Your home’s roofing system consists of many parts. Among the most important is the last part in the “flow” of rain off your roof: the gutter system. It is easy to overlook this critical component; yet the best roof in the world cannot do its job properly without an effective gutter system.
Water is the Enemy
Keeping rain, snow, ice and moisture from entering your home is the primary job of the roofing system. Shingles, tiles, panels, flashing — all are designed to redirect water from the home, eventually deflecting it to the roof edge. This is where the gutter system comes into play.
If left to it’s own devices, water (either rain or melted snow and ice) flowing off the roof would trickle down the side of the home and find another way in. This might be through an opening in the exterior walls, through doors or windows, or seeping in through a crack or seam in the foundation.
An efficient gutter system prevents this by collecting the flow of water and redirecting it away from the house.
Parts of a Gutter System
Gutters are more than just the visible troughs and downspouts. There are additional parts that are necessary for the gutter system to do its job.
Straight Gutter Pieces
The majority of your gutters will be straight gutter pieces cut to various lengths. These pieces can be made of a variety of materials. The most common gutter material of construction is aluminum. Most aluminum gutter pieces that you buy come already painted or finished in some way. Other, less common gutter materials are vinyl (not as strong or durable) and copper (excellent durability and beauty, but expensive).
There are two main shapes for your gutter system and three popular sizes. You can have gutters that are half round or K-style. The half round gutters look like half of a cylinder. The K-style has the side next to the house go straight down and the bottom is straight across. The style does not really matter when it comes to how affective the gutters are, but there is an aesthetic difference.
Gutters can come in four, five, or six inches. If you think you need a larger size, it may be possible to special order something. Choose a color or texture that matches or siding or whatever the façade of your house is. Make sure to keep in mind the color of your roof shingles.
Downspouts and Elbows
The downspouts are the pieces that channel water from the gutters at the roof line to the ground. They are an essential piece because they carry water away from your home’s foundation. When choosing the size and number of downspouts you need to think about how much rainwater you need to accommodate. It doesn’t matter how big the gutters are, your downspouts are the limiting factor when it comes to water capacity.
The shape of downspouts is generally rectangular. Popular sizes are two by three inches, three by four inches, or four by five inches.
Sometimes downspouts need to change direction or be diverted around an obstruction. If that is the case, an elbow will be installed. There are also elbows with a longer exit length that are used at the bottom of a downspout to divert water farther away from the house and foundation.
Mitres and End Caps
Every house has corners and turns that will need to be accommodated when hanging the gutter system. A corner of the gutter that turns is called a mitre. Mitres can have an inside radius or outside radius, depending where the turn is being made.
The end of the gutter is closed by an end cap. It is essential that the end cap be securely fastened and sealed to prevent leakage.
Gutter Hanging Options
The spike and ferrule system attaches the straight gutter pieces to the eaves of the roof. The ferrule helps to maintain the width of the gutter pieces and the spike is inserted into the roof through the ferrule to hold it in place.
The hidden hanger and screw method is more common in modern construction because it makes gutter cleaning easier. With this system the gutters are held up by a hanger that is attached to the house with a screw. Straps are used to attach the vertical downspout pieces to the side of the house.
Gutter Protection Systems
Cleaning a clogged gutter is a dirty job, but it is one that is essential to prevent blockage and backup and to keep water flowing freely. Leaves, pine needles, twigs and debris can quickly accumulate and cause problems.
An excellent alternative to “mucking out” gutters is to install a gutter protection system. These can be as simple as a mesh screen or as complex as a specially shaped covering that allows water to enter the gutter but keeps debris out.
The benefits of a gutter protection system include the assurance that water running off the roof will find a free passage to the downspouts and way from the home; and the convenience of not having to climb a ladder several times each year to clean out the gutters by hand.