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Rain Gutters an Outlet for Do-It-Yourselfers

March 12, 1992|GERRY McSTRAVICK

Of all the maintenance jobs that homeowners have to plan for, rain gutters are probably at the bottom of the list--if they are even on the list.

But gutters, like everything else, eventually need to be repaired or replaced.

Even owners of some new homes have to install gutters, because developers often skimp on this item in their never-ending quest to build tract homes at the lowest possible cost.

Gutters may be in place over the front door and other areas where people may get drenched from rainwater cascading off the roof. But, after the homeowners move in and experience a few rainstorms, they discover that rainwater pouring off the roof damages expensive landscaping and carefully laid patios and walkways, and splashes mud on the exterior walls.

If you need rain gutters and are reasonably handy and not afraid of heights, you may want to install them yourself. Most large hardware stores in North County stock vinyl and metal gutters in 10-foot lengths for the do-it-yourself trade. Both come in white and brown, and the metal version is available in galvanized steel.

Vinyl guttering, because of its lightweight and interlocking parts, is easy to work with. Manufacturers say that it won't chip, peel, dent or corrode, and at least one make guarantees that it won't leak as long as you own your home. Once a vinyl system is installed, it takes a practiced eye to determine that it's not metal.

Metal guttering is slightly more difficult and messier to install because of the need to seal each joint. In some systems, the slip joint connectors have to be crimped over the gutter.

Retail outlets that sell guttering will provide you with "how-to" brochures prepared by the manufacturers. As you probably know, manufacturers' brochures always make do-it-yourself jobs seem easier than they are, and rain gutters are no exception. But installing them is still well within the expertise of the average handyman.

However, if you get a nosebleed at more than 5 feet off the ground, or, if every time you feel like doing a handyman project around the house you lie down until the feeling goes away, you may want to have your gutters installed by professionals.

Professional installers in Southern California use three basic materials: aluminum, galvanized steel and copper. But, homeowners in other parts of the country often prefer different materials. In Northern California and southern Oregon, for example, the choice of material for seamless rain gutters is steel that is prepared for painting.

Bill Stone, owner of Cal-State Rain Gutters, says copper is often used on large custom homes because of its durability, and in areas where metal is subject to rapid corrosion, such as houses right on the beach. But it's expensive--$15 to $18 per linear foot. "If you know you are going to be in a house for the next 50 years, put copper gutters up because you will never have to worry about them," he said.

Tract homes usually have galvanized steel gutters, Stone says, because the developers already have contracts for other work in the tract with sheet metal contractors and can negotiate with them to have the gutters installed at a low cost. Since these contractors primarily use galvanized steel, they naturally manufacture the gutters out of this material. Galvanized steel costs about $3.25 to $3.75 per linear foot to have installed, he said.

Aluminum is the material most commonly used for retrofit jobs, according to Stone, because of its availability and low cost. Also, aluminum weighs less than half as much as galvanized steel and, unlike the steel product, it comes with the paint bonded on, which helps to prevent peeling.

Professional installers will use either 20-foot lengths of guttering ("sticks," as they are known in the trade) or seamless guttering. If you contract to have your guttering installed in the 20-foot lengths, for the best and most attractive job possible, make sure the contract specifies that the joints will be soldered.

Seamless gutters begin as a roll of flat metal that is run through a series of rollers that bend the metal into the gutter shape, in any length, right on the job site.

The aluminum used for seamless gutters comes in a variety of colors to complement any exterior house trim. The cost (depending on the installer and the complexity of the job) is $2.10 to $3 per linear foot.

Most rain gutter installation companies have a minimum charge of $250, but some companies, like Cal-State, will do small jobs for as little as a $100 minimum.

In deciding whether to do the job yourself or hire a professional, you should also consider appearance. Because of the 10-foot length limitation of guttering sold in hardware stores, in long stretches the joints are noticeable.

By contrast, seamless guttering has no joints except at the corners, which gives a much cleaner look. But if you don't care about a seamless look, the do-it-yourself systems are just as good--provided they are installed correctly. Improperly installed guttering may leak and cause the fascia board to rot.

If you decide to hire a professional, like all job contracts, it's a good idea to shop around for the best price, then check with customers who had their gutters installed by that firm a few years ago to determine if the gutters performed well during rainstorms.

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