Gutters and downspouts: They may not be sexy, but they're essential.

By Michael Haigley
March 18, 2003
Terry Pommett

I'm willing to bet your real estate agent or contractor didn'tsell you on your beach house with a passionate pitch for guttersand downspouts. But they're terrific assets. These components of apassive maintenance system allow you to leverage a little time andmoney to get a lot of long-term protection.

The problem
Coastal climates pour buckets of rain on your roof.Unimpeded, water flows by the most direct route to the ground.Sheets of water scour your windows and siding and add to theprospects of moisture buildup and rot. Even worse, the runoffpounds to the earth along your roofline, creating opportunities forbasement leaks and threats to the foundation.

The solution
Gutters and downspouts form a water-channeling system thatputs gravity to work. The first step, especially when remodeling anolder house, is to make sure you get all the benefits the systemoffers. If leaves and twigs are likely to blow onto your roof andend up clogging your gutter, you'll need a screen to catch debris.Even with protective covers, gutters should be cleaned by hand atleast once a year to guard against buildup. You also should makesure the connections between gutters and downspouts are tight andunrestricted.

Form and function
Annoyed by the way gutters and downspouts mar the lines oftheir designs, some architects create clever ways to make theseutilitarian systems blend into trim. I get nervous, though, when anarchitect hides drainage systems within the house's skin, obscuringthem by siding or other treatments. I don't like water routingthrough areas I can't see or easily get to.

Gutter details
Most builders choose aluminum or vinyl, but some traditionalcoastal contractors still use wood. Because of the potential formoisture buildup between a wood gutter and fascia board, work crewsoften add thin strips of spacer board every 16 inches or so forbreathing room. Gutter installers working with aluminum or vinyluse wire and other metal attachment systems to secure gutters andguard against water buildup. When you do your annual guttercleanout, make sure these connections and spacers are doing theirjob.

Bottom line
At the bottom of the downspout I like to see at least a1/8-inch-per-foot slope away from the house for adequate drainage.You're lucky if you have a natural slope and sandy soil. In lowareas, you may need dry wells or pumps. Here's my best tip: Listento the land. If you find yourself sitting around a table with yourarchitect and contractor, sketching complex drainage systems tosolve a problem, consider building your house elsewhere on thelot.Prepared for it, you might even enjoy the rain.