How Gutters & Downspouts Work | HomeTips
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How Gutters & Downspouts Work

An illustration and helpful explanation on how home rain gutters and downspouts work.

Rain Gutters and Downspouts Parts Diagram  ©HomeTips

Gutters and downspouts are made from wood, vinyl, or any of several different metals, including aluminum, galvanized steel, stainless steel, and copper. Wood gutters are virtually obsolete, except in restoration work.

You can buy vinyl gutter systems at home improvement centers; lightweight and simply snapped or glued together, vinyl systems are favored by do-it-yourselfers. Called sectional gutters, they are fitted together from 10- to 22-foot-long pre-painted gutter sections and a variety of corner connectors, end caps, drop outlets, downspouts, and other fittings.

Sheet metal shops and gutter specialists make and install most metal gutters. Professionally installed seamless gutters, today’s most popular type of gutter, are extruded from metal “coil” stock using a special machine that’s brought to your home by a gutter fabricator. As the name implies, there are no potentially leaky seams along their lengths—a big selling point. The lengths join to inside and outside corner components and downspout outlets. Seamless gutters are usually formed from aluminum that has a baked-on finish, but they may also be made from copper or factory-painted steel.

Standard gutter profiles

A gutter’s profile, as shown at right, depends on the material it’s made from. Wooden gutters are milled; sheet-metal gutters are formed; and aluminum and vinyl gutters are extruded.

Depending on the system, gutters are either nailed to the fascia with a clip or spike-and-ferrule hanger (as shown at left) or hung from the sheathing along the eaves before the roof is shingled, which is more secure and less visible.

Quality downspouts expel water well away from the house. Downspout extenders that run horizontally and carry the water away from the house can be added if need be.

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About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort developed his expertise more than 30 years ago as Building Editor for both Sunset Books and Home Magazine. He has written more than 30 home improvement books and countless magazine articles. He appeared regularly on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.

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  1. Just had gutters installed and the guy has the downspout ends 6-8 inches above the ground. It doesn’t look right…help??? Is this going to be a problem? ?

    • I’m not sure why this was done…I would call the gutter company and ask them. Your main concern should be where the rainwater goes when it comes out of the downspout—it needs to be directed well away from the house. Ideally, it goes into a drain that carries it away. You might want to check into a roll-out downspout extender (see the Amazon link at the end of the article).


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