Be an Expert with Gutters


Gutters are a fairly mundane aspect of your home. If you're like most homeowners, you don't think too much about these important additions until something goes wrong. This is one of the biggest mistakes you can make, especially when you consider all the things gutters do to keep your home protected from damage.

We all know what a gutter's basic function is - to catch and then guide rainwater and snow melt as it drips off your roof, funneling the water to the edges. Once it reaches the corners of your roof, water is channeled down via downspouts and then away from your home. Simple, right?

It is very simple, and that's precisely why so many homeowners don't pay much attention. However, paying close attention during the installation of your gutters is crucial. Since they are very simple, a properly installed system of gutters will protect your home quite effectively with minimal maintenance. In this article, we'll cover the most common mistakes homeowner make when dealing with gutters, as well as how to avoid these costly errors.

Poor Quality Materials

As with so many mundane home elements, homeowners often think that the cheapest available option will work just fine. While many inexpensive gutters perform extremely well, it's still important to pay attention to the materials your new gutters are made from, as well as the craftsmanship.

When it comes to gutters, there are several common materials from which to choose. Copper, aluminum, galvanized steel, wood and vinyl generally round out the selection at most home centers. Each of these materials has their disadvantages and their advantages.

Vinyl, the least expensive of the bunch, has definite advantages when it comes to ease of installation and, of course, price. Vinyl also requires little to no maintenance in the form of sealing or painting. However, vinyl gutters can be a bit mistake for homeowners in certain climates. If you live in an area which experiences a great deal of dry, hot weather, steer clear of vinyl. Sun and dryness will crack vinyl gutters remarkably quickly, leaving your home vulnerable to water damage and necessitating a quick replacement. All of a sudden, that bargain is costing you more money than the initially more expensive option. Heavy rains and extremely wet conditions will also affect vinyl, causing it to warp and then sag. These sagging pockets collect water, leading to potential water damage. Ask a local contractor if vinyl is appropriate for your climate before making this potentially costly mistake.

Quality of craftsmanship should also be a main concern when shopping for gutters. Regardless of their materials, gutters should be smooth and free of any obvious weak spots. Look closely at spots which have been welded or soldered, as these tend to give way before other areas.

In general, you can avoid most quality errors by purchasing a mid-range product. There's no need to buy the most expensive gutter you see, but there's also no reason to waste your money on an extremely cheap product which will only end up costing you more down the road.

Lack of Material Knowledge

We've already talked about vinyl. Among the other choices, there are still mistakes to be avoided, most of which have to do with maintenance and preparation. Be careful not to buy a gutter which you're prepared to properly prepare or care for.

Copper gutters are experiencing a rise in popularity, and with good reason. This beautiful metal lends a classical appearance to any home. Over time, the rich copper color will weather to a patina, either green or brown. Many homeowners like the look of this patina, while others prefer that brand-new shine. If you like the shine, be aware that keeping it requires a bit of work. Sealant must be applied to protect the copper from the elements in order to prevent patina. This sealant must also be reapplied every few years.

Wooden gutters need to be sealed, and stained to match your home. If sealing is not repeated often enough, wooden gutters can fail quickly. Wood is naturally porous, and if the waterproof sealant wears off, it will absorb water like a sponge. This can lead to serious damage. Be prepared to apply sealant as often as the manufacturer recommends, and if it sounds like too much work, strongly consider a different material.

Galvanized steel, aluminum and zinc are often considered the best materials for gutters simply because they require the least maintenance. They can be painted to match any home's decor. Often the only maintenance required is standard cleaning. Be sure to ask your contractor or a knowledgeable home center employee about the particular brand you're thinking of buying, since some require sealing while others do not.

Ignoring Your Climate

Gutters are designed to deal with weather, and so your local climate should be your guide when choosing gutters for your home. A common mistake with gutters is buying a standard size for a home in an extremely snowy or rainy climate. These conditions are more than a standard gutter is designed to deal with, and experts agree that excess precipitation calls for a slightly larger (wider) gutter. If you live in such an area, your local home center most likely keeps these wider gutters in stock regularly.

If a standard gutter tries to keep up with heavy snow melt or rain, it will overflow. All that water spilling onto your house can cause damage over time, leading to leaks and even structural damage. A gutter which is wide enough to deal with heavy amounts of water will safely and effectively channel that water off your roof and down to the ground, keeping your home safe.

Improperly Spaced Hangers

Gutter hangers are the supports your gutters rest on. If these supports are not placed in the correct spots, your gutters will eventually sag, leading to damage. Whether you're tackling this job on a DIY basis or hiring a professional, be on the lookout for improperly spaced hangers.

In most cases, the gutters you or your contractor purchases will come with very specific instructions regarding how far apart the hangers must be spaced. These instructions are based on weight testing - don't ignore them! Properly supporting your gutters ensures that they remain strong enough to hold their original shape, even under heavy loads of snow, leaves or rain water. If a certain area isn't receiving the proper support, it will begin to sag. When a gutter sags, water builds up in that spot, spilling over the sides, damaging the gutter and eventually (if left alone) breaking. Thankfully, you can avoid this annoying mistake by making sure your gutter hangers are spaced properly.

Failure to Protect Gutters

There is no hard-and-fast rule about gutter screens. Screens are simply lengths of metal or wire mesh which sit atop the gutter, allowing water to pass through while keeping leaves and other debris out. Debris causes blockages, which can lead to sagging and damage, which is why screens were invented in the first place.

Experts fall into two camps on this issue. Some feel that screens are essential for extending the life of gutters, while others feel that screens make gutter cleaning more difficult and therefore actually detract from their effectiveness.

Ask your contractor's opinion and take a look at your property when considering screens. Do a lot of trees overhang your home? If so, they're likely to drop a lot of leaves and make screens a viable option. Remember that you still need to clean your gutters, even if screens are in place. Specialized brushes are available for this purpose, which sweep leaves and debris off the screen without dislodging it.

Improper Placement

When you look at a gutter, it appears to be attached directly to the edges of the roof. This is actually untrue, and is a huge mistake often made during DIY gutter installation. Gutters need to be positioned slightly under the edges of a roof in order to provide proper water collection. Trying to line up the edges is a pain, and it actually harms the edge of the roof over time. As common as it is, this is one of the simplest mistakes to avoid.

Excessive Welding

Buying a length of gutter the size of your entire roof isn't just impossible; it would be a true nightmare to transport. Gutters come in pre-cut lengths which are easy to store, transport and carry. Because of this, they need to be fitted together as they are installed.

Welding is the most common method, due to the popularity of metal gutters. Wooden and vinyl gutters have their own specialized connection methods. Regardless of the actually method, it's essential to avoid the mistake of excessive connection points.

Any connection point is a weak spot in the gutter. These spots are usually where clogs begin, where sagging first shows up and where leaks are most likely. This can't be helped; it's simply a matter of a compromised surface versus a smooth, uncompromised one.

You can help to minimize the issue, however, by connecting the smallest number of gutter lengths possible. This will involve dealing with longer lengths of gutter, which is a slight inconvenience. However, it's much more convenient than dealing with leaking and sagging once the gutter is in place.

No Splash Guards

Downspouts are an obvious part of any gutter installation, channeling water down the side of the home. However, many homeowners make the mistake of forgetting to install splash guards. These simple pieces of pipe, plastic or metal catch water as it exits the downspouts and direct it out into the yard, away from the home's foundation. This is crucial, because excessive water seeping into the ground near the foundation can cause a great deal of damage. Splash guards should be positioned under every downspout.

Poor or No Maintenance

Perhaps the biggest and most common mistake made regarding gutters is forgetting to clean them regularly. All it takes is a long brush, and it only needs to be done a few times each year (more often if lots of leaves fall on your roof). This simple step can add years to the life of your gutters, preventing clogs and therefore preventing sags and leaks.

Proper gutter installation and maintenance is a fairly simple process. By following a few guidelines, you can help keep your home safe from water damage and safe yourself thousands in repair bills.

Posted by: Diane Sheppard
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