Most people know that the purpose of a gutter system is to channel water flow away from your home to prevent damage caused by water buildup, but did you know that your gutters are a complex system made up of multiple components? Learning about these components is essential to maintaining, repairing, and replacing your gutters.
Why should you be aware of and understand the different parts of a gutter system? Several common problems can begin to affect your gutter system over time, and the first step in identifying and solving a problem is to know where it’s located.
Think of it this way: When you visit the doctor’s office for a medical issue, the first thing you’d tell your physician is the part of your body that is ailing you. Likewise, whether you call on a trained gutter maintenance technician or decide to go the DIY route, you should know what part of your gutter system requires repair.
Table of Contents
- What are the Different Parts of a Gutter System?
- FAQ About Gutter Systems
What are the Different Parts of a Gutter System?
Every gutter system is constructed differently, depending on how your roof is configured, the materials your gutter is made from, and the type of gutter you have installed. However, many parts remain the same and serve the same function between different gutter system configurations.
The most important part of a gutter system is the gutter itself. Sometimes referred to as a rain gutter, this part is a trough designed to catch rainwater, snowmelt, and debris, and channel it down a pipeline so it doesn’t collect in one area and stagnate.
Most gutters come in sections that fit together to form long channels for water and debris. However, some homes have seamless gutters, meaning that the channels are created from a single piece of material.
Gutters come in many shapes and sizes to fit different types of roofs. Some shapes help to mitigate the amount of debris that ends up in the gutters, and others highlight the exterior aesthetic of your home.
In addition, gutters come fabricated with several different materials, with aluminum gutters being the most common because they’re lightweight and corrosion-resistant.
Gutters are shaped like hollow tubes or troughs, so there is the potential for water to slosh out either side of them. End caps are fittings placed on the ends of gutters with rivets to close them off and keep the water in the gutter run where it belongs.
If you have a corner of your roof where two gutters meet, a miter acts as a joint to connect those gutters and reinforce the seam where they connect. When the gutters meet on an outside corner, they are joined together by an outside miter. Likewise, two sections of gutter on an inside corner are linked by an inside miter.
There are two commonly used types of gutter miters.
- Box miters are pre-manufactured pieces that are attached to the two gutter runs at a corner, using sealant and fasteners to close the two seams.
- Strip miters are custom-fabricated with a single-seam design, meaning you would need to seal only one side of the miter. Unlike a box miter, any screws and fasteners used to hold a strip miter together are not visible, which can maintain the aesthetic integrity of your home.
A downspout is another essential part of a gutter system. An enclosed vertical tube that runs perpendicular to your gutter, downspouts carry water away from the gutter. They connect to the gutter along the edge of the roof via a section called a drop outlet that contains a drain-like hole leading to the downspout.
As a general rule of thumb, there should be one downspout per 20 feet of gutter. Typically, when there’s a clog in your gutter, the problem stems from the downspout.
Even if you have gutter guards to keep debris from clogging the system, you should check and clean the downspout to truly ensure that it remains clear of debris. Fortunately, cleaning a downspout is a project you could easily undertake.
An elbow is a section of bent metal, usually aluminum, that helps direct the flow of water from the downspout around the contour of your roof to a pipe that runs vertically along a wall of your home. One end of the elbow is typically crimped so it can fit into another elbow or the downspout.
There are two kinds of elbows:
- “A”-style elbows bend to direct the water flow either forward or backward.
- “B”-style elbows channel water to the left or the right of the downspout.
Also called “downspout straps” or “downspout brackets,” these are specially designed brackets that secure the downspout to a wall of your home.
Composed of a bent piece of metal that wraps around the outside of the downspout, pipe cleats look like clips that attach to the side of your house through brick, concrete, and siding via heavy-duty screws or bolts.
Gutter Spikes and Ferrules
A gutter spike is a large nail used to mount your gutters to the roof.
A ferrule is a small, cylindrical piece of metal that secures a gutter spike.
The spike is driven through a gutter section from the outside, guided into place by the ferrule, and secured to the fascia, which are boards that enclose the supporting trusses of your roof on the edge of your home.
A special, toothy texture called knurling exists at one end of the gutter spike, allowing it to dig into the fascia boards for a more rigid attachment.
Generally speaking, this rigidity of attachment is part of the reason gutter spikes and ferrules are no longer widely used as fasteners during a gutter installation. It makes removing gutters to repair roof issues around them more complicated and potentially damaging to your home and gutters.
Instead of gutter spikes and ferrules, modern gutters are secured to your roof by hangers, which consist of two pieces. One piece is a metal bracket that attaches directly to the fascia board via an angled screw inside the gutter. The other piece is a metal hanger that attaches to the front edge of your gutter and clips into the fascia piece.
Unlike gutter spikes and ferrules, the screws and fasteners for gutter hangers are hidden from view. In addition, these hidden hangers make it easier to remove and reattach your gutters for home maintenance.
When the water your gutters direct away from the roof reaches the end of its journey, it needs somewhere to go.
Draining that much water directly onto the ground can lead to foundation issues, damage to your home, soil erosion, or overwatered patches of lawn. While you could bury the downspout to solve the issue, a splash block presents a simpler solution.
A splash block is a rectangular piece of concrete, metal, or plastic that is placed at the end of a downspout. It has an open-ended side that directs water as far away from your home as possible. Splash blocks can be as broad or narrow as you need them to be.
A splash block can even be decorative if you want to add some personality to your gutter system.
FAQ About Gutter Systems
Eavestrough and gutter are two terms for the same system. Eaves are sections of the roof that extend past a wall, protecting the wall from water damage in a storm. While the term gutter is more generic for any repository intended to catch water runoff, eavestrough specifically refers to one attached to the eaves of a building.
Modern gutter systems are built to last for long periods through all manner of conditions, but they do require a degree of vigilance.
It would be most helpful to clean your gutters twice yearly, or more often if there are a lot of trees on your property. When cleaning out your gutters, check the individual parts and connections for damage, leaks, or corrosion, and replace them when necessary.
Use gutter guards to cut down on the amount of debris that comes in contact with your downspouts to prevent a clog from forming.
There are circumstances in which it’s not necessary to have a gutter system attached to your home.
If your house is surrounded by sidewalks, patios, streets, driveways, and other concrete structures, you won’t need to worry about preventing soil erosion.
And if your house sits at the top of a hill, there will be a natural slope to guide excess water away from your home’s foundation.
When to Call a Gutter Pro
Your gutters are an essential part of maintaining your home. Whether you have old or new gutters, you should give them the care and attention that they deserve. That’s where we can help. Gutter Gnome makes it easy to find the best gutter pros near you. With just a few clicks, you’ll get quotes in minutes.