The Homeowner’s Guide to Gutters and Downspouts

guide to gutters and downspouts

On almost all homes, water doesn’t fall directly from the roof to the ground. Gutters and downspouts direct water runoff away from decking, basements, and other home surfaces before it touches the ground.

When operating properly, gutters and downspouts prevent water from pooling and leaking into areas, which can lead to water damage. With regular maintenance, your gutter system should work efficiently regardless of the season. 

In this guide, we'll discuss...

Gutter Installation

Gutters and downspouts are typically installed by professional contractors, but a diligent homeowner can properly accomplish the project if they plan well, buy the right materials, and follow safety precautions.

Choosing a qualified professional comes with a number of advantages.

Contractors with gutter and downspout experience can manufacture specific lengths of gutter sections to precisely match the roofline. This continuous piece assures correct pitch and no joined seams, which greatly diminishes the chance for leaks.

Additionally, a professional will have experience on a ladder and will be well versed with the correct safety procedures. The risk of injury is always present while working on roofs, so take this crucial aspect into account when weighing the decision of professional installation or a DIY approach.

Although it's possible to install gutters yourself, professional contractors will have a variety of materials ready to fit your budget and style. They can also help to educate homeowners on the pros and cons of various gutter materials and quote a price, too.

Cost of Gutter Materials

Gutters vary greatly in their durability, curb appeal, price, and weather resistance. These factors and more will determine which material best suits the needs of your home. 

Gutter Material Cost Per Linear Foot
Vinyl $3 - $5
Aluminum $4 - $10
Stainless Steel $8 - $12
Wood $12 - $20
Copper $15 - $30


Vinyl gutters are a popular choice due to their easy installation and the wide range of color options. They increase curb appeal and are generally resistant to fading.

However, extreme temperatures cause problems for vinyl material, as prolonged cold can lead to cracks.


While aluminum gutters can be dented by flying debris and hail, they remain a popular choice because of their affordability and ease of installation.

Like vinyl, aluminum comes in a wide range of colors.

Stainless Steel

The most durable of all gutter system materials, stainless steel withstands extreme weather conditions well. But due to their high cost and the large amount of upkeep they need, it’s not the first choice for most homeowners.

With proper maintenance, steel gutters will last for decades, as long as rust and corrosion are kept in check.


Wood gutters are usually used for restoration projects. Wood is difficult to install and requires more maintenance than other materials but has a high curb appeal.

If maintained to avoid cracks and rot, wood can add a distinct look for homeowners.


Copper gutters are a popular choice for historic restorations or homeowners with high amounts of disposable income.

Copper is a beautiful material and greatly increases a home’s curb appeal, though difficult to maintain. As it ages, copper will take on its classic patina color, or can be sealed to keep its original shade. 

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Common Gutter Problems & Solutions

man installing gutter guard

Gutters need to be kept free of clogs, holes, and sags to perform their job properly.

Luckily for homeowners, most gutter problems are easily fixable and can be done without the help of a contractor.

Below are some of the most common problems and recommended solutions...

Clogged Gutters

The most common problem for gutter systems is clogs. Leaves, twigs, small branches, and other organic debris can clog up systems, creating standing water and added weight.

Another option to prevent clogs are gutter covers. Outfitted with mesh screens, porous foam, and the ability to clip on to the system, they block leaves and other large objects.

If you don’t mind heights and getting your hands dirty, you can easily clean your gutters with a ladder, some gloves, and a garden hose.

Sagging Gutters

Typically, compromised hangers cause sagging gutters...

  • The hangers may be spaced too far apart to support the full weight of the gutter system.
  • The fasteners may have come loose from the wood.
  • Simple deterioration may have begun due to rust and corrosion.

Thankfully for you, remedying the situation is cheap. Hangers cost around $10, and fasteners are about $1 a piece.

Leaks and Holes

Gutters leak due to corrosion, wear and tear, and improper seals. Small holes can be sealed using caulk or roofing cement. Larger holes can be fixed with metal flashing.

Improperly Pitched Gutters

A proper pitch allows water to flow toward the downspout. At least a quarter inch of slope for every 10 feet is the recommended ratio for proper drainage.

If you think your gutter is sloped incorrectly, get on a ladder and look for standing water to confirm your suspicion.

To fix an improper slope:

1) Measure from the peak to the downspout.

2) Draw a chalk line down these two points to find the spot(s) where it’s out of alignment.

3) Push the gutter back into place by bending the hanger.

If you still notice standing water, call a contractor to remove the section and install it properly.

Draining Too Close to the Foundation

Water draining too close to the foundation can cause some serious moisture and structural issues.

Make sure the downspout extends several feet from the house to avoid pooling water. You can easily fix this problem by attaching an extra piece of gutter to the bottom of the downspout.

This provides some added length and ensures water discharges well beyond the base of the house. 

Learn more about recognizing and fixing common roofing problems:

Cleaning Out the Gutter System

Cleaning gutters with glove on

Taking the time to clean leaves, branches, and other forms of debris from your gutter system ensures your gutter system will function properly and keep your home in top-tier shape throughout the year.

Avoid Clogs

Clogs in gutters can cause damage to different sections of your home. Clogs cause water to be redirected to areas prone to moisture penetration, leading to leaks and other forms of structural problems. Additionally, gutter clogs contribute to the formation of ice dams during the winter, which can pull an entire gutter section off the roof.

Biannual Cleaning

For optimal performance, cleaning your gutters once near the end of Spring and again towards the end of Fall will prevent a majority of problems. Clogs occur the most during these seasons. Clearing fallen leaves, tree debris, and other organic matter allows your gutters to perform correctly.

The process of cleaning your gutters is rather simple.

Here's what you'll need to clean your gutters:

  • ladder
  • work gloves
  • bucket
  • garden hose

As long as you're comfortable using a ladder, rest it against the side of your home and carefully climb to your gutters.

With a durable set of work gloves and a bucket, scoop out any loose sticks, leaves, dirt, or anything else that might form a clog.

Flush out the system with a garden house to remove any excess material. 

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Repairing Potential Holes

Due to their exposure to the elements, gutters and downspouts will eventually develop holes.

If you’re suspicious and suspect your gutters may have holes, the best method is to flush the system with water and look for any potential leaks. Make a note of their locations and plan to thoroughly inspect them.

Sealing Small Holes

It’s common for small, pin-like sized holes to form in gutters and downspouts due to rust and corrosion.

Small holes are relatively easy to locate and can effectively be sealed using roofing cement.

To properly seal small holes in your gutter:

1) Use a wire brush to clean the pinholes before a

2) Apply a small bit of sealant over the hole.

3) Smooth over the sealant with a putty knife. This will allow a continuous flow of water and nothing catches on the new seal.

Patching Large Holes

Metal flashing is the best method to seal large holes in your gutter system.

To properly patch large holes in your gutter:

1) Clean the hole and the surrounding area with a stiff wire brush. This will help to allow proper sealant adhesion.

2) Cut the flashing material to a couple of inches wider and longer than the hole, and place it inside the gutter.

3) Place roofing cement under the patch, and seal firmly from at least two different locations.

4) Run roofing cement along the outside seams of the new patch and use a putty knife to lay the sealant flat.

* Another method involves using the cement as a ramp—flush against each side of the gutter, but raised over the patch. This allows water and organic matter to flow freely over the new patch without catching on it.

If you notice large holes in an elbow connection in your gutter system, replacing the entire section is usually the best method of repair. It’s faster and reduces the chance of problems down the road. 

Keep reading about how to perform other common repair projects:

Finding the Right Contractor

Hometown Roofing Contractors is one of the easiest ways to find a qualified local roofing contractor near you.

You can read company profiles, see what other customers have to say about their services, and request quotes from as many roofers as you'd like, all in one convenient place.