How to Install Gutters

Gutters come in several different sizes although most people never notice. You may have become accustomed to seeing white and brown gutters on homes but in fact many custom colors are available today. I built a Marine barracks in New York that required all red trims. Louvers, vents, fascias and soffit materials and yes even the gutters and downspouts were a matching red color. As with window units, there are dozens of custom colors to choose from today.

Almost all residential applications use a four inch by four inch wide standard gutter and three inch downspouts or leaders. There are cases where due to a large expanse of roof area, a larger gutter may be required. Five inch gutters are available that resemble the four inch standard size. The downspouts are increased to four inch from three inch to accommodate the extra water flow. If the downspouts are undersized the water will wash over the outside lip of the gutter defeating the entire intent of the gutter and possibly damage the house or landscaping below.

Also available are gutters called “Yankee Gutters”. These are built into the roof itself and do not protrude from the roofs edges. Often used in the New England area it is rumored to help prevent damage from sliding snow, they became Yankee Gutters. These work extremely well and may be as much as twelve inches wide to catch all the water from the roof. They must be maintained however to prevent any leaks. Leaks will penetrate directly into the house itself since the gutter sits inside the exterior wall line. Properly installed and maintained by proper cleaning these gutters have lasted over a hundred years.

All gutters have downspouts of some kind. These come in ten foot straight lengths as well as elbows type A and Type B. Matching color gutter straps are also available. Downspouts must be secured firmly to the house as falling water places a heavy load on the pipe and fittings and can actually pull a downspout loose from the gutter or house.
Once I have the downspouts in a finished configuration that I like, I rivet each pipe and fitting together with two matching color rivets. Additional rivets used to secure the straps to the leader pipe leaves a nice looking end product that will not pull apart.

Also important to a good gutter system is to provide a way for the water to get from the end of the downspout away from the house foundation. There are commercial products that attach the downspout end that rolls out when water in the leader puts enough pressure on the inside of the roll. The plastic roll has holes to act like a sprinkler hose thereby letting the water out slowly causing no damage to plants or lawns below.

There are many types of after market gutter accessories to prevent leaves and other debris from entering the gutters and clogging them. Gutters must be cleaned at least once a year to prevent debris from clogging the downspouts and causing gutter overflows. There are also some quite good washer attachments that fit on the end of a garden hose that will let you wash out the gutters from the ground or a small ladder. There are many types of leaf guards that fit inside the top gutter lips to prevent leaves from entering the gutter. Some work quite well, some not at all.

There is one type of “gutter” system that in fact is not a true gutter at all These are called rain guards, rain splashers and so on. They are a series of finned sections that in cross section look like a louver blade. When rain water flowing from the roof strikes the guards the guards scatter the water over a large area thereby dissipating the force of the water falling directly onto the ground below the eave edges. They do not carry the water away from the foundation however which must be a consideration before installing them.

Pre-made gutter sections come in ten foot lengths. If you need a longer gutter you must use gutter splices and caulk to seal them. These splices tend to sag and leak over time so you should strongly consider having a one piece gutter made for you. Gutter companies will come to your home and using a special machine on a trailer, roll out any length gutter you need in one piece. They can install the end caps and outlet as well. Trying to handle a twenty, thirty or forty foot gutter is not an easy job by any means. If you purchase the gutter and decide to install it yourself, remember if it bends or kinks during installation, you own it. A really good idea is to have the contractor install it for you.

If you decide to install a gutter yourself anything over ten feet is a two man job in almost all cases. You will need ladders, a hammer, tape measure, four foot level, drill with metal bits, rivets and rivet gun, gutter caulking, gutter spikes and ferrules or roof gutter straps. I place one nail every two feet on center starting a couple of inches in from the ends and over the downspout outlet(s) openings. First install both the end caps with caulking and then add the downspout outlets, riveting each one in place. If you’re using a single ten foot gutter, a downspout at one end should be more than sufficient. Gutters may be hung using either nails and ferrules or roof straps. A newer mount fits inside the gutter, locks into the gutters lips and is screwed into the fascia with a power drill. This type leaves no exterior evidence of mounting. If you are using spikes and ferrules, placing a ferrules inside the gutter lips, Place a spike on the outside face of the gutter directly over the opening in the ferrule. Striking the spike with sufficient force, it will pierce the gutter and enter into the ferrule. Line up the gutter exactly where you want the finished elevation to be and drive the spike through the back of the gutter and into the fascia board. Do not drive the spikes all the way. Proceed along the gutter in two foot incremental spaces until reaching the opposite end of the gutter.

Get down off your ladder and look at the gutter. Does it tip ever so slightly towards the downspout hole? If it is really noticeable, it may be too much tilt. Now is the time to adjust the gutter slope before you drive the spikes completely into the wood. If you are happy with the gutter go ahead and drive the spikes flush with the gutter but do not compress the gutter or ferrules. Spikes come in both white and dark brown pre-finished head colors to match the gutters.

Roof straps are for me the least desirable mounting method. They are used when the fascia board is weak or non-existent. The strap is nailed down into the roofing under the bottom shingle and hangs off the edge of the eave. The gutter is placed inside the strap assembly and the strap is locked into place. I have seen these straps face nailed into the bottom course of shingles but this is highly undesirable and will surely leak as the year pass.

Once the gutter is mounted you can proceed on to install the downspouts. Downspout fittings come in what are called either A or B types. They are both approximately 45 degree elbows but one is on the flat and the other is curved. Using combinations of fittings and solid downspout piping, make up the entire downspout in one piece on the ground by trial and error fittings. You can bend the elbows slightly, and using left and right fittings to clear other obstructions until you have a finished length of downspout that will take the water directly to the ground or splash block below.

Attach the downspout to the gutter outlet with two small galvanized self tapping sheet metal screws. You may want to remove the downspout for cleaning one day. Now using the downspout bracket you riveted to the pipe earlier, bend the flat bracket tightly around the downspout pipe and bend the two ends outward flat against the house siding. Using galvanized roofing nails, nail the straps securely to the main building. A minimum of two straps is required with one at the top where the downspout first contacts the house and the other just above the bottom elbow. Tug on the downspout. Remember many pounds of water will be flowing through this pipe at one time during a storm and in winter areas, freezing rain or ice and can freeze solid in the pipe. If your wall brackets are not properly nailed or not enough straps are used, the downspouts will surely fail.

Lastly a good investment is to place splash blocks under the outlet at the bottom of each downspout. Even if the downspout exits onto an asphalt or concrete driveway, use a splash block. Rushing concentrated water from a downspout will quickly damage your driveway or patio surface. The splash block helps carry the water away from the foundation and prevents soil erosion alongside the foundation as well. Splash blocks are available in concrete, plastic and fiberglass. All function well so the decision on your part is price and final appearance.

I avoid gutters unless they are absolutely necessary or building code required. A door in the eave end of a building requires a gutter over the door. It does not require a gutter the entire length of the building. Gutters capture leaves and other debris, cause ice dams in snow areas and need constant cleaning. I avoid them whenever possible.

Good luck with your gutter installation.

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