Types of Gutters and How to Prepare for an Install

Learn what you need to do before installing gutters and the various types of gutters that are available.
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A correctly installed gutter system will increase the efficiency of water transfer from roof to drainage system. This helps to maintain house structure by eliminating problems often caused by leaking or badly positioned gutters. Gutters do not need to be replaced often. Regularly clear gutters of debris, repair any loose joints as soon as you notice them, and remember that some materials — cast iron, for example — require painting.

Recycling Water

Rainwater is usually directed underground, but it can be recycled. This can be done by collecting it in a rain barrel positioned below a gutter downspout, or with a system of water recycling for use in the household plumbing system.


Gutters are made from a variety of materials, each with different strengths, appearances, and costs. There may be regulations in historic areas about replacing gutters, so check these if they may apply to you before you buy new gutters.

Aluminum (Image 1) Lightweight. Joining systems vary. Continuous gutters (without joints) can be made on-site by specialists to suit your requirements.

Plastic (Vinyl) (Image 2) Lightweight, and easy to work with. Sections clip together. Requires only minimal maintenance.

Copper (Image 3) Durable and easy to install. With time, the bright finish weathers to an attractive verdigris (green patina).

Cast Iron (Image 4) Traditional and hardwearing, but extremely heavy. Iron needs to be painted. Sections are joined with mastic, nuts, and bolts.


Most gutters have a rounded or a squared shape, but several profiles are available. If you are replacing a whole gutter system, your main concerns will be appearance, cost, and ease of installation (if you are planning to do the work yourself).

  • Half-Round Simple rounded profile
  • Box Square profile
  • Square Line Decorative alternative to half-round
  • K Style Sometimes attached directly to fascia

Gutter Systems

Several different sections fit together to drain rainwater quickly and efficiently. Although the method of joining these elements varies depending on the gutter material used, the components are similar. Shown here is a basic vinyl system. Your system may need some or all of the components shown here.

Guttering System Diagrammed with Each Section

Guttering System Diagrammed with Each Section

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Splash Block

Most downspouts empty on to a splash block that directs water away from your foundation.



©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Preparing to Install Gutters

Installation is a simple, methodical process, but the technique will vary slightly depending on the gutter type. Plan thoroughly the layout and components needed. In most cases it will simply be a case of replacing like with like, so it may be worth making a sketch of how the components of the old system are arranged. Familiarize yourself with how to assemble the joints used with your system. Arrange to have somebody to help you do the work.

Other Things to Consider:

  • If fascia boards need to be painted, paint them before attaching new gutters.
  • Trim back any long sections of roofing felt so that they lip into the gutter, but ensure that they do not block the water flow.
  • Use a toolbelt to hold tools safely while you are working on a ladder.
  • After installation, test gutters by pouring in a bottle of water at the highest point to make sure everything is working properly.

Removing Old Gutters

Whether or not it is difficult to remove old gutters depends on what material it is made of, and how easy it is to gain access to it. Aim to carry the gutters down the ladder with you, rather than allowing them to drop to the ground. If the gutters are very high, or it is difficult to set up a ladder, get a professional to take down the old gutters and replace them. If you are removing metal gutters, bear in mind that they may be heavy. Make sure the area below where you are working is clear. Another alternative to ladders or fixed scaffolding is to rent either pipe staging or a power lift.

Measuring for New Gutters

Gutters need to slope towards a running outlet to ensure that water drains away efficiently. The gradient needed is very slight — only 1:500, which amounts to 1 inch in every 50 feet. In practice, you do not need to work it out precisely, but just make sure that the gutters slope all the way down to the running outlet — and that it slopes even while turning any corners. On a particularly long run of gutter, the fascia board may not be deep enough to accommodate the gradient required. In this case, a running outlet may be positioned centrally along the length of a fascia board, with lengths of gutter on either side running downhill toward it. The number and position of downspouts will therefore be very much dependent on the length of a gutter run, and also where the downspout can direct water to drainage. In most cases, these routes will be well established, but on new projects some more detailed planning will be required.

Typical Gutter Arrangement

A diagram of your property provides the easiest way to work out requirements. It is then possible to calculate how many standard lengths will be required, and how many will need to be cut. It also makes it straightforward to calculate joints (and the requirements for union brackets), corner sections and the number of running outlets needed.

Estimating Quantities

Basic Estimate
If possible, measure lengths of the old gutter and the downspouts. Otherwise, measure around the building at ground level, and measure its height. Feed a rigid tape measure up a wall to find the height for the downspout.

Waste and Trim
Buy about 10 percent extra. Gutters tend to come in standard lengths, which you will have to cut to size, so some will be wasted.

The number of clips needed per length may be specified by the manufacturer. Otherwise, aim for one every 2 yards on metal gutters and every 1 yard on vinyl gutters

Union Brackets
If you are using vinyl gutters, work out how many joints there will be between lengths: you will need a union bracket for each joint.

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