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Gutters Boulder CO

With his foundation cracked and moving at glacial speed inward, my neighbor called for help. Over the phone he said he also suspected the sill was rotten. Could I come over and take a look? Is this rotting sill and cracking foundation on the north side of the house, or on a side of the house with lots of shrubs close to the wall? I asked. Yes, he said. Both. And are there any gutters on that side of the house? No, he said, sounding increasingly puzzled.

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Getting the Right Gutters

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With his foundation cracked and moving at glacial speed inward, my neighbor called for help. Over the phone he said he also suspected the sill was rotten. Could I come over and take a look? Is this rotting sill and cracking foundation on the north side of the house, or on a side of the house with lots of shrubs close to the wall? I asked. Yes, he said. Both. And are there any gutters on that side of the house? No, he said, sounding increasingly puzzled. And did you remove the gutters because someone told you they were creating ice dams and making your roof leak? How do you know all that? He asked, bewildered. Actually, my neighbor's problems and bewilderment were understandable. To most homeowners, roof gutters are at best an architectural question mark, at worst the source of another never-ending annual cleaning chore, the value of which always seems in doubt.

Moreover, contractors and architects have begun treating roof gutters as optional, leaving them off many new houses built in the last 10 years or so. This new attitude toward gutters has led directly to problems like my neighbor's. Water collecting in the ground around your house's foundation can put tremendous pressure on your cellar walls. In frost-prone areas of the country, the pressure of that water in its frozen state is easily multiplied. Even homes without foundations need gutters to keep water from splashing on the lower edge of the exterior wall, particularly homes with splash-inducing shrubs close to the foundation. All of that splashing water creates a nice environment for developing the fungi that rot wood. Watery home perimeters are also excellent places to breed allergy-aggravating molds and mildews, which can work their way into the house and cause respiratory problems among the inhabitants.

So it's best to persuade the water coming off your roof to go far away from your house. How Big a Gutter? Deciding which of the four standard sizes of gutters is best for your home (3-, 4-, 5- or 6-inch) is largely a matter of your home's location and the pitch of the roof. Homes in the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and lower Great Plains tend to get the most intense rainfall bursts and therefore require the biggest gutters. In the Southwest, Rocky Mountains and southern West Coast, rainfall patterns are more benign, with a few local exceptions. So those areas generally require smaller gutters. In the upper Midwest and Northeast, rainfall patterns are relatively modest, and the middle range of gutter size is usually warranted. Roof pitch is also an important factor.

A steeply pitched roof (9.5 or greater) requires more gutter capacity, while the average modern roof pitch (4.5 to 9.5) warrants a more modestly sized gutter. Roofs pitched less than 4.5 can use the smallest gutters. A roof with a lot of gabled dormers, however, requires consideration of increased gutter sizes because rainfall accumulations and runoff are intensified on either side of the dormers. Two gutter styles dominate the market today: the half-round and the K-style, the latter being so named because of a bureaucratic nomenclature glitch, not because of its shape. The K-style's capacity is roughly double the same-sized half-round's capacity. However, half-round gutters drain more completely, making minor debris and rainwater less likely to stay long enough to encourage the development of molds, mosquitoes and gutter-damaging dampness. Pitching a K-style gutter more steeply toward the downspout will help compensate for the shortcomings of its flat-bottom design.

And of course, periodic maintenance is good for all types of gutters. So deciding which style is best for your home often comes down to which is visually more appealing. Which Material is Best? Just as important as your choice of gutter size and style is choosing gutters made of the right material for you. There are five possibilities, each with drawbacks and advantages. Although aluminum gutters with a baked enamel finish are by far the most popular choice, it doesn't always make sense to go along with the crowd. Aluminum gutters, most commonly available in K-style, will last up to 25 years in ordinary circumstances, longer in ideal conditions. The cost of materials is between $2 and $4 per foot, depending on installation methods and whether you're installing the heavyweight version (.032-inch) or the lightweight (.028-inch). In either case, aluminum is the lightweight of the metal gutters. They tend to dent easily, are difficult to paint and the baked-enamel color fades with time.

They are also noted for making rattling and moaning sounds in high-wind areas. And they also expand and contract a lot as temperatures change, stressing joints and frequently causing joint failure. Vinyl has become the standard material for plastic gutters, displacing various less durable plastic formulations that once gave these synthetic gutters a bad name. Early plastic gutters broke easily in temperatures substantially below freezing. Ultraviolet deterioration also plagued early plastic gutters. But vinyl gutters today, like vinyl-clad windows, should last at least 25 years and are essentially corrosion-proof, making them a good choice for homes near salt water. The cost is usually $2 to $3 per foot, but try to avoid using vinyl where lots of long runs and multiple joints are necessary. Vinyl also expands and contracts, making joint failure more likely than in other materials. The half-round style is most common, with K-style almost impossible to obtain.

As the old standby, steel gutters have been around for more than 100 years. They are strong and often last more than 30 years with good care. Corrosion is the biggest problem and various zinc and aluminum-based coatings have been developed to slow deterioration. Both K-style and half-round styles are common and, at $1 to $2 a foot, it's definitely the least expensive option. Steel resists denting better than aluminum and is easier to paint than any other material except wood. Expansion and contraction problems are also less severe. As the Cadillac of the gutter world, copper is the longest-lasting synthetic material for drainage. Even in corrosive seacoast areas, acid rain or heavy smog areas, copper will give at least 50 years of service. Of course, this comes with a Cadillac price of $6 to $10 per foot, depending on the fluctuating price of copper. It can be formed into the K-style or the half-round configuration, as well as other shapes.

Good sheet-metal workers can show you a whole range of options. Paint does not hold well on copper, which usually goes from its bright bronze luster to a dull green patina in two to five years. It dents fairly easily and is best soldered into place, a technique do-it-yourselfers find difficult to perfect. Still available in most parts of the country, wooden gutters have been known to last up to 100 years with proper annual maintenance. However, the price for Douglas fir, redwood or cedar gutters is a staggering $9 to $16 per foot, depending on gutter size, your location relative to the supplier and so forth. But wood offers the advantage of continuous runs of up to 32 feet without a joint. Moreover, it's the only material that, because of the way it must be cut and installed, guarantees water and ice will not get behind the gutter. It can be readily painted, doesn't dent and usually requires no special tools or techniques to install. Note that nearly all gutters expand and contract to some degree, stressing the joints in the process. The longer the run of gutter, the more movement there will be. Some runs are so long (generally over 45 feet) that special expansion joints are necessary.

In a temperature range of 0¼ to 100¼ F, a 50-foot aluminum gutter will expand and contract as much as 3/4 of an inch. To compensate, discuss with your supplier exactly what the manufacturer recommends for an expansion joint. On to Installation One way to completely avoid expansion problems, and a lot of other installation hassles, is to hire an on-site gutter contractor. Using a forming machine, a contractor can make a continuous run of gutter right in your own front yard. The length is limited only to how big a roll of sheet metal his machine will take; runs of 100 feet are readily made. This approach eliminates joints, which are where most leaks start. Depending on the metal used and roof configurations, the cost is from $4 to $9 per foot installed.

Gutter contractors are listed in the Yellow Pages under Gutters & Downspouts. If you choose to save money and install your own gutters, be certain both the gutter's pitch and its location on your fascia boards are sufficient for good drainage and for avoiding snow and ice damage. Ideally, the pitch toward the downspout is one inch for every four feet of gutter. Of course, a long, narrow fascia board may force you to reduce this pitch ratio, in which case you just try to get the most pitch you can. In northern climates, it's also important to locate the gutter below the roof's slope line. Otherwise, when snow and ice come skidding off the roof, they may take the gutter with them. Gutters too high on the fascia board also contribute to ice dams. In truth, though, ice dams are more a result of the house's insulation and ventilation setup than the gutters. If pitch requirements force you to locate the gutter above the roof's slope line, be certain to use extra gutter hangers.

I've used as many as one hanger every 16 inches, screwing into the rafter tails and using 2-inch, non-corrosive fasteners throughout. Always use screws in the hanger installation instead of ribbed nails. Ice and debris buildups will pull out nails more easily than screws. Gutter shape also helps during winter's worst weather, with half-round gutters holding up better than K-style gutters. The half-rounds simply hold less ice and therefore have a better chance of surviving. And in severe winter climates, give some extra consideration to either galvanized steel or wooden gutters, both of which have the better track record when it comes to surviving snow and ice sliding off the roof. The procedures and materials for actually piecing gutters together varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, even when using the same basic material.

So before you buy your gutters, joints, end caps, etc., be certain you understand the installation instructions completely. Also, avoid substituting off-the-shelf joint compounds for what the manufacturer recommends. And when using compound at the joints, don't be chintzy with it. As long as the globs of goop don't impede water flow, lay it on. Down and Out Once the gutters are up, you still have to get the water down to earth and away from your house. There are two schools of thought here - one subterranean, the other overland. Either way, it's best to lead the water at least five feet away from the house. Otherwise, you end up with foundation problems like my neighbor's.

Downspouts are sized for the gutters they serve. In general, downspouts for half-round gutters are smaller in diameter than downspouts for the greater-capacity K-style gutters. When in doubt or when given the option, go with a larger-diameter downspout, particularly in northern climates. Small-diameter downspouts have a greater tendency to fill up with ice and split at the seams. Once down to earth, the overland method of drainage is less expensive and easier to install than the underground approach. However, the overland approach is more of a nuisance when it comes time to cut the lawn, mainly because you have to detach the drainage channels to get at the grass. Overland may also be less appealing visually. Still, splash boards are common and even make for a pleasant Sunday afternoon's woodworking project.

Off-the-shelf cement, plastic and metal drainage channels are available. When using splash boards, be sure to terminate the downspout well above the foundation. This gives the splash board plenty of pitch, which is needed to keep winter ice buildups to a minimum. It also keeps potential overflows away from the sill, foundation and other sensitive areas. Also be sure to provide plenty of space between the end of the downspout and the bottom of the splash board. The end of the downspout should also be fitted with a 45� turning piece. This prevents water from slopping over the sides of the splash board. Terminating this piece slightly above the splash board also prevents debris buildups and ice formations. The underground drainage of gutter runoff is visually more appealing and less of a hassle at lawn-cutting time. But it requires a lot of digging (mostly by hand) and an investment in corrugated plastic drainpipe (about $2 per foot).

Also, your house must be sited well, preferably with the ground on all four sides sloping away from the house. Underground drainage also presupposes you will keep your gutters very clean, thus preventing debris from going down the downspout and clogging the underground pipes. If your house has a downslope on only one side, all the pipes will have to be led to that side, necessitating even more digging and pipes. Also, be sure to apply slotted caps to the end of the drainage pipes. Available from the pipe supplier, these caps keep vermin from setting up shop. In the end, having good, operational gutters beats replacing sills and patching foundations. Both jobs took my neighbor several weekends of hard work. But he gladly added another weekend of work, putting up new gutters, downspouts and splash boards on the northern side of his house. With the shrubs cut away from the foundation to allow better air flow, I don't think he worries any more about what sad tidings the rains may bring.

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