I’ve seen homeowners spend weeks agonizing over which shingle color and texture is best for their new roof. Then, after going to all this effort, they simply leave it to the roofing company to install any old piece-of-junk gutters.
Since rain gutters and downspouts can be even more conspicuous than the roof itself, you should choose new ones with at least as much care. But before you do, make sure they actually need replacement. Too often, they don’t.
In the course of bidding on a reroofing job, many a roofing contractor will say something like, "You know, as long as we’re at it, this would be the time to replace your gutters." This is a bit like your barber saying, "As long as I’m cutting your hair, I should give you a nose job as well."
To be blunt, installing new gutters in conjunction with reroofing is simply a way for roofing contractors to make a little extra profit, while freeing their workers from having to protect the existing gutters from damage during the job. These are both perfectly valid reasons to replace your existing gutters — but from the contractor’s perspective, not yours.
What’s more, the quality of most replacement gutters and downspouts is typically worse than that of original gutters in sound condition. Hence, homeowners who agree to lump in gutter replacement with their new roof often wind up with a flimsier, less attractive, and quite unnecessary "improvement."
I’ve even come across some clueless homeowners who allowed a roofer to rip out superb old custom-made steel gutters and ornamental downspouts and replace them with utterly inferior prepainted aluminum dreck.
The rules of thumb regarding gutter replacement are simple:
1. If your original gutters are straight, solid and don’t leak, they don’t need replacement, period.
2. If they do leak, there’s a fair chance they can be repaired. In the case of steel or copper gutters, contact your local sheet metal shop. For redwood gutters, have a good handyman determine if they can be caulked or patched.
3. If you do decide on replacement, demand gutters that are at least equal to the originals in quality. Ask a knowledgeable but disinterested party (not the roofer doing the work) to recommend the best material.
4. Lastly, put at least as much thought into choosing the gutter profile (the cross-sectional shape) as you do into choosing the roofing material. Don’t let the contractor make this choice for you; many will simply fall back on the style of gutter that’s the least trouble to install.
If you’re replacing your home’s original gutters, simply choose the profile that best matches the original.
Traditional home styles typically have more ornate profiles; for example, the familiar ogee gutter (or "K-style" as it’s known in the trade) looks more or less like a fancy molding when installed.
Another common traditional profile — often found in Spanish and English Revival homes — is the beaded half-round gutter, which has an almost medieval appearance and is typically installed with round downspouts.
All of these styles are commonly available, so don’t let anyone tell you that what you want is obsolete. That just doesn’t hold water.