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Aluminum vs. Steel Gutters? Differences? Similarities? What’s Better?

A close look at a house's rain gutter and drain pipe.

The roof rain gutter and down spout are a big part of what completes your roof. Learn the difference between aluminum and steel gutters to know which is better for your home.

While modern gutters — i.e. the gutters that are likely on your home right now — weren’t technically invented until the 20th century, the act of diverting water away from homes has actually been in practice since the Roman Empire. After all, the damage water from rain can inflict on a home is well-known and has been for centuries.

When it comes to modern gutter systems, there are a number of different types you can go with. However, the most popular for residential homes has to be aluminum and steel gutters.

With that said, if you’re unfamiliar with these gutter materials, you might find it difficult to figure out what makes each of them different; and have a hard time deciding which system is right for your home. Luckily, we’ve broken down both gutter system types below to help you gain more clarity:

Steel

A house with galvanized steel rain gutters and drain pipe.

If you are looking for a gutter system that is stronger than the aluminum option, then you will want to choose steel gutters; they are the strongest option available. The color choices are the same as the aluminum ones; mostly white or brown, but there is also the option to get them painted in a custom color to match the home’s current exterior.

Steel gutters have increased durability features from aluminum ones. They are capable of withstanding far more extreme weather conditions from ice, snow, hail, and rain, as well as other external factors, like tree branches and ladders. Like aluminum gutters, you can use hidden brackets, exterior brackets, or straphangers to securely and safely fastened to the house. You also have the choice to use expansion joints, however, it may not be necessary depending on where you live as steel does not expand and contract nearly as much as aluminum.

While you are less likely to have to deal with damage because of expansion and contraction in steel gutters, you will be much more likely to deal with rust as an issue. Steel gutters do not offer the feature of being rust-proof like other gutter systems.

The pros of the strength to withstand extreme weather conditions or falling objects may not outweigh the cons of the durability of them and how expensive it will be to replace them every 5-10 years. Currently, both steel and aluminum gutter systems are popular with homeowners. When deciding which material would be better suited for your needs, keep in mind the unique traits that highlight the gutter’s strengths.

Other factors you will want to consider before purchasing are what is the climate like where you live, what is your decoration style, and whether you have a personal preference for one over the other. Either system will be a great option for a house.

Aluminum

A house with new seamless aluminum rain gutters.

Aluminum has three distinct properties which continually make it the top-ranked material for residential gutter systems.

Those attributes are the fact it’s lightweight, durable, and will not rust. Aluminum gutters have even been designed to withstand extreme forces, such as damage from snow and ice, and even trees if they happen to fall on the house.

More often than not, you will find aluminum gutters available in either white or brown options of colors. The reasoning behind this is to make them blend in with both lighter and darker houses. If you really wanted, though, you can custom paint the gutters to the exact color you wish to have them specifically match the color of your house or roof.

Installing aluminum gutters is easy, too, as there are numerous options for installation. The four ways aluminum gutters can be installed are hidden brackets, exterior brackets, straphangers, and screws.

There aren’t any noticeable benefits of using one of these over the others; however, do keep in mind that as the temperature outside changes, aluminum will expand and contract. If you ended up choosing to solve expansion joints, it would help prevent your gutters from weather damage due to temperature change.

Which Gutter Material is Right For You?

When purchasing a new gutter system for your home, there are several things you will need to keep in mind, such as your budget and specific features of your home.

Aluminum gutters are more expensive than steel ones, but they are also lighter and will last far longer than steel ones. Steel gutters have the benefit of being more resistant to damage and the material does not fluctuate due to changes in weather conditions.

Many people get bogged down in thinking about the work it takes to clean and maintain gutters in proper working order. However, the relatively small amount of work it takes to keep your gutters clean will ultimately save you money in the long run. Gutters are designed to help filter snow, water, and another run-off away from your home to help prevent and damage from happening to the structural integrity of the home.

On the other hand, if you do not regularly clean and maintain your gutter systems, backflow from run-off can cause serious damage to your house’s foundation, window, and door frames, cause mold growth, and other various defects to the home.

Putting in a little elbow grease a few times throughout the year doesn’t seem too terrible when you compare it to the money you could potentially have to spend on costly home repairs. When you are cleaning your gutters, you should constantly check for holes and any parts that may sag or have clogs; this may signal that your gutters are in need of being replaced.

DIY Gutter Installation Tips

A man installing the down spout of the aluminum rain gutter.

If you will be installing the gutters by yourself, there are a few things you need to keep in mind beforehand. The most important is ensuring you choose the correct size of gutter for your home. If your gutters are not large enough, they will have a difficult time channeling all of the run-offs away from your house and preventing damage.

You will also need to make sure you space the gutter hangers apart at the appropriate length. If they are too far apart, there won’t be enough support under the gutters and when there are large downpours or heavy snowfalls, the gutters will end up sagging due to not being able to handle the weight. As the gutters sag, the run-off will pool in sections and not flow out of the gutter like it is supposed to.

The recommendation given is to space the gutter hangers 3 feet apart. However, if you live in a climate where there is a lot of snowfall, you will want to consider moving them closer to 2 feet apart to help prevent sagging. Over time, the sagging will cause the gutters to slowly tear away from the side of the house.

The other important aspect you need to consider when hanging your gutters is the angle at which you hang them. If the angle is either too steep or not steep enough, the flow of the channel will be disrupted and not function properly. You want to find a pitch that isn’t too angled or too flat; find a good compromise between the two.

Expert gutter installers recommend changing the slope by a ¼ inch every 10 feet along the gutter line towards the downspout. If needed, you can go with a little steeper of an angle, but you do not want to ever have your gutters at a perfectly flat angle. One other important consideration; don’t have too many seams in your gutters either.

Seams can be another source of damage to gutters. If a gutter has a lot of seams, that could allow for more leaks and make the gutters weak. When you are doing research and looking at new gutter systems, it would be best to look for a system that either does not have a lot of seams or better yet, is completely seamless.

Lake Lite HG-31110 Diamond Rain-Run Downspout Splashblock, Brown
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The downspout is the last important part of a gutter system that you need to consider during installation. The location of the downspout is just as important as how many downspouts you have. Downspouts help the run-off flow out and away from the house. Just make sure that you install them correctly so they do not corrode due to inclement weather conditions, as they can be expensive to replace.

You will want to exercise caution as you are installing your gutter system. Make sure that your ladder and other tools do not cause unwanted damage to the gutters during installation. If you chose to go with aluminum gutters, they are much more likely to be damaged during the process than the steel ones; but you should still be careful and precise when installing either system.

You want to avoid any damage to any part of your gutters. If it does become damaged, however, you can replace the specific section. It will still be a pricey fix, though.

Aside from the specifics of the gutter system itself, there are a few accompanying details you should also take into consideration. Think about things like leaf catchers and gutter guards to add further protection and add to the lifespan of your gutter system.

 

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