Q: Are gutters on homes necessary? Our last home, built in the 1950s, didn’t have gutters and seemed to be fine during the 10-plus years we lived in it. Now we live in a tract home, built in the ’70s, and the gutters are in very bad shape.
We’re tempted to remove them rather than replace them but don’t know if the need for gutters depends upon the style of the home. Both homes are boxes, essentially. We certainly don’t want to do anything that would damage the house. What do you think?
A: Why have gutters at all? The answer depends less on the style of the house and more on the grounds surrounding it. Virtually all houses are boxes, if you think about it.
The purpose of a gutter and downspout system is to channel rainwater landing on the roof away from the foundation. If a house is surrounded by concrete patios, sidewalks or driveways sloping away from the foundation, a gutter system really isn’t necessary.
Kevin’s home in Eagle, Idaho, has no gutters and he doesn’t miss them. Concrete walkways surround his house, and the amount of rain in Eagle averages only about 12 inches per year — not enough for water to seep under the foundation footings.
On the other hand, if there is no hardscape surrounding the house to channel water away from the foundation and rainfall is greater than in the semi-desert region of southwest Idaho, gutters and downspouts are indispensable.
Another practical use for a gutter is to catch the water coming off a roof over a doorway and channel it so that rain falling on the roof doesn’t fall on your head as you enter or leave the house. Additionally, gutters can provide some architectural interest to the eaves. Most of the gutters installed on 1970s tract homes were metal shaped in the form of an ogee, a multicurved profile that breaks up the straight line of the eaves.
So the answer to your question really depends on the amount of rain you receive, the nature of the area around your foundation and how you want your house to look.
Although your gutters are in bad shape, unless they crumble at a touch they can be saved. Most ugly gutters just need some scraping and sanding and a good coat of paint to rejuvenate them.
The renewal process is similar to any other exterior paint job. The looks and longevity of the job are directly proportional to the quality and effort of the preparation. Do a thorough prep job and your gutters will look and perform like new. First, scrape off the loose paint. Next, feather the remaining paint so that the new coat blends in and you don’t get unsightly ridges. A palm sander, a wire wheel attached to a drill motor or a combination of the two will do this job.
Next, apply a coat of primer. We’ve used red oxide primer in the past. Today, we recommend you go to the local paint store that sells to painting contractors and take their advice as to the right product. We also strongly suggest cleaning the inside of the gutters and giving them a coat of primer too. Seal any seams that might have opened with silicon caulk. After the primer and caulking dries, two coats of latex paint finish the job.
Occasionally, if the gutters haven’t been cleaned regularly, leaves and debris build up and trap water, and, over time, the bottom of a metal gutter rusts through.
Gutters like these can also be salvaged. Thirty years ago, when Kevin was making a living with the tools, he did a job for neighbors in San Leandro, Calif. The bottom of their gutter looked like Swiss cheese — lots of little pinholes. Kevin went to a local sheet-metal shop and had them cut strips of sheet metal to fit the flat bottom of the gutter, which he affixed to the inside of the gutter with caulking.
He caulked the edges of the patches and primed the inside of the gutters and patches so that no water could penetrate. No more pinholes, and the useful life of this gutter system was prolonged by many years.
If your gutters are this far gone, that is an alternative to new gutters — or no gutters at all.