Repair or replace gutters
Gutters systems can last 20-30 years, but that doesn't mean they'll never need repairs. The first step to extending the life of your gutters is regular gutter cleaning. But let’s suppose you already have damaged gutters. While many problems can be repaired, sometimes you just need to go ahead and replace your gutters.
The main factor in determining whether to repair or replace your gutters will be extent of damage. If you only have one or two trouble spots, they should be easy to fix, but if multiple sections of your gutters are giving you problems or you have tried repairing a problem before and it keeps coming back, you should save yourself the headache and replace your gutters.
If you don’t feel comfortable making the call yourself, you can call out a reputable professional to look at your gutters and give you an assessment. Be warned, while companies that install new gutters often also make small repairs on existing gutters, you should expect to hear a sales pitch arguing that new gutters are the way to go.
If you are confident you just want your gutters repaired, make several calls and get multiple estimates. This can also be a good job for a handyman, who may be more likely to give you a good price than someone who is motivated to sell you a new system. When searching Angie's List for service providers, be sure to check both categories "gutter repair" and "handyman."
Video: When to Repair Vs. Replace Your Gutters
Common gutter problems
Gutters are relatively simple in design and so there are just a few major ways they can fail. These are the most likely causes for gutter damage and how to repair them.
1. Blockage. Your gutters can be clogged with debris such as build up from natural materials like leaves or from unnatural materials like tennis balls. If you notice water marks under your gutters or pooling water and mildew near your foundation, your gutters are probably overflowing and simply need cleaned out. Don’t just think horizontal here. Your downspout can also be blocked.
2. Sag. If you notice your gutters leaning down or pulling away from the house, you need to act quickly to avoid rotting fascia board and total gutter collapse. The reason for your gutter sag is most likely the result of a broken hanger or spike. Inspect the problem area and replace broken hardware as necessary. You can purchase screw-in spikes instead of hammer-in to help with spike holes that have become worn and loose.
Your gutter might also be sagging due to excess weight from debris that needs cleaned out, ice expansion over the winter or from undue stress such as leaning a ladder on your gutters, which you should never do. If there is permanent warping, you may need to replace that section of gutter, if not your whole system depending on the extent of the damage.
3. Leaks. If your gutters are not blocked and water is still escaping, you have a leak. A leak sometimes opens at the joints between sections of gutter, which can simply be resealed. Other times a leak develops through a crack in the gutters from corrosion or other damage. You can patch these leaks, but once a weak spot is established, it will likely be a recurring problem.
4. Poor pitch. Gutters are meant to have an imperceptible slope towards the downspout, about 1/8 or 1/16 inch per foot, to keep water flowing. If water is pooling in your gutters when there is no blockage, your gutters are probably improperly pitched. This could have happened during a poorly done gutter installation or can be the result of a house settling. This problem may be hard to identify, but it’s important to address as pooling water can lead to corrosion or provide a breeding ground for pests such as mosquitos.
Gutter pitch adjustment is delicate work as you must maintain a precise angle, in a straight line, over long stretches of gutter. This repair can be done by the homeowner, but it’s also a good job to hire a handyman for to be sure the job gets done correctly and the problem gets fixed.
Sometimes you can seal leaks in gutter corners with caulk. (Photo by Tanner Halbig)
DIY or hire a pro?
Hanging gutters isn't rocket science -- but there is some science involved, not to mention skill, so make sure you're up to the job. Keep in mind, if you do a bad job it will be obvious to everyone who walks past your house.
If you install gutters yourself, you will be buying materials in sections from the hardware store and joining them together to stretch the length of your roof. This means there will be visible seams that could leak. You also run the risk of creating a wavy effect over several sections while trying to span 40 feet or more of roof line. Even if this is not noticeable to the naked eye, you will create places where water pools and does not drain.
Gutter replacement professionals can manufacture lengths of gutter on the spot to match the precise length of your roof line, which means no seams to join together and the pitch is much easier to install correctly.
When considering doing the job yourself, or if you are on the fence, first add up the total footage of gutter you need, including downspouts. Don't forget to include the number of end caps, elbows, spikes and so on to get a complete budget. Go to the hardware store and figure out how much it will cost for the materials. Remember that this will be a two-person and two-ladder job. If you'll need to buy or rent ladders, add that to your cost.
Once you have that number, call three reputable gutter installation companies and get estimates. Naturally, they will be more than your materials-only total, but you can then decide whether the difference is worth it to have the job done professionally.
With seamless gutters, sections join only at the inside and outside corners and at downspout outlets. (Photo by Tanner Halbig)
Gutter materials and cost
Manufacturers use several different types of materials to make gutters. There is wide variability in durability, curb appeal, weather resistance and price. These and other factors will determine which rain gutter system is best for your home.
Aluminum gutters are a popular choice because they are easy to install, fairly weather-resistant and economical. They are available in a wide range of colors and cost between $4 to $10 per linear foot, installed. The curb appeal is good, but can diminish somewhat over time. The main disadvantage of aluminum that it is readily damaged and bent by flying debris and high winds.
Copper gutters may be the right option for owners of historic or high-value homes. The curb appeal is high, but if you want to retain the copper's natural color, it will be more expensive and difficult to maintain. If patina is what you want, forgo the sealants and let nature take its course. The cons of copper are the $15 to $30 per foot price tag, with an average cost of $23 per foot. This makes copper the most expensive gutter material. There's also a risk that copper gutters will be stripped off of your house by thieves for the metal value. This risk ebbs and flows with the price of copper.
Stainless steel gutters are not a very common for residences, both because of cost and upkeep (rust). However, it’s the most durable gutter material and will withstand extreme weather conditions. With proper maintenance, steel gutters will last a lifetime. Steel gutters cost $8 to $12 per linear foot. The drawbacks to steel are its low curb appeal and the maintenance required to prevent rust and corrosion.
Vinyl gutters have become very popular because they are easy to install and have a wide range of color options. The $3 to $5 per linear foot price range makes vinyl one of the most economical choices. The curb appeal is good because vinyl is available in numerous colors and is generally fade-resistant. However, vinyl may not do well in extreme temperatures. Cold temperatures cause the material to become fragile and crack with continued exposure. Vinyl is also prone to damage during high winds.
Wood gutters would be a rare choice, but wood is sometimes used for restoration work. The curb appeal is high, but it requires more maintenance to prevent cracks or rot. It's also difficult to install. Cost have ranged between $12 and $20 per linear foot, but could be more so an an onsite inspection is necessary to determine the cost.
Some installers charge separately to remove and haul away old gutters and downspouts, so ask the pro if the expense is included in the estimate.