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The truth about gutter systems

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You either love them or you hate them. They are either a great amenity on your home that helps keep the basement dry or they are an annual pain in the back and maybe even an eyesore on the home.

Of course we are talking about gutter systems.

Real estate appraisers throughout the country are mixed as to whether a good gutter system adds to the value of a home, but they are nearly unanimous in their belief that a home that needs gutters and one that doesn’t have them is devalued.

Properly sized and installed gutter systems are intended to get roof water well away from the home and its foundations.

Note we used the word “system” because the gutters and downspouts are the starting point. The rest of the system is intended to get that water coming out of the downspout away from the home so it does not create a hazard or contribute to surface ponds or erosion.

Most basement water issues are the result of mismanaged surface water that ends up running down a foundation wall and “leaking” into the basement area through gaps and cracks. Surface water “dumped” at the foundation may undermine patios, driveways and sidewalks. Control the surface water and you may never have a foundation water issue.

A sloped roof on a 1,500-square-foot ranch-style home might be in the neighborhood of 2,000 square feet.
In some areas, you may get up to 33 inches of precipitation a year, this could equate to 37,000 gallons of water a year falling right next to the foundation.

That amount of water will turn your basement into a pool.

So why not use decorative rain chains or rain dispersal systems instead of gutters? Why not collect all that water in rain barrels and use it to water your shrubs and lawn? The simple answer is generally that these types of systems still put the water at the base of the foundation or require maintenance owners prefer not to do.

But gutters leak at every joint. They get plugged up. They begin to sag and slope and the fasteners intended to keep them in place actually may contribute to rotting out the facia board behind them.

Such systems historically are secured using fasteners that actually penetrate the back side of the gutter, “pin” the gutter right up against the facia and create numerous holes in the facia. This can contribute to leaks, rotting wood and fasteners that fail over time.

Yep. All possibly true if you have an old system, a DIY system or a poorly installed system. Many companies that install gutters do so as an “add-on” service to roofing or siding services.

But there are companies that specialize in these systems done right. These companies will only install seamless systems. The idea of a DIY install with a joint every 10 feet makes no sense. Each run of gutter should be seamless and should slope continuously to a downspout.

The method of securing the gutters should allow them to “float” and “flex” without jeopardizing the substrate or facia.

While many materials are available for such systems, aluminum seems to carry the day in terms of strength to weight and its ability to take on and keep a good finish in a variety of colors so the system can blend right into your roof profile.

A specialty company will also offer larger or varied profiles and custom metals like copper if the job specification calls for it.

One of the past “sins” of such systems was the “one-size-fits-all” mentality that used a small profile gutter on every house regardless of the rain load. A specialty company will size the gutters to meet the anticipated maximum load. 6” gutter profiles are very common with such firms.

A larger gutter requires larger downspouts or conductor pipes. These should never simply “dump” water next to the foundation, nor should they tie into a footing or foundation drain system.

Instead, they should connect to extensions that distribute the water underground and away from the foundation. This can be accomplished through sub-surface drain pipes, buried French drains or pop-up systems.

Gutter protection is another piece of the system. A specialty company has done two things in this regard. They have tried every system out there to see which ones really do work, and they offer a first person warranty on the performance of the system. Generally this state’s something to the effect that “if the system ever gets plugged or needs cleaning, we will do it for you.”

Protect that beautiful investment you call home. Now that you know how, get started today properly managing surface water.

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