Gutter System Basics

Rain Gutter Basics

Rain Gutters are an important aspect of exterior water management. A properly designed and installed gutter system helps to direct water away from the foundation of the home – reducing the risk of wet basements and foundation walls, protects against landscape erosion and can improve safety by directing water away from sidewalks and driveways.

The rain gutter has two functions. First is to collect rainwater as it comes off the roof. Second is to hold the water in “storage” until the water is able to drain from the gutter via the downspouts. In light rains most any gutter system fulfills these functions. It becomes much more difficult to design a system that will function during extreme rain conditions such as thunderstorms – where rainfall rates of 2 inches to 10 inches per hour are not uncommon.

Builder-grade Gutter Systems

The typical builder-grade gutter system found on most Northern Virginia homes consists of a 5 inch seamless aluminum gutter connected to 2×3 aluminum downspouts. Many builders control costs by installing medium-weight .027 gauge aluminum gutters attached by widely spaced gutter spikes connected to the minimum number of downspouts needed to drain the water collected in an average rainfall.

While these rain gutter systems are functional during an average rainfall when new, they can be quickly overwhelmed during heavy rains and as they age, the combination of thin material and poor attachment can lead to the gutters pulling away from the home, further reducing the function and appearance of the system.

Many newer homes complicate water removal with architectural features such as multiple roof levels, reverse gables and steep roof pitches. Traditional homes can also be challenging if the roof configuration and landscape does not allow for desired downspout placement. In many cases it is simply not possible to design a gutter system that will function perfectly in extreme rainfall conditions. Other times, compromises need to be made with regard to downspout placement and leaf protection systems. Often, the most effective leaf protection systems compromise the gutters ability to collect water in extreme rainfalls.

While many would argue that our rainfalls are becoming more intense, the reality is that homeowners are investing more in landscaping and other outdoor living pleasures. In the past where weak gutter systems were not noticed or tolerated as “normal” – more homeowners today are looking for gutter systems that work in extreme conditions and provide maintenance-free service.

When shopping for replacement rain gutters for your home, consider meeting with a knowledgeable gutter installer that can assess your current gutter configuration and make suggestions for improvements such as revised downspout placement, the use of additional downspouts, an increase in gutter size and/or downspout size, use of hidden-hanger attachment method, leaf protection options and, while not an aspect of function – color options to blend with or compliment your home’s trim color.