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Gutters are of the Devil – the canon expanded/detoxed 7/12/14

July 14, 2014

IMG_9634 (1) (Copy)Gutters and leaders are devoutly to be avoided. They make construction more expensive now and in the out years.  When we effort redirection of a massive natural forces: gravity, earthquakes, wind, and rainwater it imposes costs on homes: most of these are necessary investments or your home will not protect you over time. But catching water as it comes off of your roof with a mini-plumbing system is absurd on its face: unseal-able, tacked on, facing the ravages of weather and human activity this money-grubbing/time sucking pit of futile effort is just a hubristic attempt at control. Hubris mostly fails, and most gutters mostly fail.

Gutters do control most of the water that runs off your roof, but not all of it.

Most gutters are usually set an inch or two higher than the leading edge of the roof line and form a perfect scoop that holds all ice and snow in place ultimately forcing water to back up underneath your roof shingles and into your house when rain over snow or the inevitable melt happens. Clogging with leaves and tree reproductive gunk renders gutters into planters for weeds and thus crockpots for the rot that eat homes. You either continually maintain them or they cease to work: what other house part requires (REQUIRES) annual upkeep?

They are either exquisitely expensive and look OK (copper, lead coated copper or stainless steel) or are made from ungreen aluminum or funky plastic and look like crap in the outyears. They either have hundreds of points of attachments (one set directly to each rafter) or they rip off with ice and snow, even when correctly set as described below.

Gutter purveyors Love  the fact that snow and ice terminally bend or rip off gutters on a regular basis – no matter installation technique or material.  And when gutters are installed properly to minimize ice damming and getting ripped off by being set lower than the roof edge, heavy rain water will sheet off the edge of the gutter eroding the ground plane around your façade, and collecting water at your foundation  wall – usually not designed to be a dam.. When this inevitably happens nothing can help but waterproofing the outside wall of your foundation and regrading to control water that might otherwise get in your foundation.

So: Just Say No To Gutters. But the rain will still come down: there is an alternative approach – a system that passively redirects versus being an attempt at command and control. Here are the tenants of this alternative universe of rainwater redirection:

– Create a gravel bed – minimum one inch diameter stones, minimum 1ft-6in wide (wider if eave is higher) over filter fabric at the drip line of your roof with a perforated pipe set in the bed that is pitched to redirect water away to daylight or a dry well.

– Eaves are essential to protect the walls of your home – and they are necessary if you go Gutterless. Your eaves have to be of an adequate depth so that the splashback of rain hitting grade is made irrelevant.  The further out the water is pushed the less pressurizes the groundwater against your foundation walls. This may mean extending your eaves if you have none or they are less that 1foot deep.

– Provide gable rooflets over your head wherever you enter your home because snow doesn’t respect gutters, and without gutters water will shower anyone entering.

– Grade and plant around your house to prevent erosion from the start, gutters or not.

– Use foundation water control systems (water tight coatings, subsurface curtain drain system, or a perimeter drain system to get water away from your basement, gutters or not.

Gutters are sometimes a necessary evil: when a straight line eave has to exist over doors or a large windowscape. But mostly gutters do not work, fail in common use, and never live up to our hopes to control nature and live in a protective nest. Gutters betray our hopes by mocking the money and time spent in installation , repair and maintenance, Assuming that gutters will work for all of these things is a little bit like asking the plastic poncho that you buy for two dollars at a ballgame to be your raincoat for the next twenty years.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Alexandra permalink
    February 23, 2011 12:27 pm

    You wrote that yesterday? A little late for me, but maybe when these new gutters fall off I won’t replace them. I did add a gable over the entry, though – really had to fight for it.

  2. February 23, 2011 12:30 pm

    Written 6 months ago – part of a reno bible out in the fall – “Staying Put”

  3. February 24, 2011 7:22 pm

    IMNSHO, the problem with most gutters is that they are undersized. A 4″ break-metal aluminum (fer cryin’ out loud) gutter is worthless – and yet that is what is “standard.” Gutters – in the 19th century – of heavy copper, oft-times lead-coated copper – with copper leaders worked, still work – when we find them on surviving 19th century buildings – and truly did preserve those survivors.

    However, 18th century buildings – houses, is mostly what we find here in this territory – did not have gutters. Paris is a different state of mind altogether; there their gutters work just fine, thanks.

    I think you should render your obeisances to the Gutter God post-haste, Mr D.

  4. Miriam Vagt permalink
    February 15, 2012 4:05 pm

    The pebble mess in lieu of gutters and leaders quickly becomes a slovenly mess and when you realize your mistake, all the pebbles which have migrated in many direction s must be individually picked up by hand. Never again. MV

  5. February 15, 2012 4:21 pm

    my hillside pebbles remain in place lo these 28 years – bigger, set in a trough at grade, not mounded up, larger gravel (1 1/2″) resists larger flows and steeper inclines as needed…

  6. chapluton permalink
    July 12, 2014 5:51 am

    Pebbles are of the devil.


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