Gutters and downspouts
Gutters and downspouts are installed on a structure to control and direct rain runoff from the roof. The absence of gutters might result in water seepage into the basement, rotting sections of wood trim, damage to foundation plantings, and the erosion of topsoil. Whether they are masonry-constructed or have long overhanging eaves, most residential structures that are not in the snowbelt would benefit from gutters. In the snowbelt, gutters are considered more an inconvenience than a help because the snow and ice often tear them from the supports and maintenance is constantly necessary. If you do not see gutters on the structure during your inspection, indicate their absence on your worksheet. There are basically two types of gutters—built-in and exterior-mounted.
These gutters are essentially extensions of the roof framing with waterways built into the roof surface over the edges. The gutter channel might be lined with asphalt roll-roofing or some other type of impermeable material. These channels require periodic maintenance, such as applications of an asphalt-type cement. Leakage through these channels can often be detected by water stains in the soffit below the leaks or by water stains in the interior. Leaks in this type of gutter often result in rotting sections of trim. If stains or rotting sections are noted, they should be indicated on the worksheet. Built-in gutters are seldom used on modern residential structures.
These gutters can be made from copper, galvanized iron, wood, plastic, or, most commonly, aluminum. Copper gutters are considered the top of the line. They are expensive, virtually corrosion-resistant, and have a projected life in excess of forty years.
However, as these gutters age, they corrode and develop tiny holes in the bottom portion of the gutter channel. Depending on the gutters’ height, the holes might not be visible to the naked eye from the ground. However, by standing directly below the gutters and looking straight up, the sky is often visible through any corrosion holes.
The joints on copper gutters are always soldered. In some parts of the country, the joints on galvanized gutters are also soldered rather than clipped. When the gutters are painted, you can tell the difference between them by using a magnet. The magnet will not stick to a copper gutter. Sometimes leaks develop around the soldered joints. For the most part, because of their cost, copper gutters and downspouts are no longer used when replacing faulty gutters and downspouts. Several years ago I inspected a church in Ossining, New York, that had a wet basement. It turned out that most of the copper gutters and downspouts had been stolen from the structure by someone in search of a quick dollar because there was a copper shortage at that time.
Galvanized gutters have been used on many homes because of their low initial cost. However, they rust easily and require periodic maintenance such as patching corrosion holes and repainting. The inside portion of the gutter channel should also be painted. This area is often overlooked by the homeowner.
Aluminum gutters are quite popular because they do not have the corrosion problems of galvanized gutters. Older aluminum gutters on occasion leak around the seam, a condition requiring resealing. Leakage from seams can be noted by discoloration at the joint or some water stains or erosion on the area directly below the joint. Aluminum gutters can now be manu-factured to almost any length, producing seamless gutters. Leaks in this type of gutter usually occur at corner joints or the joint around the downspout.
Wood gutters are usually made of Douglas fir or red cedar and have a tendency to crack and rot at the various end joints and seams along their length. (See FIG. 3-8.) The joints around the end sections, particularly those where the connection is made to the downspout, deteriorate more rapidly than other portions and should be checked for rot and cracking. Wood gutters should be painted every few years and the inside channel coated with an asphalt-type roof paint.
Plastic gutters, although relatively maintenance-free, have not received wide acceptance. They are found occasionally, but not necessarily, on homes with vinyl siding.
When inspecting the roof with binoculars, you should check the gutters to see if there are any loose support straps or spikes that should be resecured. In addition, an overall view will show whether any gutters are pitched incorrectly or are sagging and should be reset. Sagging is a condition occasionally found on those homes with slate roofs that do not have snow guards. All types of gutters have a tendency to become cluttered with leaves, twigs, seed pods, and mineral granules from roof shingles. They should be cleaned at least twice a year—once in the spring after the trees have bloomed and once in the fall after the leaves have fallen. Gutter screens are available to help prevent larger items, such as leaves and twigs, from cluttering the gutter channel. However, often a homeowner installs the screens and then forgets about cleaning the gutters. The gutters still require cleaning, although at less frequent intervals. Sometimes you can tell from the ground whether a gutter channel requires cleaning. Figure 3-9 shows weeds growing out of the gutter. Obviously, this gutter has not been cleaned for some time.