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Gutters: What you need to know as a homeowner

Man cleaning gutters


Gutters and downspouts might seem like an unnecessary addition to a house’s architecture — but they actually serve a very practical purpose. These components of the roofing system collect water from rain, ice and snowmelt from the roof and divert it off the roof and safely to the ground, away from the house’s structure.

Without a functioning system of gutters and leaders, the structure of your home might be susceptible to water damage. This could cause damage to shingles, mold and mildew growth on the roof or siding and chipped or peeling exterior paint.

Improperly installed gutters and downspouts can also damage the landscaping around your house, with water that hasn’t been channeled properly causing soil erosion and potentially infiltrating crawl spaces or basements.

In the worst-case scenario, standing water around the base of the house can cause damage to the foundation. If moisture penetrates a crack in the foundation and then freezes due to cold temperatures, the water in the crack will expand — causing the crack to grow. Over time, this can cause larger cracks and instability in the foundation (the structure the house rests on).

As you can see, gutters aren’t a superfluous addition to a house, but a very necessary part of the architecture. As a homeowner, understanding how to install and maintain gutters in the proper manner can help protect your property. This article explains how gutters work, how much they cost and how to clean and maintain your gutter system.


What are home gutters?

Home gutters are also known as rain gutters, eavestroughs or eaves-shoots. They are a component of the home drainage system that collects and diverts rainwater and debris from the roof to the ground via downspouts (also called leaders).

Gutters are installed along the eaves (the edges) of the roof, so they can easily collect runoff. They are made from materials designed to withstand water. Common materials include copper gutters, stainless steel gutters, zinc gutters and aluminum gutters. There are also less common vinyl gutters and wood gutters. All have their pros and cons, and their prices vary.

Just as there are different gutter materials, gutters also come in a variety of shapes and designs. There are K-style gutters (also referred to as OG or Ogee gutters), half-round gutters and square gutter profiles. These different styles can be cut to accommodate any style of roof.

Further, gutters can be seamless or sectional. Sectional gutters consist of multiple pieces, connected by seams. Seamless gutters consist of one continual section of metal custom-cut to fit the house’s roof line.

The style, size and material of the gutter you use for your home will depend on factors like your roofing, aesthetic preferences and even the climate you live in. For example, vinyl is durable and affordable. It won’t get rusty like metal or rotten like wood. However, it isn’t suitable for colder climates because it will get brittle and crack in extreme cold.


How do home gutters work?

One reason most roofing designs are pitched or sloped is so that they can easily get rid of water runoff — gravity simply directs the water down the sloped surface. This runoff is then channeled off the roof and into the gutters, which are installed along the eaves.

At the gutter’s end, an end cap prevents the water from simply flowing out and splashing to the ground. Instead, the water is diverted downward into the downspout. A series of connected downspouts channels the water down to the ground and away from the base of the house.

The entire system of gutters and downspouts is attached to the house via various fascia brackets (these support the gutters from below) and downspout brackets (these secure the downspouts to the house’s sides).


How much does it cost to put gutters on a house?

Gutter installation will certainly increase your roofing budget. Installing gutters can cost you anywhere between $550 and $1,500 for materials and labor. However, given their benefits, gutters are an investment well worth making.

Some factors that can affect the cost of gutter installation include the size of your home, your geographical location and the gutter shape and style. For example, seamless gutters are more expensive than sectional styles since they are custom-cut to your house.

You can save money by doing the job yourself. However, it’s best left to a professional. Gutter installation done wrong can damage the siding and roofing of your home (or result in non-functional gutters that don’t drain as they should). Further, gutter installation can be risky. It requires working on high ladders and should only be done with the right safety precautions.

Are gutters a waste of money?

Gutters are not a “nice to have” for your home. They’re necessary unless you want to deal with costly home renovations. Without gutters, your home is at risk of roof damage, mold and mildew growth, peeling paint, landscaping erosion and water penetration of basements or crawl spaces. In the worst-case scenario, such water penetration can cause foundational damage.

The cost of installing and maintaining gutters is far more affordable than what it would cost to repair water damage resulting from a lack of gutters, like repainting the siding ($1,775 to $4,214 depending on the house’s sizes), replacing shingles ($5,679 to $11,510 for asphalt shingles) or fixing a cracked foundation (upward of $4,000).

Installing and maintaining a well-functioning rain gutter system can prevent issues like those described above, protecting your home and helping you save money. If you’re worried about gutter expenses, there are steps you can take to cut costs.

For example, regularly cleaning gutters and installing gutter guards and strainers can help to prevent clogs that could cause costly damage to gutters. The following sections explain how to take care of these steps to ensure well-functioning, lasting gutters that can help save you money.


What is a leader on a gutter?

The leader is also known as the downspout or leader pipe. This is the vertical pipe that channels water or debris from the horizontal gutter pipe to a drainage system below. Like gutters, leader pipes come in various shapes, sizes and materials.

A gutter system isn’t complete without the leaders. The goal of a gutter is to protect your home, basement, foundation, driveway, deck and landscaping from water damage. However, the gutter only carries water off the roof and holds it, keeping it from running down the siding.

Since it lies horizontally, the gutter doesn’t actually channel that water downward. The leader pipe is the component of the gutter system used to channel water collected from the roof down to the ground and sewer or another drainage system below. Gravity ensures that water makes its way from the gutters to the leaders and then down to the ground.

How do leader heads stop gurgling noises and vacuum lock?

Leader heads, which are also known as conductor heads, are another essential component of a roof drainage system. They are funnel-shaped elements that collect and funnel water off flat roofs, which may not have a full gutter system.

In roofs with gutter systems, leader heads might be connected to the downspout and used to stop the gurgling noises that would otherwise come with water flow. The leader head relies on a vacuum effect to prevent gurgling while channeling water downward.

Characteristically, drainage systems are always tightly fitted and locked to avoid outlets for water. This causes air/gas to be trapped inside the conductor, which restricts the free flow of water. This is the primary reason your drainage system makes gurgling noises. The leader head acts as a vent, allowing air in and out of the conductor, which allows water to flow freely.



How to clean your home gutters

Although the primary goal of the gutter is to catch and channel water, they can also collect other debris. Sticks and leaves may fall into them, and animals like birds or squirrels may even start building nests inside of them after a dry period. There is a possibility your home gutter will get clogged by leaves, sticks and other debris.

Clogged gutters won’t function effectively and will allow water to run over the sides and down the siding — effectively making the gutters useless. Further, if water in the gutters freezes in cold weather, the added weight can cause the entire gutter system to detach and rip off.

To avoid such outcomes, it’s a good idea to clean your gutter system routinely. Just how often you clean your gutters will depend on factors such as landscaping. For example, if your house is under many large trees, more frequent cleaning might be needed. At the least, clean your gutters in late fall after the leaves have come down and before winter snow and ice hits.

Gutter cleaning could cost between $105 and $190. If you want to spare yourself the expense, you can clean your gutters yourself. Here’s how it’s done:

  • Dress for the part. Cleaning gutters gets messy, so wear comfortable, old clothes for the job. Long sleeves will protect the skin on your arms. Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands.
  • Get a ladder and a friend. Get a sturdy, safe ladder that will allow you to reach the gutters. Use a ladder stabilizer for added security. It’s best to do this job with the help of another person. They can stabilize the ladder and hand you tools.
  • Spread a tarp to collect debris. Spread a large tarp underneath your work area. You’ll toss the gunk you remove from the gutter onto this tarp below.
  • Start scooping. From the ladder, use a small plastic scoop to remove leaves, sticks and other gunk that’s built up in the gutter, throwing it onto the tarp below. You can also simply use your hands if you prefer (wear rubber gloves). As you finish cleaning one segment, move on to the next one.
  • Flush out the gutters. Once you’ve removed all the debris from the gutters, use your garden hose to flush out the gutter and downspout. This will help you see if there are any clogs remaining. Further, it will show if you have any leaks in your gutters.
  • Take care of fixes. You can follow up gutter repair with routine maintenance like fixing leaks and reattaching sagging gutters.

Another way to clean your gutter system is to use a gutter sucker. A gutter sucker works just like a vacuum cleaner. It’s an electrical appliance that sucks in the debris from the gutter. One of the biggest advantages of using a gutter sucker is that it’s safer. You can use it from the ground instead of having to climb on your roof or a high ladder.

How gutter guards and strainers work

You can help keep your gutters clean using gutter guards and strainers. Gutter guards cover your gutter, allowing water through but preventing debris from getting in and creating blockages. There are different gutter guards made of diverse materials, from nylon to mesh and foam.

Gutter strainers protect your downspouts from getting clogged up. They consist of a fine mesh screen that fits over the top of the downspout. Downspout screens also help keep rodents like mice, rats and squirrels out of your water drainage system.

Gutter guards and strainers do an amazing job at keeping leaves and debris from clogging your gutter. They also help prevent birds from nesting in your gutter. By keeping your gutter and downspouts free from clogs, gutter guards and strainers can help cut the costs of cleaning and maintaining your gutter system.


Protect your other home systems with Cinch

Having a home where your property is protected and safe is the dream of every homeowner. Cinch Home Services makes home protection easier. A home protection plan from Cinch can help cover the cost of repairing or replacing major appliances and built-in-systems when they break down because of normal wear and tear.

Although gutters aren’t covered under a Cinch home warranty, you can still protect many other major appliances and built-in systems in your home. Learn more about what’s covered under Cinch’s home warranty plans or get a quote for your home protection needs.


Gutters and leaders help channel water from a house’s roof away from the house. Here’s what every homeowner should know about gutters.