Gutters and Downspouts – Their Important Role

The kids are back in school and that means summer’s over. Fall is here and soon we’ll be climbing up our roofs and cleaning out the gutters before the fall leaves begin their damage. But just how much damage can leaves really do? Well, in this business, I’ve seen quite a bit.

Your home’s number 1 enemy is water. Why is it the enemy? Because it causes things like mold and rot which compromise the entire structural integrity of the house, not to mention major health problems. That’s why we always want water to flow away from our house, from its roof to the foundation. Gutters and downspouts play an important role in that process. They’re supposed to collect the water from your roof and direct it as far away from your home’s foundation as possible, I suggest at least 5 feet, but it really depends on how close your neighbors property line is. Seems simple, but there are a few things that can get in the way of gutters doing their job.

Here are some examples:

Many of the newer homes being built have more than just a single roof. For example, there could be a roof over the garage, one over the second floor of the house, and smaller ones over rooms that extend from the house, such as a kitchen area or mud room. No matter what, there should be a gutter running along the bottom of every roof line on a house. Every gutter needs to have a downspout that drains the collected water away from the roof. You never want a downspout to drain water directly onto a lower level roof; this will cause water and ice damage to the shingles and roof deck underneath. It must always drain into a lower roof’s gutter. You also never want a downspout to drain directly into drainage tiles below ground or near the foundation; this causes water damage to the foundation. In either case, the result is water coming into the house at the roof or foundation level. Not a good thing.

Let the pros do their job

Some people think gutters can be a DIY project. Most DIY gutters are plastic and come in standard sections of about 10 to 12 feet. Plastic gets brittle, especially in the cold, and will need to be replaced. That’s why aluminum is the industry standard for gutters. It never rusts, unlike steel, and it’s weather resistant, unlike plastic. We also want to use a thick gauge for all metal gutters. The thicker the gauge the longer they’ll last. When gutters are built in sections there’s going to be seams and seams can leak. And believe me, if it can leak, it will, they always do. That’s why I only recommend seamless gutters.

Professionals use a forming machine to construct seamless gutters custom sized to fit the length of any roof. It’s the only way a gutter should be done and it’s the only way to prevent leaks. Professionals also make sure the entire gutter is pitched correctly. Otherwise, water is going to gather and it won’t drain properly. You want something that’s going to last. You don’t want something you’ll have to replace after the first winter. Doing it right the first time means we don’t have to do it again. You always need to bring in the right people for the right job, so get a professional to install your gutters.


Before the temperature drops below freezing our gutters need to be clear of any debris. If our gutters and downspouts are clogged, two things will happen: First, any debris and water caught in the gutter will freeze into a channel of frozen muck. This will overload the gutter and eventually it will warp (remember, water expands as it freezes).

Secondly, water can back up under the shingles and cause ice damming and water damage to the roof deck. I know it’s a pain to go up there and clean out the gutters, so some people put it off for as long as possible. Not a good idea if you want to preserve the integrity of your roof.

I frequently get asked about ice damming and what causes it. It’s heat loss from the home that’s causing it. You know those icicles that hang off the gutters in the winter? A lot of people seem to like them, but icicles are created when snow melts, and then the water refreezes before it drains through the gutters. How can the snow on our roofs be melting if the temperature outdoors is below freezing? That’s because heat is escaping from the roof and melting the snow. So if we want to prevent ice damming we need to think about insulating our attics and attic accesses better and double-checking our roofs for any potential heat loss.

It’s important to protect our homes in harsh winter weather. A big part of that protection comes from our gutters. If we do our job and maintain them, they’ll do their job and protect our homes from precipitation and water.

Remember, by thinking ahead and doing it right we avoid costly problems down the road. It’s well worth the effort.