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Select the right type of gutters for your house

Gutters protect your home from damage caused by bad weather and ensure that rainwater is evacuated away from the foundation. This guide presents the various models of gutters available, to help you decide which will be best for your home.

The parts of a gutter

House gutters are composed of two main elements: the gutter and the downspout. Each of these is made up of several parts, which are described below.

Parts of a gutter

  1. End cap: Piece of formed metal or PVC placed on the end of a section of gutter to close off the channel.
  2. Slip joint: Small part used for joining two sections of a gutter.
  3. Corner: A piece of gutter installed at a 90 degree angle on the edge of a roof, in the corners.
  4. Outside hook or mounting bracket: Long bracket screwed under the gutter to fasten it to the edge of the roof.
  5. Centre drop outlet: Piece of gutter that provides the hole through which water travels into the downspout. Placed at the centre of the gutter channel.
  6. End drop outlet: Placed at the end of the gutter, this piece provides the hole through which water travels into the downspout.

Pro tip

Hangers must be installed every 20" to 24", or every 16" to 18" if the house is exposed to heavy snow and ice.

Parts of a downspout

  1. Downspout: A drainpipe, sold in 10' sections, installed vertically on the wall, which carries rainwater from the roof gutter to the ground. One downspout is required for every 40' of gutter channel.
  1. Elbow: Angled part of downspout beneath the gutter, with a 45-degree bend. For a regular downspout, three elbows are required:
  • the 1st under the drop outlet
  • the 2nd against the wall of the house
  • the 3rd connected to the bottom end of the downspout.
    An extension can be added to divert water away from the foundation.
  1. Connector: Piece used to join two sections of downspout. A connector is needed for downspouts over 10' long.
  1. Downspout clip: Fastener with two holes on each side used to attach the downspout to the wall of the house. A clip should be attached every 3' along the downspout.
  1. Diverter: Block of stone or concrete placed under the end of the downspout which diverts water away from the foundation and prevents soil erosion. Install one for each downspout.

The most common materials

The materials most commonly used for guttering systems are PVC and aluminium.

Other, stylish materials such as copper and galvanized steel are also used; however, these are less popular as they are more expensive and trickier to install. Zinc, stainless steel and even wood gutters are sometimes seen on heritage houses.

This guide presents the features of the most popular types of gutter systems, i.e. PVC, aluminium, galvanized steel and copper.

How to install a gutter system

If you are an experienced do-it-yourselfer,  PVC and aluminium gutter systems are available in kits and can be easily installed. However, you must take the time to properly estimate the costs and scope of the work involved in your gutter installation project.

Project plan

First draw a plan of your house, including an overhead view.

  • Consider the pitch of your roof in order to decide where to place the gutter and in which direction it should slope.
  • Decide where to locate downspouts for rainwater drainage. Remember that water will quickly accumulate after heavy rain and this water must be directed away from your home's foundation so that it does not leak into the basement.
  • Once you have decided on all the locations, calculate the length of guttering and number of downspouts required, as well as all the necessary attachments and installation accessories.

Pro's tip

As a guide, note that gutters and downspouts are sold in 10' sections. Gutter hangers should be installed every 20" and downspout clips every 3'.

Precautions before you start

Certain safety precautions must be taken before undertaking any job that requires working at height.

  • First check that your ladder or stepladder is solid and stable.
  • If the edge of the roof is particularly high off the ground, use scaffolding, which provides even greater stability and safety.
  • Be extremely careful of any electrical installations or wiring when moving the ladder or scaffolding around the house.
  • At least two people are needed to install a gutter, because you will be handling sections of pipe that are 10' long while up a ladder or high up on scaffolding.
  • Wear work gloves and safety glasses.

A few installation tips for each model

A few installation tips for each model

Here are a few precautions to take according to the type of gutter material you are working with.

PVC gutters:

  • Assembled by clipping together or by bonding parts with PVC cement.
  • Easy to cut with a hacksaw.
  • Gutters and downspouts available in 10' sections.

Aluminium gutters:

  • The sections fit into one another and are then joined with sealant.
  • Cut with a metal saw and tin snips.
  • Gutters and downspouts available in 10’ sections

Galvanized steel gutters:

  • Professional installation required.
  • The sections fit into one another (male-female). The joints should be fitted with a watertight seal.

Copper gutters:

  • Professional installation required.
  • Two types of assembly, either by tin/lead soldering or by simply fitting the male and female pieces together.

Tools required for installation

No specialized tools are required to install PVC guttering. However, you should have the following tools at hand:             

Measuring tools:

Cutting tools:

Installation tools:

Safety equipment:

A few maintenance tips

Gutters suffer a fair amount of wear and tear because they are exposed to the elements, day in, day out. Some damage, such as cracking or warping, can be repaired with the appropriate materials and tools. Here are preventive maintenance tips to avoid unpleasant surprises.

Spring is the best time to clean your gutters.

  • Run water from a hose into the highest point of the gutter.
  • Check that the water flows freely to the ground. If it does not, the gutter or downspout is probably clogged with dead leaves and debris.
  • Remove all debris and clean all strainers.
  • If the water still does not flow properly, push a piece of wire into the downspout to dislodge any remaining debris.
  • Fit gutter guards if you do not already have them; this will make the job easier next time.

In summer, check your gutters and make the necessary repairs.

  • Wash and repaint the gutters if necessary.
  • Repair the joints and seals. Before re-sealing a joint, dismantle and clean the parts. Leave to dry and apply caulk or gutter cement. Reassemble the parts.
  • For metal gutters: Scrape the gutter with a wire brush or abrasive pad to remove all traces of rust. Then clean it with paint thinner and allow to dry. With a putty knife, apply caulk or gutter cement to the sides of the opening or crack to be patched. Cut a piece of metal larger than the hole to be patched and place it over the hole. Fasten the patch at both ends. Finally, spread a layer of adhesive over the patch.

In winter, prevent the formation of ice dams:

  • In northern climates, successive freezing and thawing cycles can cause damage to gutters due to the build-up of ice. Inadequate attic ventilation and poor insulation can aggravate this problem. The weight of the ice can rip the gutters off their hangers and break them. Accumulated ice can also work its way up under the shingles, lift out roofing nails and cause roof leaks.
  • Prevent ice from building up in gutters by installing de-icing cables in gutters or along the roof edge. The latest models are thermostatically controlled; they switch on and off automatically according to the air temperature. Choose cables that are CSA Certified and UL Listed to building code safety standards.

The most practical accessories

Various accessories and attachments can be added to gutters to improve their performance, protect the foundation, or even collect rainwater for watering the garden. 

  • A flexible downspout extender or diverter to direct water away from the foundation, thus providing further protection against damage due to water accumulation. The fact that it is flexible means that it can be moved out of the way when gardening or mowing the lawn.
  • A splash tray prevents the rainwater runoff from damaging the grass and eroding the soil.
  • A rainwater collection barrel placed directly beneath the downspout collects rainwater so that it can subsequently be used to water the grass and plants. Rainwater barrels are actively encouraged in some municipalities, because they keep water out of storm drains and reduce the amount of tap water used for irrigation. 
  • A gutter guard is a screen made of fine mesh that only lets water through. Available in rolls or rigid strips, the guard fits over the top of the gutter channel to stop leaves and debris from entering.

All accessories for gutters.

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