Over time, several different types of gutters have been developed to maximize and control the flow of water runoff. Various rain gutters materials have also evolved to reduce corrosion and add structural strength. Depending on the roof design, gutter types can differ from structure to structure.
All rain gutters have designs and sizes that allow them to control runoff effectively. But some work better under certain conditions.
Our guide will discuss the different types of gutters available and what each design offers.
We will describe the different types of rain gutters by size, shape, and material to help you decide which gutter type is best for your home design.
Types of Rain Gutters by Shape
The effectiveness of rain gutters is a product of its shape, size, and material. Some gutter shapes require more maintenance, some control more water volume, and others are designed as much for appearance as functionality.
All rain gutters do essentially the same thing, but their shape will determine their structural strength, capacity, and how they will be installed.
The K gutter style is a good balance of strength, capacity, and attractiveness.
K-type rain gutters are the most common gutter shape used today. They are so named because the side of the gutter resembles the letter K.
K-type gutters are flat on the back and curved on the front. Along with box-style gutters, this design provides the most surface contact with the fascia while adding structural strength.
Standard K-style rain gutters are available in 5”, 6”, and 7” widths. Residential homes typically use the 5” (also known as residential size) version. But large roof areas can benefit by upgrading to the 6” or 7” size as they can carry more volume.
Residential-size gutters can handle about 1.2 gallons per linear foot of gutter. Six-inch gutters can handle exponentially more volume, at about 2 gallons per linear foot. The largest, 7” K- style gutters hold closer to 2.5 gallons per linear foot, so they are used more in commercial construction.
The efficiency of any gutter type will be a function of its pitch and ability to contain the water volume. Gutters are installed at a slight angle to allow gravity to move the water toward a drain, scupper, or downspout.
The angle must be consistent throughout the length of the gutter so that the angle changes according to the length of the section. K-type rain gutters are considered the most efficient gutter design, which is why they are the most commonly used.
K-style gutters are usually the easiest to install, especially when using seamless gutters, also known as continuous gutters. K-style gutters are available in precut lengths, but none are long enough to avoid seams between the sections.
Seamless gutters eliminate most joints because they are custom-made onsite for the length the home requires. Standard K-type gutter sections need union fittings, sealant, and, sometimes, pop rivets to install.
All K-style gutters are the easiest to install against a flat surface, most commonly the fascia board. K-type rain gutters can be installed with hangers, gutter spikes, or gutter screws.
Half Round Type
Guttering styles generally favor form over fashion, but the half-round gutter style is the exception. Half-round rain gutters are often considered the classiest design and are commonly formed from copper.
The first half-round gutters, also known as trough type, were essentially made by dividing a length of drainage pipe in the long direction. This created two identical troughs, often suspended from chains to direct the runoff from one side or the other.
Half-round gutters are usually installed with hangers made from the same material as the gutter. Since half-round gutters have no flat sides, they are more common on fascia designs that are not perpendicular to the ground but follow a right angle to the roof pitch.
Half-round gutters handle water volume as K-style gutters. For instance, a 5” K-style gutter can hold about 1.2 gallons per foot, while a half-round gutter must be upgraded to the 6″ version to manage an equivalent volume.
Half-round gutters aren’t quite as efficient at draining as K-style gutters, but they will function well when sized correctly. Half-round gutters are not as friendly as splash guards and other accessories but can be used when required.
Half-round gutters are almost exclusively installed with hangers, providing the flat surface that the gutter lacks. Fascia boards are always perfectly flat, so adding the hanger adds more surface contact with the fascia. Most gutter designs use hangers now, so half-round gutters are relatively easy to install.
Box-type rain gutters are more commonly used in commercial structures or aluminum awnings but are also sometimes installed on houses. They can function as both gutter and structural support.
Aluminum awnings are commonly constructed with box beams that channel runoff and provide horizontal support between posts.
Box-type gutters have the most volume capacity of all gutter designs. For example, a 7” box-style gutter can handle up to four more gallons of water (52 GPM) per minute than the same-sized K-style gutter (48GPM).
Box-type rain gutters have the advantage of function over form design. They aren’t meant as focal points and blend into the landscape. As a result, box-type gutter systems can take the most effective and efficient path as needed without much regard for curb appeal.
Box-style gutters can be installed in various ways, including hangers, straps, and joints. They often double as lateral support beams because the box shape has an excellent weight-to-strength ratio, especially when formed from aluminum.
Rain gutter performance depends on the type of rain gutters you choose and how well they are implemented into the design. Any change in the roof structure, for example, can completely change how water runoff is controlled.
When choosing a gutter, it should be appropriately sized and complement the curb appeal. Once your gutters are installed, keeping them clean is a great way to make your home safer.
Types of Rain Gutters by Material
The gutter style chosen is important, but so is the gutter material. The material used can affect the cost, durability, appearance, and maintenance the gutters will require.
Aluminum is the most commonly used gutter material due to its low cost, adaptability, and recyclability.
Steel, copper, zinc, and vinyl are more common options, but these tend to be for more specialized applications. Aluminum gutters are widely universal and can be installed with most roof designs with a slope.
Here’s a closer look at these gutter materials.
Aluminum is the most commonly used material for making rain gutters. It is inexpensive, pliable, and readily available. Aluminum can also be recycled, making it a green option as well.
- Moldable into many shapes
- Highly configurable for nearly any application
- Inexpensive compared to copper or zinc
- Easy to install in long lengths
- Will dent and tear
- Temperature changes can make it to dent and contract, causing cracking, splitting, etc.
- May need to be repainted as the enamel coating chips
Vinyl gutter materials were common over the years, but most roofing contractors today are likely to advise you on choosing another option. They are usually made from PVC plastic.
- Inexpensive to purchase
- Easy to install
- Low maintenance option
- Usually cost more to install
- Become brittle in freezing temperatures
- May sag in hot weather unless adequately supported
- Even seamless vinyl gutters are not as durable or strong as aluminum gutters
Steel gutters are usually either galvanized or stainless. They’re not as common as other types of gutters because they’re expensive. But they’ll never rust and look brand new for a long time.
- Very strong
- More resistant to dents, rust, warping, and tearing than any other gutter material
- Can be custom-made on site
- More difficult to install
- Must be painted to add color, which increases the maintenance
Copper gutters can make a drastic statement with regards to your home’s curb appeal and value. They’re also more resistant to rusting and cracking than the other types of gutters. If well-maintained, copper gutters can last up to 50 years or more. But the material is the most expensive of all gutter types. Here are some things to consider:
- Very elegant looking
- Extremely long-lasting
- Acts as a moldicide and fungicide
- Minimal maintenance
- Very expensive to purchase and install
- Components must also be made from copper, increasing the price
- Copper is a commodity, so the price fluctuates widely
Zinc will last even longer than copper and has more design options and color choices. It’s also highly durable, eco-friendly, and easy-to-maintain. Here’s more to consider about zinc gutters:
- Extremely long-lasting
- Can be painted
- Build quality is excellent
- Very expensive
- Requires approximately 50% additional time to install
- Doesn’t do well in coastal regions
Types of Rain Gutters by Size
As we’ve described, the size of the gutter will significantly affect its performance. It doesn’t mean that all homes should have gutters that are too large for the design. Rain gutters should be sized based on the slope and size of the roof and how much debris the gutters will need to deal with.
The standard 5” gutter size is popular because it is appropriate for roof slopes 4:12 to 8:12, which are very common. Generally, the wider the opening at the top of the gutter, the less likely runoff will overshoot the gutter in a severe rain event.
Your roof’s combined pitch and size determine the gutter style and size of the gutter you’ll need. For example, water running off a steep roof will move faster than on a less steep roof.
As the water leaves the roof, its velocity could cause it to fly over the opening instead of in it. Water falling from that height will forcefully impact the ground, potentially leading to erosion and flooding.
For this reason, water volume and roof pitch are calculated to determine which size gutter your roof needs.
- Likely the most common size in the U.S.
- Appropriate for most average-sized homes (less than 3000 s.f.)
- Inexpensive due to the economy of scale
- Most accessories are designed to fit
- Lightest size
- Can be overwhelmed if incorrectly placed or installed
- Not appropriate for homes with excessive overhanging trees
- Narrow enough to become clogged with large leaves, cones, and twigs
- Good compromise between 5” and 7”, as the performance outweighs the additional cost
- Allows most debris to pass through without clogging
- Handles more water than 5”
- Cost more to purchase and install
- Improves water flow if attached to enlarged downspouts
- Strongest size available
- Carries more than double the water volume of 5”
- Will pass large leaves, cones, and even small twigs without clogging
- As with 6”, the downspouts must be enlarged as well, increasing the cost
Types of Gutters by Installation
Rain gutters are typically installed in sections or are continuous and seamless. Although both installation methods accomplish the same task, they are performed differently.
Sectional gutters require more parts and labor than seamless gutters, but seamless is not available off the shelf, ready to install.
How each gutter type is installed will affect the quality, ease of installation, and warranty. Most gutter companies will warranty seamless gutters, but some will warranty sectional gutters due to the high maintenance required.
Seamless gutters are considered an upgrade from sectional gutters in quality, ease of installation, and warranty.
Sectional Rain Gutter Installation
Sectional rain gutters and the required joints, sealers, and unions are available at building supply outlets. Sectional gutters usually attach to the fascia boards using hangers, but sectional gutters need a lot more of them than seamless gutters.
- Available in convenient, easily divisible sizes
- Can often be installed with only two people
- Inexpensive to purchase
- Regular maintenance is required
- Will fail sooner than seamless gutters due to the additional joints and unions
- Requires periodic re-sealing
- Every connection must be supported on both sides, significantly increasing the labor, parts, and fasteners
- Not available in many colors
- Installation is slow
- A warranty is less likely
Seamless Rain Gutter Installation
Almost 80% of homeowners have upgraded to seamless gutters and with good reason. They’re available in many colors and the enamel rarely has to be repainted. They’re also custom-designed onsite and are the most effective in channeling water away from your home. There seems to be more good than bad when it comes to seamless gutter installation.
- Most durable
- Improved quality compared to sectional gutters
- Leaks are unlikely, except at the few unions required
- Most visually appealing
- Available in a wide array of colors
- Fit is perfect because shutters are custom-made onsite
- Faster to install because there are fewer parts
- Often come with an extended warranty
- More expensive than sectional gutters but not prohibitively
- Often requires a large crew due to the long lengths of gutter
Rain Gutters: Then and Now
The concept of rain gutters is ancient technology, but they came into prominent use to allow customers to enter storefronts more easily without getting wet during rainstorms. Business owners added rain gutters over entry doors to channel the runoff away from the main entrance where customers walked in.
Later, rain gutters began appearing on multi-unit structures, commercial businesses, and, eventually, residential homes, as their benefits became known. Rain gutters help prevent erosion, aid in water collection, and prevent floods.
Gutter types have changed to address complaints like overflows and clogging. However, any rain gutters employed in a project must be designed for the task, as many rain gutters will quickly clog in the right conditions. Using the incorrect size, length, and shape can cause more harm than good.
Other components are designed to augment the functionality of rain gutters, such as drip edges, gutter guards, and seamless guttering. Rain gutters installed correctly and regularly maintained will provide the most benefits and return on investment.
Some eco-conscious homeowners have even learned to use their gutters to harvest rainwater for their gardens and landscape.
Are Downspouts Important With the Different Guttering Styles?
Any discussion of gutter styles is only complete when also discussing downspouts and their effect on the gutter system. Any water runoff directed into the guttering system will be drained into a drain, scupper, or downspout.
Drains are usually incorporated into flat roof designs, eliminating the need for gutters. Scuppers do the same thing but direct the water to the sides of the building. Gutters require downspouts that connect to the lowest end of the gutter.
Most residential gutters are of the 5” variety, as they are adequate for most average home sizes. The downspouts used are traditionally 2” x 3” and extend to the ground or a splash block. This design works well in low-to-moderate precipitation areas and with tiny airborne debris, like leaves and needles.
However, the most common problem homeowners tend to have is constant clogging due to debris in the gutter. The debris often consists of deciduous leaves in the fall months and needles in the winter.
Tree species like maple, poplar, and oak produce leaves that are sometimes twice as large as the opening in a 2” x 3” downspout and can completely cover the cap. A common solution to this problem is to enlarge the downspouts to the 3” x 4” commercial size.
Commercial-size downspouts are only one inch larger than residential downspouts, but they can handle exponentially more water volume. The larger opening allows leaves, twigs, and needles to pass, avoiding clogging.
The Bottom Line: Compare the Benefits of Different Types of Rain Gutters
While all gutters work similarly, there may be certain types of gutters that work better for your home.
Homes with large roofs often benefit from the additional capabilities of larger gutters and downspouts. The design of the different types of gutters available can be overwhelming, so it’s best to consult a professional gutter installer.
Experienced gutter professionals can explain which gutter types are best for your roof design, helping you narrow your choices. Depending on the style of gutters you choose, a pro can help you decide the material and size your roof needs to maximize its lifespan.
Contact us today for a free estimate or to learn more. We serve homeowners from California to Texas to New York and everywhere in between.