Gutters vs. No Gutters

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Do you actually need gutters, and why? What are the alternatives? This article discusses whether gutters are necessary or not.

Have you ever intentionally looked at a roof just to inspect its gutter system? If you aren’t a professional working in the field of roofing and gutters, then this is not something you would usually do. Nevertheless, if you are experiencing any types of flooding in your basement, molds and rotting on your exteriors, or any signs of health issues, then you may just need to inspect your gutters.

The most common type of gutter in any household is the open gutter system. They are troughs (usually in U-shape or K-shape) that run along the edges of your roof with downspouts that run down the side of your house, disposing of the rainwater.

These types of gutter systems may seem non-complementary to the house design, time-consuming in maintenance, and generally useless. You may even have opted to have these gutters removed, therefore, bringing up the question: gutters or no gutters?

Why are rain gutters important?

A rain gutter’s primary role is to direct water away from the overall structure of your home, as well as the closet surroundings. This includes keeping the exterior walls of your roof and house from getting excessive moisture, which could lead to further problems such as molds and rot and damage the occupants’ health.

Even the area next to your house will be affected when the water from the roof flows straight down, commonly onto the soil or even a garden or flower bed. This could lead to flooding of the area and the drowning of your plants, eventually leading to soil erosion.

Soil erosion in a broader perspective is primarily caused by wind and flowing water. With improper roofing gutters, excessive pools of water could lead to many complications in the future including walls rotting, cracks, the flooding of your basement, and even structural instability.

With a proper gutter system, however, the water from the roof is collected in the trough and runs down the side of your house safely directing the water into a drain, or away from your house to avoid excessive moisture and pools of water around your house.

Gutters – pros and cons

Open gutter systems are the most common in any household, but some factors need to be considered if you want to see the benefits in the long run.

Pros

  • Having a good gutter system provides protection against heavy rains and distributes water away from your home, which will provide peace of mind to the occupants.
  • A gutter system reduces chances of erosion and structural instability, removes excessive moisture away from your house, and maintains a clean environment for the occupants’ health.
  • A gutter system maintains a cleaner appearance as any mud stains or debris against the wall exterior is reduced.

Cons

  • Open gutters will eventually accumulate an assorted array of debris, including leaves, branches, nests, and even ice dams in the winter. Maintenance to clean the gutters has to be done at least twice a year otherwise it could weigh down your gutter and roof and render them useless.
  • Maintaining a gutter can be done by simply climbing a ladder and cleaning the clogged-up gutter. However, this comes with safety hazards, so hiring professionals to remove the debris becomes an option. While this comes with convenience, however, it also comes at a price.
  • Aesthetics also play a big part in your house exterior, and with a gutter system, the exterior look of your house might change dramatically, depending on the material, size, and installation of the gutter system.

No gutters – pros and cons

It is worth mentioning that not every house requires a gutter system. If you live in an arid to semi-arid climate, where you don’t experience as many rainy seasons, then you may not necessarily need a gutter system.

Pros

  • There is no need for maintenance when it comes to leaves and debris, everything will just be blown from the roof shingles instead of getting stuck in the troughs of the gutters.
  • The design of the house would maintain its aesthetic without adding any bulky gutter system.

Cons

  • Eventually, especially in an area with heavy rainfall, continuous pounding will hit against the topsoil, which could lead to erosion of the landscape, and even later damage the foundation and create instability within the establishment.
  • When the landscape has too much water, flooding inside the basement is inevitable. This will definitely lead to foundation damage and reduce the property lifespan greatly.
  • During heavy rains, excess water from the roof will run along your walls which could lead to molds and rotting, thus creating an unhealthy environment for the inhabitants of the household.

Alternatives to gutters on houses

Traditionally, open gutters systems require regular maintenance to function properly. But there are good alternatives that can be used as a stand-alone alternative to gutter systems, or cooperatively to best control the flow and direction of the water.

Built-in gutters

Also known as a hidden gutter, a built-in gutter is a system that works just as well as common open gutters. It is built within the structure of the house and is a good option for maintaining the aesthetic house exterior, concealing downpipes, and handling heavier rainstorms. It also requires less maintenance.

However, due to the complexity of the installation, not all houses can have this type of gutter system, and there are also cheaper alternatives than a built-in gutter.

Drip edge

The drip edge is a type of metal flashing, commonly used together with an open gutter system, but can also be used by itself as an alternative, especially for climates with less rain.

Although its shape and design are manufactured to ensure that rainwater will be directed away from the facia boards and house walls, it does not control the flow of the water, nor slow down the fall to the ground below.

Drip path

A drip path is a paved pathway directly underneath the edge of the roof. Its role is to catch the rainwater falling off the roof, deflect water away from the house, and guide the water away from the foundation.

These gutter alternatives can complement and maintain the aesthetic look of the house exterior without needing to renovate the roof. These paths are usually made of bricks, blocks, and rocks.

Grading

The term grading in general terms of construction means ensuring a certain level or slope. As a gutter alternative, it simply means having a consistent slope descending away from your house. This allows the water to flow downwards and away from your foundation during the rainy season.

Although this is not the most permanent solution compared to other gutter alternatives, it could be more budget-friendly in a region with less annual rain.

Ground gutter / French drain

The ground gutter is a general term for any gutter system that is underneath the ground, while the French gutter is a type of ground gutter that utilizes a certain technique including a specialized landscape fabric, a perforated pipe, and is abundantly covered in aggregate. These types of gutters are both non-conspicuous gutter alternatives that don’t have drastic changes to the appearance of the landscape but can be some of the most expensive alternatives.

With a ground gutter/French drain, water is collected from the deepest points in the landscape, where pools of water can form, beneath the edge of a gutterless roof, or even together with an open gutter system. When the rain falls it passes through these ground gutters and is directed away from the foundation, usually to a lower area, or to the nearest drainage system.

Rain chains

Of Japanese origin, Kusari-toi or Kusari-doi (鎖樋) are alternatives to the downspout, which comes most commonly in a round or quadrilateral pipe. They are not the whole gutter system but usually come in layered cups or actual chains to slow down the fall of the water as it passes through.

These types of downspouts are stylish and can aesthetically complement your house. However, these gutter alternatives cannot handle heavy rains, and during colder seasons they may freeze over, weighing down your roof and further causing problems.

Rain dispersal systems

Rain dispersal systems are made of smaller louvers attached below your roof edge. They disperse running water into smaller rivulets and droplets, reducing the impact of the rain on the ground below the roof edge, as well as deflecting water away from your walls.

These gutter alternatives are cheaper, lighter, and quicker to install, compared to other alternatives. Maintenance is also little to none, where any leaves and debris will just be blown off these alternatives. However, puddles can form and erode your landscape if not paired with proper grading or a ground gutter.

When are gutters necessary?

Gutters, especially open gutter systems, are the most common for any establishment, and for good reason. Since improper drainage is one of the causes for foundation failure, gutter systems are installed to prevent this from happening, this is apparent depending on the following:

  • Location – if your house is in between a sloping landscape, water will gather on at least one side, so having gutters (as well as ground gutters) will help the side with the upward slope in directing water towards the downward slope.
  • Foundation – depending on the type of soil your house is built upon, such as red clay, it is essential to have a good gutter system that will direct water away from the foundation as too much water will cause cracks undetected beneath the house and cause it to be unstable.
  • Climate – this dictates if having a gutter system will benefit the house in the long run or is unnecessary. If you experience frequent rainfall, gutters are essential for directing the water every time there is rainfall.

When are gutters optional?

On the other side of the spectrum, there are situations where having a gutter system is notably optional, and even installing one may just lead to more problems such as excess debris and weighing down the edges of your roof.

  • Location – if your house is in a landscape that slopes downwards, a house on a hill is less likely to need gutters than one in a valley.
  • Foundation – if your house is surrounded by concrete such as sidewalks and driveways, the concrete already acts as a protective boundary against erosion and foundation instability.
  • Climate – living in an arid to semi-arid climate would deem having gutters useless and a waste of money since you don’t experience annual rainfall as in other locations.

Roof length – if your roof has a long enough overhang or is extended, then installing a gutter would be useless. Water would be able to run off far from the foundation and walls of your house. But due to the constant run-off of water from the roof, your landscape would eventually have soil erosion. This can be prevented by paring the extended overhang with a drip path or a ground gutter.