Until recent times almost all homes featured 5” wide gutters with 2” by 3” downspouts. They mostly got the job done. But modern homes have more corners, more ins and outs, more valleys and gables. So your modern builder has gone upscale to 6” gutters, the old commercial size. The 6” gutter carries 59% more rainwater volume than the old 5”. The larger size has the obvious benefit of allowing gutters under fancy shingles like wood (which usually overhang the gutter) to be used correctly. The bigger size also allows your gutter installer to move up to larger downspouts without sacrificing carrying capacity. The new norm is 3” by 4” downspouts, twice the exterior size of the older downs.
FYI: the bottom of the trough on a 5” gutter is only 3” making it kind of tough to turn a 3” by 4” down sideways and restricting flow in most installs. A 6” gutter trough bottom is 3 ¼” allowing a full draining with 3” by 4” downs. Be aware almost all new downs are .019 aluminum which I call pop-can thickness. If you are aware, note that virtually all colors can be special ordered in .024 aluminum–a much stronger downspout. Some of the big trophy homes are even sporting the latest 4” by 5” downs because bigger is almost always better. The proper gutter hanging height is also a neglected area. Most gutter guys will severely slope the gutter and almost universally hang it too high on the fascia. The national guttering code recommends hang gutters lower in virtually all cases.
How much water can a downspout handle? The rule of thumb is 40’ of gutter per downspout. Every right angle can reduce capacity by 50%. However, a good field mechanic can weasel around this and still create a guttering system that can handle any normal HUGE rain.
While you are looking at your gutters, note that a neglected area on new gutter installation is the kick or gutter leader. It allows rainwater to be channeled further away from the vulnerable foundation and out into your yard. There are three points to note.
#1 If your lawn and trees allow it, the primo way to move water away from the home is a buried downspout. Like black field tile, it can be buried and day-lighted away into the lawn. Just cut the tubing at a slope to match your lawn. There are special adapters available at Big Box stores to transition your 3 by 4 down into this underground avenue. Also, consider underground French drains with river rock and drain tile. They can be dug under the sod and will move massive amounts of surface water for you.
#2 Laws state you cannot make your neighbor’s water problem worse by channeling surface water at them. But if you are grandfathered in, you are an exception. Traditionally a splash block was the extent of involvement in getting water away from your foundation. A downspout with 2 zip screws on each side can allow it to be flipped up until the screws fall out. Avoid this. Today we have high tech steel and aluminum hinges that we can install. This will make your ground-laying gutters swing up. You will love the swing-ups. On a 7 foot downspout, for example, downspout hinges will allow your lawn parameter to be weed wacked without denting the down extension. A hinge will also prevent your downspout extension from being beaten up or blown away. Or use a clear plastic slider to hold the down up during mowing and to ensure the wind does not flip it back down on you. This is nifty. Also consider installing hard black plastic flat surface drains with extensions. This will allow you to cross a sidewalk and not leave a huge trip up for guests.
#3 Use any means in freezing winter areas to avoid making your driveway a dangerous family skating rink. Chanel rainwater to the street whenever possible. Change your downs direction or change the downs’ placement on your home. For example, it’s possible to punch a new down opening in your gutter. Or change the existing down location and put a patch over old down hole. Note most gutter contractors will not punch out a 2 by 3 opening in your gutter and install a 3 by 4; it is too hard on the punch.
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