Gutters, Downspouts, Drainage … and More
Gene Kelly would probably not be remembered as well for his part in “Singing in the Rain” if the movie set had been equipped with rain gutters.
When it comes to the place you live, the last thing you’ll be doing is singing if you don’t properly manage watershed at the perimeter of your home. You can control roof water, the water that hits the roof, by using rain gutters, downspouts, and sub-surface drainage pipes.
Roof gutters have been made from stone, copper, wood, metal, and plastic, to name a few. Their cost versus their value differs, to a great extent, on the architecture of your home. For example, a turn-of-the-century Victorian would not have as much value with plastic gutters as it would if it were retrofitted with the wood type that was originally installed on the eaves.
Naturally, unless you have a European castle, stone gutters are out. But the rest are all viable alternatives.
Copper and wood are among the most expensive types, but copper is the longest lasting of all the types. Yes, all metals oxidize, but copper does it more slowly than most. However, copper does have its shortcomings. As it oxidizes, it produces a by-product that is poisonous to insects, fungi, plants, and yes, people too.
Although wood lasts several decades, it is extremely expensive to replace. The most common gutters in use today are made from galvanized sheetmetal. The sheetmetal is made from heavy gauge tin that is galvanized on both sides to retard rusting.
Aluminum is less prone to rust than galvanized sheetmetal, but it is not as strong as its tin alternative; therefore, the aluminum is more easily damaged. Aluminum gutters are most commonly referred to as “seamless gutters” because the metal is so soft that it can be formed on the job site in lengths that traverse from roof corner to roof corner without joints (seams) in between.
Plastic gutters and downspouts are the least expensive to buy and the easiest to install, but, unfortunately, they have the shortest life expectancy. The material is fragile and can’t (or shouldn’t) be painted. As with all polyvinyl chlorides, plastic begins to oxidize from Day One.
If plastic is all that your budget allows, go for it. You’ll cut down on the cost of other repairs and will be able to upgrade to a longer-lasting alternative sometime in the future.
In our opinion, you get the best value by installing galvanized sheetmetal gutters and downspouts. They should be painted to ensure lasting quality, and you will have to control rust from time to time.
Galvanized gutters can be a do-it-yourself project if you’re real handy with tools. But for many, this project is best left to a sheetmetal person. We have fabricated and installed gutters and found the process to be time-consuming, but far from difficult. Installation requires specialized tools that can cost almost $100 — a pop-rivet gun, a scribe, end cap crimping pliers, circle cutting snips, and regular tin snips, to name a few.
Although not widely advertised, you can buy galvanized sheetmetal gutter parts (inside and outside corners, downspout angles, and so on) that make installation easier for the do-it-yourselfer.
To install the gutters, follow these steps:
1. Cut the gutter to length.
2. Crimp the end caps in place.
3. Seal the seams with liquid aluminum.
If you need more than one length of gutter, simply overlap the joint an inch or so, install two or three pop-rivets, and seal the seam and the rivet holes with liquid aluminum. Soldering is not required.
The same holds true for installing downspout outlets, which also come ready-made:
1. Place the outlet upside down inside the gutter.
2. Scribe a line in the gutter along the inside of the outlet.
3. Cut out the hole, turn the outlet right side up, and push it down into the hole you made.
4. Wash the gutter with vinegar or a mild acid cleaner, use a metal primer, and then paint on the final coat.
Gutters and downspouts are only two of many elements that make for effective watershed surrounding a home. What happens beyond the downspout and the conditions that exist around the perimeter of a home can either act in harmony with gutters and downspouts to protect a home or negate their value entirely.
Winter rain and excess water due to poor drainage and excessive landscape irrigation change the condition of the soil beneath your home — expanding it in some places and making it mushy in others.
Imagine dry soil as a stack of dishes before dinner, and imagine wet soil as that same stack of dishes after dinner. The stack of dirty dishes is much taller. When the earth gets wet, water fills voids between plates in the earth and the ground level rises. The reverse occurs when the ground dries out. You probably aren’t strong enough to lift your foundation, but wet earth is.
If you can prevent water from getting under your house, the dirt underneath will very likely remain stable and house movement will be minimal. Moreover, you can prevent the wood framing members under your home from becoming damaged by fungus and rot by keeping the crawl space dry.
You can control surface water (the water that hits the ground) by shaping and grading the earth, concrete, brick and other surfaces around your house so that they shed water away from your foundation. This can be as simple as using a garden rake or as complex as replacing concrete, depending upon the conditions that exist.
Rainwater that your gutters collect (and subsequently downspouts transport) should be transported away from your home. Geotechnical engineers (soils engineers) recommend that roof and ground water be diverted to at least three feet away from the perimeter of your home. We think 20 feet is better.
The best means of transporting this rainwater is to tie all of the downspouts into a solid three-inch plastic drainpipe that is buried below the surface of the soil. The drainpipe should then discharge into a municipal storm drain system or drainage culvert.
If budget or other circumstances do not allow for this configuration, at a minimum, place pre-cast concrete or plastic splash blocks that divert water away from the foundation. In addition, a host of temporary pipes and tubing material can be placed above ground to carry water from downspouts and away from the foundation. Disadvantages to these devices are that they are temporary and can be a trip hazard.