Gutters, Downspouts and Leaders

Gutters, Downspouts and Leaders photos: P 153, P 155, P 157, P 156

Gutters are installed along the bottom edge of the roof. Their purpose is to catch the rainwater running off the roof. Downspouts are installed near the ends of the gutters. They're used to drain the water so the gutters don't overflow. Leaders are installed at the bottom of the downspouts. Leaders are used to direct the rainwater away from the side of the structure.

The vast majority of gutters, downspouts and leaders are made of aluminum because it's lightweight, inexpensive and resistant to rust and rot. Sometimes on older houses the gutters, downspouts and leaders will be made of copper. If copper gutters are painted, the only way to find out if they are copper is to look for the soldered joints or scratch the metal to see if it's a copper color. Wood gutters are not recommended since they have a short life expectancy due to rot.

There should be at least one downspout for every 30 feet of gutter to prevent excessive weight from the rainwater from damaging the gutters. All downspouts should have leaders to pipe the rainwater at least five feet away from the foundation to help prevent any water problems in the lower level.

Some downspouts drain directly into the ground. These lead to dry-wells or underground drainage lines. They need to be checked periodically for clogging due to leaves and small animals getting stuck in them. In most areas the local building codes prohibit sump pumps, gutters and downspouts from discharging water into the house plumbing drainage lines. These drainage lines must discharge into a dry-well. A dry-well is a small pit dug into the soil with rocks and gravel inside the hole to help drain away water accumulations. This building code restriction is designed to prevent too much water from entering the municipal sewer system.

A built-in utter is one that is "enclosed" around the edge of the roof area. Built-in gutters are not recommended since they can cause water leaks in the house. When these gutters leak, the water can go undetected for a long time. This leads to extensive water damage inside the walls of the house.