Vinyl and aluminum are two of the most popular choices when it comes to a home gutter system. We explain in detail what the key differences and similarities between these two gutter materials.
Water may be essential to life and water may be fun to play in, but, when it comes to your home, water can certainly be frustrating and downright dangerous. In fact, most any contractor will tell you that of all the problems a home might have, a roof leak is the worst and should be at the highest priority. This is because water that leaks through your roof, either at the peak or, more commonly, where your gutters should be, can cause a host of issues including fungal wood rot and mold.
But with a correctly installed and operating gutter system, water will be drained away from your home, protecting it and preventing the following from occurring:
- Water from damaging your roof and causing rot, mold, or deterioration in shingles, masonry, fascia, and soffit
- Excess moisture in windows
- Water from pooling around the foundation, thereby spurring erosion and causing damage to your foundation and potential flooding in a basement or crawlspace
So now that you know how integral a functioning gutter system is, the next question is what type of material you should choose when it comes to selecting a gutter system for your home. Two of the most popular materials for gutter systems are vinyl and aluminum. The following is an examination of both vinyl gutters and aluminum gutters to help you better determine which material to use:
Table of Contents
What are Vinyl Gutters
Vinyl gutters are comprised of a specially formatted PVC plastic and it’s this plastic that gives the material several unique advantages as well as a few slight disadvantages. Overall, however, many homeowners and contractors choose vinyl gutters as its PVC makeup makes it a durable material and, perhaps most notably, it is one of the most inexpensive materials on the market. Vinyl gutters are still relatively new in the industry and, while they are gaining in popularity, have not yet overtaken aluminum gutters.
What are Aluminum Gutters
Aluminum gutters are the most popular type of gutters on the market, making up an estimated 80% of all gutter systems installed in the United States and may be made either from primary grade or recycled grade aluminum. There are two types of aluminum gutters that you’ll see advertised: Seamed aluminum and seamless aluminum. The seamed version is a good choice for those homeowners who want to install gutters themselves while seamless aluminum gutters will be found with professional installers as they are custom-made on site.
Vinyl vs. Aluminum Gutters
Brief History of Gutters and Their Materials
The benefits of gutters in protecting homes is no new thing. The earliest evidence of gutters being used is 3000 BC by the Harappan civilization in what is now Pakistan. Where they used burnt clay to divert water, we now use a myriad of materials including vinyl and aluminum.
Aluminum was one of the first types of mass-produced gutter materials that were rolled out during the Industrial Revolution in the mid-17th century. However, there is evidence of craftsmen creating customized aluminum gutters as early as the 1500s. In the 1960s, another big industrial discovery led to the creation of a more sophisticated machine that could create the more modern roll-form, seamless gutters.
Vinyl gutters are a synthetic man-made material, a type of plastic that is the result of ethylene and chlorine being processed to form a polyvinyl chloride (PVC). The very first PVC pipes were introduced to the UK market in the 1930s for use in sanitary drainage systems. The benefits of the material were obvious and by the 1990s, vinyl gutters had become one of the most popular materials for use in rain gutters.
Durability is defined as the ability to withstand wear, pressure, and damage. Both vinyl and aluminum gutters are considered overall durable, but each succeeds best in certain conditions of the term.
Vinyl gutters are incredibly durable in that they can withstand heavy water use and will not bend or dent if you smack it accidentally with your ladder. Plus, vinyl won’t rust, rot, or otherwise decay. However, while vinyl gutters hold up great in milder climates and in daily use, they do not fare so well in very cold regions. This is because vinyl, as with many plastics, will expand when it’s hot and contract when it’s cold. While the expanding and contracting are minor, it’s enough that over time, vinyl gutters may become brittle and eventually crack.
Aluminum gutters, in contrast, do outstanding in all climates. Today’s modern ones likewise won’t rust, rot, or decay and so homeowners can rest assured that when they install or have installed aluminum gutters, they are doing so for a very, very long time. However, what they aren’t durable against are accidental slams with the ladder. In other words, aluminum gutters may easily be dinged or dented.
When it comes to cost, vinyl gutters are the cheaper option both upfront and over the long run so long as you don’t live in a northern climate (because remember, their tendency to crack makes for more frequent replacement). Current prices of vinyl gutters are between $5 and $10 per section, which leads to an average home installation price of $1,220 to $1,615. Furthermore, because they come in the desired stock color, they do not need to be painted and thus long-term costs are lower for vinyl.
Aluminum gutters will last longer and remain durable, but they are also more expensive. Current prices of aluminum gutters are between $9 and $14 per section, which leads to an average home installation price of $1,930 and $2,545. Furthermore, aluminum gutters that come painted may chip depending upon weather and property conditions. Check brand warranties before purchasing as some of the leading brands will offer reimbursement for premature paint chipping.
Design Features: Sectional vs. Seamless
From time to time, certain weather conditions will lead to gutters filling too quickly with too much rain, snow, or ice and the sudden weight will cause them to sag. Gutters with seams risk being pulled apart when this happens, leading to gutter leaks and sometimes damages to windows and sidings.
In order to fix this issue, metal gutter manufacturers created a process to create seamless aluminum and other metal gutter systems. In this process, a professional gutter installation group will come to your home and use a rolling machine to cut perfect seamless sections of aluminum gutter to fit your home.
Homeowners can readily buy seamed or seamless gutters in any area. However, vinyl gutters were available only as seamed sections until very recently. As such, it may be difficult to find seamless gutters in your area and this is another reason why vinyl tends not to be the top pick in northern climates where sagging gutters can be a common issue.
Design Features: Color
It used to be that vinyl gutters only readily came in brown and white with some select colors being available only through special orders and at an added cost. Such limitation was once a major drawback of the material But again technology has improved over the last decade and homeowners can probably readily find at least a dozen different colors stocked at their local store or with their installer. Note though that lighter colors on vinyl gutters have a tendency to take on a yellow cast over the years while darker shades may fade.
In contrast, aluminum gutters both yesterday and today come in a great array of colors. They are also much more readily paint-able and so homeowners can opt to get the color they want upon installation and should they ever have their home repainted, the gutters can easily be painted to match as well.
Design Features: Weight and installation
Vinyl gutters are incredibly lightweight and easy for even the novice handyman to put together. So if you are looking to do a DIY home project with your gutters, then vinyl is certainly the way to go. Furthermore, if components of a vinyl gutter system ever become damaged, they are fairly easy to replace with most components readily found at your local hardware or big box store.
In contrast, aluminum gutters are thicker and heavier. This is a good feature in that aluminum will hold up in extreme weather conditions and should it ever be dented, careful work can bang such dents right out. But when it comes to installing aluminum gutters, even when you opt for the hardware store seamed version, can be tough to do it yourself. Non-handy homeowners may also require professional assistance should they ever need their aluminum gutters repaired.
Remember that aluminum gutters may either be comprised of primary aluminum, which is the thickest, most durable kind, or secondary aluminum which may be cheaper and lighter but also frequently displays inconsistent thickness which can damper its durability.
Both quality vinyl and aluminum gutters that are professionally installed will have a working lifespan of up to 20 years.
Recap of the Benefits of Vinyl vs Aluminum Gutters
The following is a quick snapshot of those benefits or advantages talked about previously:
The Big Benefits of Vinyl Gutters
- Won’t bend or dent easily
- Won’t rust, rot, or otherwise decay
- Most inexpensive gutter material
- Lightweight and easy to install sectional vinyl by yourself
- Minimal maintenance costs as vinyl gutters never require painting
The Big Benefits of Aluminum Gutters
- Won’t rust, rot, or otherwise decay
- Sturdy and durable material that will hold up to most all types of weather conditions
- Seamless aluminum gutters offer maximum durability
- All aluminum gutters are stocked available in a great array of colors
- Changing appearance is easy as homeowners can readily paint aluminum gutters any shade they want