Most of the time, gutters quietly gather leaves and dust. Yet at the first drop of rain, they spring into action, collecting the water sheeting off of the shingles, sending it on a fast horizontal path, down a drain pipe, and well away from your house. These simple devices have just saved your foundation and siding.
Gutters come in two basic types: sectional (or seamed) and seamless. Within each type are other designations for shapes, materials and colors.
Sectional (Seamed) Gutters
Sectional gutters are available in 10 foot long pieces that attach to your home's fascia board with hangers. They attach either by overlapping them or snapping them together with joiner pieces. With the help of a sturdy ladder and an assistant, a do-it-yourselfer can install sectional gutters on a modest-sized house (around 1,300 square feet) during the course of a weekend.
- Sectional gutters and peripherals (corners, down spouts, gutter guards, etc.) can be found on the shelf at home improvement stores.
- Available in vinyl and metal (galvanized steel or aluminum). Vinyl gutters are heavy and cannot be painted, but offer the advantage of being resistant to rusting, fading, or corroding. Metal gutters, especially aluminum, are light-weight. Copper gutters tend to be a special order item and are substantially more expensive than both metal and vinyl. A 10 foot section of half-round copper gutter may be ten or even twenty times more expensive than vinyl or metal.
- Hangers attach to fascia board with special metal spikes.
- Pros: Sectional gutters are best for DIYers and are the most economical choice. If one section fails, it can be removed and replaced without affecting the rest of the gutter system.
- Cons: Stock colors for steel gutters tend to be white and brown, though the white gutters can be painted. Stock vinyl gutters come in white and cannot be painted. Should water collect in the gutter system (typically due to debris), water may leak at the seams between sections.
For a smooth look, more color choices and minimum leakage, seamless gutters are your best choice. A mobile shop will arrive at your residence and technicians will perform a "gutter run out:" roll-forming continuous aluminum through a machine that extrudes the metal and forms it into gutters on the spot. The process is fast; gutters speed out of the machine as fast as 45 feet per minute. For the most part, this is a job that professionals do for you. However, some companies will agree to do a custom "gutter run-out" for you and let you install them yourself.
- Seamless gutters have no length limit. They can run as far as from corner to corner.
- Available in aluminum.
- Pros: With no seams along the gutter's length, it is impossible for the gutter to leak at mid-point (it can still leak over the top or at corner joints, though). Seamless gutters preserve the smooth horizontals of your roof line and are best at matching your home, since rolled aluminum comes in as many as 50 colors.
- Cons: On the whole, seamless gutters cannot be created and installed on a DIY basis. As a result, they will cost more than sectional, DIY-able gutters because outside labor is involved. Also, should one area of a seamless gutter fail, the entire length is affected. The entire length would need to be replaced or a section of it cut out and replaced independently.
Shapes: K and Half-Round
K-Shape: The most popular gutter profile is called k-shape and has a look that is similar to crown molding found in house interiors. K-shape gutters can carry more water than half-round gutters. Due to the creases that runs the length, k-shape gutters are structurally strong.
Fascia Shape: Fascia style gutters are tall and narrow; they encompass the entire height of the fascia. Fascia shape gutters can be difficult to clean due to their increased depth.
Half-Round Shape: With their u-shaped profile, half round gutters have more of a traditional look than k-shaped gutters. If copper is your material of choice, it will likely come in a half-round shape, as well. Half-round gutters carry less water than k-shape gutters. They extend far out from the fascia (as far as 6 inches), making them wider than they are tall (about 3 inches tall).