Often underappreciated and an afterthought for most homeowners, gutters are a vitally important part of your home’s drainage system. Gutters help protect your foundation and prevent water damage to your house’s exterior and landscaping. Beyond their considerable functional purposes, gutters can also add a subtle flair to your home’s design. From the more common aluminum “K” style gutters to high-end copper Victorian-style gutters, they can add a unique look and flair to your home.

I’ve compiled this guide with help from the expert team from Today’s Homeowner to give you an overview of how gutters work and why they are important. I’ll also cover the different parts, the many different designs, and materials available, and alternatives to gutters if your home’s roof or drainage system is not compatible with gutters.

*Costs in this article sourced from contractor estimates used by Fixr.

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    Why Are Gutters Important?

    The primary purpose of rain gutters is to direct the flow of rainwater away from vital and vulnerable areas of your house, preventing water damage. Some people try to opt for gutter alternatives. Often, if your home lacks gutters, rainwater will first try to collect in and around your roof. This can lead to mold, rot, and deterioration of shingles, facia, and soffit. Rainwater can damage and weaken your siding, leading to peeling and condensation. This weakening can result in water damage to the interior of your home as well. In worst-case scenarios, rainwater will start to pool around your home’s foundation, leading to any of the following problems:

    • Foundation shifting; 
    • Foundation cracking; 
    • Foundation erosion;
    • Flooded basements;
    • Flooded crawl spaces;
    • Weakening of your house’s overall structural integrity.

    Standing pools of water in and around your home can also cause other problems, such as attracting pests. Insects like mosquitoes, earwigs, drain flies, ticks, various grubs, and termites will all make use of pooling water or overly moist soil to lay their eggs and reproduce. Pooled water can damage the lawn by creating an ideal environment for unpleasant fungal infections like root rot.

    Thankfully, gutters help prevent all this by evenly dispersing rainwater into different areas of your property. They can also drain into basins or other cisterns for collection. Gutters rely on a network of different parts to accomplish all of this — let’s look at some of them below.

    Parts of a Gutter

    Baseline gutters include many kinds of parts, connectors, and optional features that optimize your house’s drainage system. The complexity of the system will increase with expensive, decorative, and elaborate gutters. Here is a quick breakdown of the components of typical gutters: 

    • Gutter: This is the component from which the entire system takes its name. It is a trough-shaped piece called a “section.” These sections come in varying lengths depending on the gutter’s material.
    • Straight connectors: Also called “joiners,” these are the small, thin connectors that link two sections together. 
    • Inside/outside corner sections: These are two attached sections, usually at 45-degree angles, that direct water flow. 
    • Inside/outside miter box: Some gutters do not have composited corner sections. Instead, you have to place sections into miter boxes. There is a box for the inside and outside corners, which are sealed and designed for sections to fit snugly. 
    • Drop outlet: This section has a hole and a small funnel that connects to the conductor’s head.
    • Conductor head: Also known as a “rain leader” or “gutter leader,” this attaches to the top of the downspout and fits below the drop outlet. These small boxes are designed to control water flow and reduce runoff. 
    • Downspout: This is the vertical section that connects to the drop outlet. It funnels the water down into the splash block or receptacle. 
    • End cap: This caps the end of a gutter section, keeping water and debris from flowing into your yard.
    • Elbow: This is a 90-degree pipe that connects to the top or bottom of the downspout. It allows you to change the direction of the downspout. 
    • Downspout coupler: Also called a gutter downspout adapter, this piece will enable you to connect a downspout to a different kind of piping. 
    • Downpipe: This attaches to the bottom of a downspout. This is a piece of piping that directs the flow of water from a section of the downspout to the ground or a receptacle. 
    • Gutter brackets: Also called cleats, these are braces that connect your gutters and downspouts to your house. 
    • Gutter spikes: These are nails that go through the gutter and the bracket into the fascia. These may loosen over time and need to be hammered back in or “tightened.” 
    • Hangers: There are two types of objects that gutter hangers can reference. More commonly, they’re support pieces that brace the bottom of the gutter, helping to prevent sagging. They can also be brackets for “half-round” style gutters. In this case, the hangers are screwed directly into the facia, and the gutters are placed directly on top of them. 
    • Ferrule: A ferrule is a plastic cover that goes over a gutter spike or screw and is sometimes called a spacer. These spacers protect the gutter and surrounding hardware from damage during the loosening and tightening of the screw, keeping the spacing and width of the gutters consistent. 
    • Scupper boxes: Scupper boxes allow water to pass through a wall section. While not always necessary, these add-ons can be vitally important to a proper gutter system. Like a conductor’s head, scupper boxes attach to the top of a downspout and redirect water flow.
    • Downspout extensions: These are long, corrugated, flexible sections of PVC pipe that attach to the bottom of a downspout or directly onto a downpipe. They allow you to further direct water flow away from the home’s foundation. Extensions are often buried beneath the surface of the ground.
    • Downspout brackets: Brackets are “U” shaped connectors that fasten the downspout to the wall. 
    • Gutter guards: Gutter guards come in many different styles and designs, but they all protect your gutter system from debris. Some of the best types of gutter guards are brush guards, gutter screens, mesh screens, foam inserts, gutter covers, reserve curve guards, gutter hoods, and perforated gutter covers. 

    While gutter systems may contain some or all of the above parts, the type of material they are made of also impacts the functionality of your gutters. Let’s look at some of the different types of gutter materials currently available on the market.

    Types of Gutter Materials

    Originally, gutters were made from wood, brick, or stone. Ancient civilizations created impressive and complex water drainage systems along the tops of homes, manors, and churches. Gargoyles trace their roots to these systems, acting as a precursor to current gutters. While effective for their time, many of the materials used in original gutter systems are not the most effective by today’s standards. Wood gutters are prone to rot, mold and attract pests. Stone gutters are still occasionally used but are not typical and are often fraught with issues.

    Instead, today’s modern gutters can come in various materials. Most homeowners opt for a gutter system made of metal or vinyl, but there are other types of materials on the market, too. Each offers distinct benefits and styles, starting with the popular aluminum option.

    Aluminum

    Aluminum is the standard material for gutters and is the most commonly used across the United States. Aluminum gutters are low-cost, resilient, lightweight, weather-resistant, rust-proof, and paintable. Aluminum can come as a seamed or seamless gutter and is the preferred choice for contractors during installations. The only significant downside to these gutters is their structural weakness. Aluminum isn’t the densest material, and these gutters are prone to denting or bending. If you choose aluminum, you’ll have to be especially careful when cleaning or accessing your roof, as ladders are known to leave large dents when impacting aluminum gutters. 

    These gutters are around $7 – $13 per linear foot and, assuming that your home requires 200 linear feet of gutter system, will cost $1,467 – $2,668 to install. Aluminum gutters, on average, last for about 25 years if properly installed and provided general maintenance. 

    Copper 

    Copper is the luxury model of gutters. Stylish, tough, corrosion-resistant, and having a unique beauty, this material has several desirable qualities. It is highly weather-resistant, shrugging off the highest temperatures from the Arizona desert to the freezing winters of the Northeast. It’s also dense and durable, not denting easily, and can last for up to 100 years.

    However, one of the main draws of copper gutters is its color – baseline copper is already beautiful, but as it ages, it gains a beautiful green, weathered patina. This weathered appearance adds an old-world look to your house and can significantly increase its curb appeal. These gutters are most commonly seen in high-end homes and are not suitable for DIY installations and should be installed by a professional, as they have to be welded to your house’s exterior.

    The only main downside to these gutters is their high cost. Copper gutters will cost $18 – $32 per linear foot. Because they are labor-intensive to install, you should expect to spend $3,491 – $6,352 for a 200 linear foot system, depending on your area.

    Steel

    More durable than aluminum gutters and even more weather-resistant, steel gutters can be an appealing choice. Steel is a formidable material that won’t dent or bend during cleaning or installation and is far more resistant to all other manners of damage. While most steel gutters are galvanized, called galvalume gutters, and will resist rust, you can still expect to see some oxidization within about 15 years. This rusting can be mitigated with good maintenance and proper cleaning, increasing the life span of the gutters.

    Steel gutters are an excellent choice for many homeowners because they cost between $8 – $13 and are much harder than aluminum gutters. Stainless steel gutters are practically indestructible but often cost more, between $9 – $25. In either case, these gutters are heavy and should be installed professionally. 

    Vinyl 

    Vinyl is the most cost-effective choice on this list. They are the best gutter for DIY-minded homeowners and home improvement enthusiasts for several reasons. Vinyl gutters are lightweight, low-cost, easy to install, and cuttable, making them a good option if you want to put them on your roof yourself. They are also corrosion-proof, non-rusting, and paintable. However, these gutters are not durable or weather-resistant.

    In frigid climates, vinyl gutters will crack and break. Much like aluminum, if impacted by a ladder, they can dent or, even worse, crack and shatter. If properly installed and handled well, vinyl gutters can last up to 20 years. In worst-case scenarios, homeowners can easily replace broken or damaged sections. These gutters only cost around $5 – $10 per linear foot. If you opt for professional installation, you should expect to spend around $1,000 for a home, which requires 200 linear feet of gutters.

    Zinc 

    Next to steel gutters, zinc is a heavy-duty option for homeowners, combining the best qualities of steel and aluminum. These gutters are durable, rust-resistant, weather-resistant, corrosion-resistant and long-lasting. Properly installed zinc gutters can last well over 50 years and develop a beautiful, rustic patina as they age.

    If you live in an area with salt-ridden air, such as along an ocean coastline. I would recommend avoiding zinc gutters. This is because zinc is easily stained by salt or acidic runoff. These gutters are also heavy and therefore should only be installed by a professional. On average, zinc gutters cost between $16 – $29 per linear foot.

    Each of the above materials have advantages and disadvantages regarding pricing and durability. They are also each available in a variety of styles to complement your home’s exterior design.

    Styles of Gutters

    When you are choosing the exact type of gutter, carefully consider the unique look and feel you want your home to have, along with the conditions your gutters will face. Let’s cover some of the most popular gutter styles below.

    “K” Style Gutters

    K-style gutters, also known as “ogee” gutters, are the most common type of gutter seen here in the U.S. These gutters are shaped like a trough, with one edge flat and the other having a unique shape that resembles crown molding. The flat edge makes them easy to install on the fascia boards of your house, making them an excellent choice for DIY installations. Most store-bought aluminum or vinyl gutters come in this style, making them one of the cheaper options on this list. Many homeowners will adjust the color of these gutters to complement their homes, using them as potential accent pieces.

    Half-Round Gutters


    Half-round gutters look like a pipe or tube that has been sliced in half. These gutters have a historical design, resembling an old world drain, which can add a rustic flair to your home. These gutters have several benefits over more traditional styles, the biggest being that they’re easy to clean. Their smooth, circular shape makes it easy to remove debris. Because of their smooth base, and less rigid design, they’re also much less likely to clog or jam. 

    These gutters are not DIY-friendly as they’re challenging to install. They need a system of brackets to keep the roof from sagging. Once the brackets are in place, whole sections are set down, requiring multiple installers to do so correctly. These gutters are also much heavier and bulkier than other styles, making them more susceptible to pulling loose.

    I would also recommend avoiding this gutter style if you live in a location with heavy rainfall. Due to their low sides and more shallow troughs, they cannot funnel massive downpours as well as other styles. On the other hand, in the right conditions, these gutters can look fabulous on a home and half-round copper gutters are a popular choice when paired with other materials. 

    Box Style Gutters

    Box style gutters are an industrial, less traditional style meant for large homes or commercial buildings. These gutters can handle massive amounts of debris and runoff, especially if you install gutter guards for box gutters. They’re also the most durable style of gutters on this list.

    Unfortunately, what they make up for in function, these gutters sadly lack in form. Many homeowners find these gutters unappealing with a flat design. They also must be installed in the eaves of the building during construction, so they cannot be added to a home without significant remodeling.

    While I’ve covered the different types of gutters above, there are a few instances where you may not be able to install gutters on your home, or having gutters may not be the best choice. Let’s look at some of the different alternatives to gutters.

    Alternatives to Gutters

    Not all homes may need to have gutter drainage systems. If you are living in a hot or arid climate which receives very little rainfall, if your roof has a long overhang, or if you live on a hill which is sloped away from your house, gutters may not be necessary. There are also some areas of the United States where gutters are not required to be installed on new homes.

    I advise installing a gutter drainage system because it’s certainly cheaper than doing without and risking structural damage to your home. But there are some alternatives to gutters that you can employ instead. These include:

    • French drains and ground gutter systems — There are many different types of ground gutter systems, but all of them have the same goal — to direct water away from your home through a series of channels installed on your lawn. You can also use these systems in conjunction with gutter systems on your roof.
    • Rain chains — This Japanese-style house drainage system uses the surface tension to direct water into a barrel or other collection system. They come in a variety of styles and can complement the look of your home, but are not recommended for areas with heavy rainfall.
    • Yard grading — This method of rainwater diversion works by you landscaping your yard with a slope so water flows away from your home and into a storm drain or other system.

      While the vast majority of homeowners should opt for a gutter system, I recommend speaking with a professional in your area if you are interested in an alternative. They can advise you on whether one of the alternative systems above could complement or be used in place of a roof drainage system.
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    Final Thoughts

    Gutter installations are invaluable to your home. They divert water away from the critical sections of your house, preventing it from pooling and protecting the home from mold, mildew, and foundation erosion. They can also add serious curb appeal and selling power, with copper and half-round style gutters being an impressive inclusion in historic homes. With the different materials and styles of gutters available, even for more modern houses, you can create a unique look that matches your home’s aesthetic. 

    Frequently asked questions about gutters

    How long do gutters last? 

    Gutters’ lifetimes can vary depending on the material, upkeep, style, and environment the gutters are present within. Generally, most metal gutters last around 20-25 years, with copper lasting up to 100 years. Proper care and maintenance will extend the life span of any gutter, regardless of material, and add-ons like leaf guards and covers can also add multiple years to them.


    Can you replace a roof without replacing the gutters? 

    Yes, you can. You can completely replace a roof while leaving the gutters intact, or vice versa. However, this is uncommon, as most homeowners replace their gutters when they replace their roofs.


    Can gutters be repaired? 

    Gutters are repairable in many different situations. Small holes or cracks are easily patched, and whole sections can be replaced depending on the material. Joints can be reconnected, and sagging can be reinforced to better support the gutter’s weight.


    Can gutters break off? 

    Yes, and this is a homeowner’s nightmare. Gutters can fail when their spikes and brackets become loosened and subjected to weight or pressure. Once one section comes loose and falls, its weight and momentum can quickly bring other sections right along with it. The most common factor that leads to gutters falling is the accumulation of debris combined with poor maintenance. To avoid gutter falls, always practice good gutter cleaning and yearly maintenance.


    Can gutters be painted?

    You can paint gutters depending on their material. Vinyl and aluminum gutters are the most common to be painted, with many store-bought, new gutters coming pre-painted white. You should not paint materials like copper or zinc due to their natural beauty and their materials resisting paint.


    Article Update Log
    6/6/2024
    Reviewed for accuracy, cost data, industry best practices, and expert advice by Nikki Stavile.
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    Sam Wasson

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    Sam Wasson graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in Film and Media Arts with an Emphasis in Entertainment Arts and Engineering. Sam brings over four years of content writing and media production experience to the Today’s Homeowner content team. He specializes in the pest control, landscaping, and moving categories. Sam aims to answer homeowners’ difficult questions by providing well-researched, accurate, transparent, and entertaining content to Today’s Homeowner readers.

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    Nikki Stavile

    Nikki Stavile is a writer based in Tucson, Arizona. As an avid backpacker and passionate environmentalist, her work often focuses on sustainable movements at the personal and societal level.

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