Gutters and Leaders


Understanding the Installation of Gutters and Leaders

The selection and installation of gutters and leaders, is a decision that I have always tried to minimize in all of my construction projects, as well as in my consulting services to others. However, I realize that in normal and everyday construction, the installation of the proper gutters and leaders will prevent situations that occur, due to water issues and foundation deterioration. My wife will find these comments entertaining because she has always wanted a sophisticated system of water control and distribution on all of our homes. I have always been the one who would claim that there is no need for gutters and leaders, if the exterior of the home is properly landscaped and graded, and the flashings and exterior treatment of the structure is performed in a professional and detailed fashion. OK, I admit, I was incorrect and basically stubborn in my analysis and thinking. Yes, if all the conditions around the home are properly graded to ensure that water flow away from the foundation, and if all the exterior construction is performed correctly, then theoretically, there is no need for gutters and leaders. However all of these perfect elements are rarely the case, and gutters and leaders are the more sensible and practical method of water control around your home and or commercial structure.

What are gutters?

The gutters of a home, or any structure, are the collection strips, troughs, u shaped or cylindrical elements that are installed at the bottom of your roof pitches. The gutter can be made of various materials and can be shaped and installed in a variety of methods.

  • Aluminum gutters / these gutters are made of aluminum and can be free formed on the jobsite. The strips of aluminum are run through a processor located on a pickup truck or trailered to your home or structure. These gutters can be made of various thicknesses of aluminum and can be varying sizes and capacities. It goes without saying, that the heavier the gutter and the larger the gutter the more expensive is the installation. In most cases the installation of the aluminum gutters is performed in similar fashion by installing a clip to the perimeter of the roof that the gutter actually hangs off of. Aluminum gutters can be supplied in a variety of colors and can actually be custom colored on the project by professional painters that are knowledgeable regarding the proper treatment of the aluminum prior to painting.
  • Vinyl gutters / vinyl gutters, like the vinyl siding on your home, are excellent choices for a perimeter gutter system. The vinyl, like the aluminum can be formed on the project with special equipment and experienced installers. Vinyl, like the aluminum can be supplied in varying colors, sizes and shapes. In most cases, the vinyl gutters are supplied in white and are commonly seen on most new homes. Is vinyl a more permanent product than the aluminum gutters is a question that can be asked of your local suppliers. In either case, the installation of either an aluminum gutter system or a vinyl system is an efficient and economical method of gutter installation and both can be customized to your homes perimeter.
  • Copper gutters / the use of copper for a gutter system have always been considered the ultimate in gutters. Unfortunately with the increase in pollution in the rain and the environment, the copper gutter has become a difficult product to maintain. Copper is susceptible to the hazards and deterioration caused by acid rain and their ability to remain intact has decreased. However, they present the ultimate in gutter design and visually look, in my opinion, the most formal and professional on any structure. Copper gutters can be custom made to any design, size and gage and due to their increased weight are more difficult to actually hang from the perimeter of your structure. Copper gutters are much more expensive than either the aluminum or vinyl gutter systems.
  • Wood gutters / the installation of custom wood gutters were very popular in years past. In many instances these wood gutters were actually built into the roof systems of the home and did not actually hang from the perimeter of the roof. These systems were extremely detailed and expensive, however, when they were popular, the value of labor was quite a bit less than it is at the present time. Wood gutters can be totally custom built and they can be lined with copper, aluminum or even synthetic materials to eliminate deterioration and leakage. Years ago the copper systems were lined with molten tar to waterproof the interior of the gutter systems. Wood gutters, if not inherently built within the roof system itself can be painted any color that the owner would like. In some instances the bright and flashy wood gutters on a home are the highlight of the exterior design concept. Wood gutters due to their labor intensive requirements are the most expensive common gutter systems.
  • Gutter caps or leaf protection / Due to the location of all gutter systems, at the bottom of the roof pitches, their ability to accumulate debris such as leaves, sticks, etc. is problematic. There are numerous different products that are available to cap the top of the gutter systems to eliminate the accumulation and eventual clogging of the gutter systems. I recommend that the best method to determine which of these protection systems will accommodate the type of debris accumulated on the roof is to research the local contractors and product recommendations for your area. Areas of the northeast are certainly different than the Midwest or even the south. The accumulation of deciduous leaves, pine cones, pine needles, palm fronds, etc. all require different types of gutter protection. Each area of the country will have a specific requirement or need, and the best method of making this selection is individual research and discussion with local roofing contractors.

What are leaders?

The leader system is the vertical or semi vertical closed conduits that will take the water that has accumulated off the gutter system and direct it to either the exterior grade, or a system of water accumulation around the structure.

  • Aluminum leaders / these leaders are made of aluminum and can be cut to size on the jobsite. The leaders of aluminum are run through a processor located on a pickup truck or trailered to your home or structure. These leaders can be made of various thicknesses of aluminum and can be varying sizes and capacities. It goes without saying, that the heavier the leader and the larger the leader the more expensive is the installation. In most cases the installation of the aluminum leader is performed in similar fashion by installing a clip to the exterior of the structure that the leader actually hangs off of. Aluminum leaders can be supplied in a variety of colors and can actually be custom colored on the project by professional painters that are knowledgeable regarding the proper treatment of the aluminum prior to painting.
  • Vinyl leaders/ vinyl leaders, like the vinyl siding on your home, are excellent choices for a perimeter leader system. The vinyl, like the aluminum can be formed on the project with special equipment and experienced installers. Vinyl, like the aluminum can be supplied in varying colors, sizes and shapes. In most cases, the vinyl leaders are supplied in white and are commonly seen on most new homes. Is vinyl a more permanent product than the aluminum gutters is a question that can be asked of your local suppliers. In either case, the installation of either an aluminum leader system or a vinyl system is an efficient and economical method of leader installation and both can be customized to your homes perimeter.
  • Copper leaders/ the use of copper for a leader system have always been considered the ultimate in leaders. Unfortunately with the increase in pollution in the rain and the environment, the copper leader has become a difficult product to maintain. Copper is susceptible to the hazards and deterioration caused by acid rain and their ability to remain intact has decreased. However, they present the ultimate in leader design and visually look, in my opinion, the most formal and professional on any structure. Copper leaders can be custom made to any design, size and gage and due to their increased weight are more difficult to actually hang from the exterior of your structure. Copper leaders are much more expensive than either the aluminum or vinyl leader systems.
  • Wood leaders/ the installation of custom wood leaders were very popular in years past. In many instances these wood leaders were actually built into the exterior wall systems of the home and did not actually hang from the exterior of the structure. These systems were extremely detailed and expensive, however, when they were popular, the value of labor was quite a bit less than it is at the present time. Wood leaders can be totally custom built and they can be lined with copper, aluminum or even synthetic materials to eliminate deterioration and leakage. Years ago the copper systems were lined with molten tar to waterproof the interior of the leader systems. Wood leaders, if not inherently built within the roof system itself can be painted any color that the owner would like. In some instances the bright and flashy wood leaders on a home are the highlight of the exterior design concept along with the wood gutter systems. Wood leaders due to their labor intensive requirements are the most expensive common leader systems.

Special considerations for gutter and leader systems.

  • Special transition pieces, assembly and design / all gutter and leader systems are intended to remove the water from the roof areas and direct this water to a safe and logical area around or away from the structure. In many cases, the roof pitches on the home are not simply along the perimeter of the home. In many cases, the installation of roof dormers, special roof window systems, special cornice assemblies, special attached porches or additions will complicate the gutter and leader systems. In these cases, it is much better for the consumer to select a responsible and professional roofing consultant to design and locate the proper type of gutter and leader systems. The roofing design professional will position the gutters and the distribution of the water to ensure that the capacity of the gutters and leaders is not overwhelmed by a sudden thunderstorm. Water from rainstorms is an inconsistent volume calculation and should be performed by a professional that is knowledgeable of the local environment and weather conditions.
  • Drywells and water distribution systems / where the water is distributed from the leader systems are an important aspect of a proper gutter leader designed system. Does the water become directed to the surface of the ground at the base of the leader discharge? Or does the water enter a specialized system of piping that will further direct the water away from the foundation of the home?

 

  • Water discharge on grade/ In many cases the simple discharge of the water onto the surface of the ground is sufficient to direct the water away from the structure. If the structure is properly located and the elevations allow the grades to pitch away from the perimeter foundation of the structure, then the surface water will simply run away from the structure. If this is the case, this is the least expensive and complicated means of water distribution. Considerations for freezing water and standing water must be evaluated to ensure that the amount of surface water does not interfere with the use of the perimeter of the structure.
  • Water discharge into a system / The more professional and in my opinion, best means of water distribution is to allow the water to enter an underground system of piping that will eventually lead the water away from the foundation walls of the structure. In this manner any negative issues due to water accumulation is eliminated and removed from the perimeter of the structure. There are several different methods of water distribution underground. If the grades allow, the best and easiest means of ridding the structure of the roof water is to allow the piping to daylight. What his term references is the ability of the piping to maintain proper drainage pitch and be allowed to simply run out until the elevations pop it out of the ground, or it now is in the daylight. If the grades around the structure allow, this is the best and the easiest means of water distribution. If this is not the case, the creation of what is referred to as a drywell is a good means of getting the water away from the perimeter of the structure and allowing it to percolate into the ground. In other more complicated systems, the use of a holding tank, water accumulation systems and pumps can be used to actually allow the water to be pumped away from the structure.

 

  • Large commercial systems / If the structure is large and the amount of water being accumulated by the roofing drainage systems is substantial, the installation of large water accumulation and collection systems may be required to accommodate the local building regulations. These type of water accumulation systems and methods will be discussed within other webpages of this website and require professional design engineers as well as accomplished, professional contractors.

In summary, the installation of a gutter and leader system, whether it discharges on the surface or the discharge is into a sophisticated system of water distribution, is a good method of water elimination around the structure of your home or commercial structure. As has been repeatedly noted within this website, the accumulation of water around the basement foundations of any structure is never a preferred condition. It is always better to move all water away from the perimeter of any structure to eliminate the possibility of basement flooding or moisture propagation into the structure.

 

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