Gutters. They sit there unobtrusively, doing their thing, and you don’t give them a second thought. Until that is, there is a problem. Some people have been known to live in a home for months before realizing they do not have any gutters at all.
But is this a problem? What exactly do gutters do, what happens if you do not have gutters, and are there any viable alternatives?
Should I Have Gutters On My House? The short answer to this is yes. Gutters help to protect your home from an array of potential issues from cracked foundations to rotting structural beams. However, there are circumstances where a house does not need gutters, or an alternative rain diversion can be used.
Let’s take a more detailed look at gutters and how they protect your home, when you can do without them, and the viable gutter alternatives.
What Are Gutters?
Gutters are an integral part of a rain diversion system. They are a channel that collects the water flowing off of your roof and carries it to a spot of your choosing.
Gutters come in a range of sizes, styles, and materials, the details of which vary from home to home.
Why Do Houses Have Gutters?
Imagine a storm that drops one inch of rain on your house. During this storm, each square foot of your roof will be hit by an average of 0.6 gallons of water.
Depending on who you ask, figures for average residential roof size vary from 1700 to 2700 square feet. So using a midpoint, we’ll assume your roof is 2,300 square feet. This means that 1,380 gallons of water will fall on your roof for every inch of rainfall.
Houses have gutters to direct the majority of that water to one, two, or several points for collection or dispersal.
What Happens To A House Without Gutters?
Without gutters, the vast majority of the rainwater that falls on your roof will run down the slope and pour straight off the edge. This can, in turn, cause several problems.
Water pouring off the roof will hit the area around your house. Depending on the size of your roof overhang, the point where the water hits the ground will be near to or directly against the walls of your home.
Large amounts of water can cause soft landscaping to be slowly washed away. Over time, this erosion can affect the ability of the ground to support your home’s foundation.
Soil Swelling And Shrinkage
Rain will also soak into the ground, causing it to swell and placing pressure on the foundations. When it dries out, the soil will shrink, releasing the pressure and giving the foundation room to move back again.
Repeated heavy swelling and shrinking of the soil around your home can cause the foundation to move so much, and so often that it begins to crack.
Because clay soil holds the moisture and takes longer to dry out, homes in areas of the country with heavy clay soils are especially prone to this problem.
Concrete is surprisingly absorbent. If the ground around your concrete foundation is very wet, or wet for an excessive amount of time, the moisture will soak into your foundation. In turn, this will cause the concrete to crack or even begin to crumble.
If you have a concrete foundation and it has absorbed enough water, winter can bring a new set of problems because the water in the concrete will freeze. As a result, the concrete will expand, causing cracking and crumbling. Freezing expansion can also cause the foundation to swell, pushing your house upwards, and damaging the structure.
Whether it is due to a lack of support or movement due to swelling, absorption, or freezing, you may see shifting or cracking of your foundation.
But that’s not the only problem.
Structural Issues Due To Foundation Damage
This can lead to multiple issues for the structure of your home, including:
- Cracks in the walls, especially around door and window frames and the junctions of walls and ceilings.
- Sagging floors and ceilings
- Bowed walls
- Shifting of frames, so they are no longer true and causing doors and windows to stick or jam.
Moisture Issues Due To Foundation Damage
Water damage to your foundations can have other consequences.
Cracks in the foundation can lead to high levels of moisture and not only in the foundation. Prolonged overexposure to water at or below ground level can increase the moisture levels throughout your home. This is especially true in more humid climates.
Damp conditions provide the perfect breeding ground for mold., not only around your foundations but in your basement or other areas of your home.
Damage To Walls
Depending on the materials used for your exterior walls, a lack of gutters can cause water to pool at ground level, which can, in turn, cause rotting of your exterior walls.
Water pouring directly off the roof may also hit the walls and, in addition to rotting the materials, may cause staining and discoloration.
If your home is made from brick or you have external stonework, your walls are not immune to this issue. Regular dripping or running of water can cause erosion, staining, and in the same way as with foundations, cracking flaking, and breakages.
A home without gutters can cause a large volume of water to pool close to the house. As we’ve seen, this can cause rotting to the structure of the home and cracks in the foundations, both of which can lead to basement flooding.
Water that is not effectively diverted from a roof can soak into the structure. This can cause:
- Roof materials to absorb water.
- Rotting of roof materials and the underlying structure.
- Parts of the roof to shift causing an uneven roof surface to develop.
- The pooling of water in hollows created by roof damage.
- Leaks to form in the roof.
- Flooding of attic spaces.
- Damage to drywall, plaster or wall studs elsewhere in the house.
Ultimately, damage to the fabric to your home can make it easier for insects and other pests to enter your home. This is not only a problem in itself but can have multiple knock-on effects including wider damage to your home, and possibly your health.
Rain pouring from your roof and into your yard can also damage your landscaping.
- Planting can be soaked or have the solid supporting it washed away.
- Soil can be washed into unwanted areas of your yard.
- Hard landscaping can be eroded, discolored, or otherwise damaged.
Do All Homes Need Gutters?
Not every home needs gutters. There are circumstances in which you do not need gutters at all, or can safely use a gutter alternative.
Homes That Do Not Need Gutters
Some homes are constructed in such a way that gutters are not needed.
- If your roof has an overhang of over six feet, it is possible the runoff will land far enough away from the building itself, not to cause a problem. However, six feet of overhang is not a hard and fast rule.
Other factors should be taken into consideration, such as how much rain falls in your local area, and the type of soil on which your home is built.
- When you live in an area where there is little in the way of rainfall, your home might not need gutters. Water damage happens over time, and the occasional light rain or even the odd downpour is unlikely to cause issues for a home without gutters.
- If the ground slopes away from your house, water will be drawn away naturally. This will minimize the chances of foundation problems in a home without gutters, but will not eliminate the possibility of damage to the roof or walls.
Alternatives To Traditional Gutters
If you are on the fence about whether or not to have gutters, there are suitable alternatives for some houses.
Formed in such a way that they are not immediately visible, built-in gutters are often used when a traditional guttering system would spoil the overall look of a home.
They are usually formed from metal and require significantly less maintenance than traditional gutters. Built-in gutters can be constructed just large enough to cope with the average rainfall in the local area, which means they can be expensive to install.
Rain chains come in a range of designs and can be used to draw rain away from the roof. However, they are not suitable for homes that experience heavy rain and can be difficult to install and maintain.
Rain Diversion Louvres
These corrugated metal strips are custom made for each roof and divert rain to a specific spot on your property. The downside is that you need a suitable place in your yard to receive the water, and if you do not have one, you will also need ground gutters.
Whether or not your house needs gutters depends on a range of factors, some of which you can control, but most of which you can’t.
The biggest consideration should be whether or not your home will suffer damage due to a lack of guttering. Even if you do not need a full guttering system, you may still need some way of diverting the rain to a place of your choosing.