Face it, gutters are boring. But they’re important. Unless you live in the desert, you need gutters to keep rain from pouring off your roof and onto the foundation of your house, or into your basement or crawl space, causing water damage faster than you can say “five-figure homeowner’s insurance claim.” But we have good news: You can glam up your gutters if you pick ones made of copper. They’re like jewelry for your house.
Get your mind in the gutter to learn more.
Isn’t copper pricey?
Yes. Very. Copper gutters and downspouts cost between $25 and $30 a foot, installed. Compare that to steel ones that are $8 to $10 per foot, and aluminum ones that are $5 to $8 per foot, and copper’s more than twice the cost of other materials. But. Copper gutter systems last an average of 60 years and can last as long as a century with proper maintenance, because they won’t rust. Yes, copper gutters may outlast you. Gutters of cheaper materials have much shorter lifespans. Those inexpensive vinyl ones need to be replaced every 10 years, and steel or aluminum ones need to be replaced every 20 years. Do the math. On a per-year cost basis, copper gutters don’t cost much more than steel or aluminum ones. And copper looks so elegant, making a home look like a landmark.
Will copper work with my house’s style?
Copper gutters and downspouts are a dream fit for high-end custom homes, traditional-style homes, and historic residences. Copper gutters on a Victorian house? Perfect. Arts and Crafts? Stone Tudor? Perfect. Frank Lloyd Wright, champion of natural materials, adored copper gutters. Copper glinting along the edges of a classic slate roof is home-tour perfection.
Some architectural styles are less compatible. For instance, copper gutters are not a good choice for a midcentury modern house, because they clash with the intent of simple, minimal design that was meant to look Space Age, not Gilded Age.
How do I care for copper?
You’ll need to clean tree debris and roof runoff out of copper gutters, just like every other kind of gutter. Debris left in the gutter too long will discolor the copper. Use soft plastic tools, not metal ones, to remove the debris or you’ll scratch the copper. And no bare hands. Your skin has oils on it that will leave spots on the copper and mess up the patina, so wear gloves when cleaning.
Copper gutters and downspouts get an elegant blue-green patina as they age, thanks to the magic of oxidation. You will never have to paint them. But if patina isn’t your thing, you can keep copper gutters and downspouts shiny and warm-colored by putting a protective coating on them each year and polishing them with a solution made for copper. This will be a lot of work, so you may want to learn to love the look of aged metal.
Pro tip: When cleaning those copper gutters, do not lean a ladder on them. You’ll bend or scratch them.
Anatomy of a Gutter System
There are pieces and parts to a gutter system. Let’s start at the edge of the roof, with the:
- Gutter, the tray-shaped piece that hangs on the and catches the runoff. It also has an end cap and corner pieces.
- Drop outlet, which connects the gutter to the downspout.
- Downspout, a vertical pipe that carries water away from the house.
- Elbow, a bent pipe attached to the end or top of the downspout to direct the drainage flow.
- Bracket, which fastens the gutter and downspout to your house.
- Splash block, a spillway-shaped piece that sits on the ground and diverts runoff from the house.
Pro tip: You can’t mix and match materials for components. Every part from end caps to elbows must be copper, because other materials could rust, staining the copper, or corrode, causing your gutter system to fail.
Styles of Copper Gutters and Downspouts
- Round downspouts like tubes
- Square downspouts look like square tubes.
- Half-round gutters look like a round tube cut in half, leaving a semi-circular tray that hangs on the eave.
- K-Style gutters have a flat bottom and back, and the front side is curved or ogee shaped. K-Styles can carry twice the water as a half-round, so they’re a good choice for a rainy climate.