The Older Home: Drainage systems get storm water into the gutters, where it belongs

The kind of severe weather we recently experienced with Hurricane Irene can stress the drainage system of any home, but especially one that dates from the 1960s or earlier. If the gutters and leaders on your home go back that far, they may not be doing the best possible job for you.

North Jersey roofing and gutter professionals say there are ways to tell if your older drainage system is damaged and to maintain the system you already have in place — whether your home features a wooden, aluminum or copper gutter system.

Joe Dosch of A & J Reliable, Inc., Inc., based in Spring Valley, N.Y. (, described the four most common types of home drainage systems:

  • Half Round: Resembles its name — a gutter with a half-circle shape.
  • “K” style: Standard on most homes, this has a crown-molding look; i.e., the top might be 5 inches, tapering down to 3.5 to 4 inches.
  • Box Gutters: Large, 8-inch gutters to catch water off commercial buildings, such as in a shopping center, these have box-like corners.
  • Yankee Gutters: Structures incorporated into the roof. The roof would go into a trough, which might be 2 inches deep and between 6 and 12 inches wide, and then pitch slightly toward the ends where the leaders are located.

Old-Time Yankees

“Yankee gutters can be made out of wood,” Dosch said. “Most times, they’re lined with something like copper from 50 to 70 years ago. Some are lined with a rubberized roofing material, and it’s really just a depression in the roof, like a trough, built into the structure of a roof. Most new houses aren’t being built with that now — it’s usually something you’d see on an older home.”

Glenn Gustafson of The Bergen Home Wright, Oradell (, said some common problems associated with yankee gutters include improper installation and rotting of the wood. Also, the gutters can start to separate from the house.

“When these gutters start to sag or pull away from the house, water will start to run though the gap or come through the soffit,” he said. “In the winter time, that gap becomes a favorite spot for ice dams, which contribute to the whole problem.”

Gustafson said solutions include either cutting off the rotted portions and replacing the sections with matching wood or rebuilding the yankee gutter system with copper, depending on the home-owner’s preference.

Updated Materials

If you think it’s time to replace the gutters on your older home, choosing which gutter material to use is the first step.

Gutters generally are priced per foot and these days commonly are made of aluminum or copper.

“Aluminum gutters can cost between $4 and $7, a foot because there are different sizes; there’s 5-inch and 6-inch,” Dosch said. “Copper gutters are up in the $35- and $40-a-foot range.”

When properly cared for, aluminum gutters last 20 to 30 years at least, said Dosch. He added that copper gutters last 60 to 70 years and develop a patina as the metal ages and oxidizes.

“People use copper more for the look than the durability,” Dosch said.