed the onset of rust. Stainless steel gutters won't rust, but they're considerably costlier than galvanized steel. Because steel gutters are quite heavy, DIY installation isn't recommended. Expect to pay around $8 to $10 per linear foot for professionally installed galvanized steel gutters, and nearly twice that for stainless steel.
+ Very strong
+ Holds up to all types of weather
+ Can be painted
- Prone to rust
- Not DIY-friendly
5. Copper has a unique beauty, but the shine will eventually give way to a greenish patina.
Many homeowners feel that weather-worn copper contributes to its old-world appearance. And though copper is extremely durable-it's unfazed by any weather condition from highest heat to coldest freeze-it's also the priciest type of rain gutter, and it isn't suitable for DIY installation. Generally used only on high-end homes, copper rain gutters can last up to 100 years if properly installed and welded. Expect to pay as much as $15 to $25 per linear foot for professionally installed copper gutters.
+ Beautiful glow that eventually develops a greenish patina
+ No need for painting
+ Extremely durable in all types of weather
+ Won't rust or warp
- Very expensive
- Not DIY-friendly