Copper Gutters 101
Copper gutters lend much to the aesthetic appeal of homes, especially Victorian and Tudor-style homes. However, it can be difficult to sort through all the various options since copper gutters come in so many different shapes, profiles, and thicknesses. There are also numerous applications that depend on your homes roof type and architecture, and this can impact the installation. Below, you can learn more about copper gutters so you can make the best choice for your needs.
What are the Different Shapes & Sizes of Copper Gutters?
Copper gutters, much like other materials, come in a wide array of shapes and sizes so they can suit as many homes in as many climates as possible. You can purchase them in k-style, half-round, half-round Euro, high back, and a variety of custom-fabricated shapes. They come in anything from 5 inch to 8 inch sizes while downspouts come in 3 inch to 6 inch sizes; the right size will ensure proper runoff, and if these sizes do not suit your needs, any size can be custom-made to your specifications. Of all the shapes and sizes available, half-round copper gutters are by far the most popular option. They provide the best aesthetic feel when installed on historical homes with Victorian or even Tudor architecture.
Size is about much more than just appearance, however. The size of your copper gutter will ultimately determine the amount of water it can carry away from the roof. This means that the larger the roof in square feet of surface area, and the heavier the rainfall rates, the larger the gutter size you will need, and the larger the downspout size you will need to accommodate the water flowing through the system. It is important to calculate local rainfall rates and choose the next largest gutter size to accommodate them. Though you can do this on your own as a homeowner, it is often better to rely on a gutter or gutter installation professional for help. They will ensure that you not only purchase the right size but that you also order enough gutter to cover your entire home.
What are the Installation Costs of Various Copper Gutter Systems?
The costs associated with copper gutters will vary depending on several factors.
Home design Historical homes have beautiful architecture with numerous corners and cuts. Since the architecture varies from one installation to the next, the number of accessories you will need, including things like corners, end caps, and downspouts, will also vary greatly and affect the overall costs.
Gutter size Smaller 5 inch gutters cost less per section than larger 7 inch gutters, so depending on your needs, this may also drive up the installation cost somewhat.
Gutter style K-style gutters require less labor and fewer materials than their free-hanging half-round counterparts, so choosing K-style could save you some money.
Gutter quality Copper gutters are fabricated from 16 to 20 ounce copper. Because 20 ounce copper is 25% thicker, it requires 25% more copper to make. At the minimum, you should choose 16 ounce copper gutters, but depending on the weather and rainfall in your location, 20 ounce copper may be a better choice.
Installation factors Finally, it is also important to consider the difficulty of installation as labor costs are a huge part of your overall costs. If installers must hang gutters three stories in the air, this is much different than hanging gutters on the ground floor. Other factors include the installation type and the materials to which the gutters will be attached. In some cases, extra reinforcement must be installed to support the weight of the gutters. There are many types of gutter hangers and support accessories, so depending on the type and number of hangers you need for your home, this can significantly influence costs.
The total cost for materials ranges from $10 to $20 per linear foot, and this includes the costs associated with accessories like hangers and downspouts. The size and quality of the copper gutters and accessories will determine the overall price. For installation, costs vary depending on factors like the difficulty of the job, the height of the installation, and the type of hanger that your installation will require. The lengthier the installation process, and the more work that is involved, the higher the installation costs will climb. You can expect to pay anywhere from $5 to $15 per linear foot, and this may even climb higher under special circumstances.
Including both labor and materials, you can expect to pay anywhere from $15 to $50 per linear foot to have your copper gutters installed. If your home requires 300 linear feet, you will pay anywhere from $4500 to $15,000 for a complete installation. Of course, this number will fluctuate a great deal depending on the linear footage you will need to complete the task.
Tips for Installing Copper Gutters
When installing copper gutters, there are a few tips that can help you keep yourself safe and ensure a proper, aesthetically-pleasing installation. You should always:
Use only compatible metals. It is important to ensure the metals used during the installation process are compatible. For example, if you use copper rivets with steel mandrels, the steel will eventually start to eat away at the copper, and galvanized screws can have much the same effect. Compatible metals include copper, brass, bronze, and stainless steel, so be sure to check the types of metals in everything you use to complete the installation.
Wear gloves. Not only do gloves protect your hands when you work with metal, but in this case, gloves will also protect the copper from the oils and salts that are naturally present on your skin.
Gather the right tools. You will need several different tools to properly hang your gutter. These include things like measuring tape, tin snips, a screw gun, and a level, but may also include things like safety glasses and a chalk line.
Use the right hanger brackets. Hanger brackets vary greatly from one application to the next. The hangers used on a flat fascia board will vary significantly from those used on slanted fascia and choosing the wrong one could lead to serious damage. There are numerous options for each application, so be sure to check around and even ask the experts to learn what will work best for your needs.
Pitch the gutters properly. Because gutters are meant to drain runoff from your roof, they need to be properly pitched to create and accommodate the expected flow. Experts recommend a 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch slope for every 10 linear feet of gutter. Not only does this allow for good flow, but it also helps wash out any debris that may enter the system.
Buy a good soldering iron. Soldering copper gutters during installation is important for preventing leaks. Soldering at the seams extends their lifespan, as well. Make sure you use not only a good soldering iron, but also a good quality solder along with it.
Seal the joints. Copper is beneficial because it can be soldered, and this means that you will drastically reduce the need to reseal your gutters throughout their lifespan. It is counterproductive to install a gutter system designed to last an entire generation (or longer), then seal it with materials that will fail relatively quickly. You should solder the miters (corners), end caps, and outlets. Some installers may also solder downspouts, but this can make clearing clogs difficult and is not always recommended. You should consider riveting downspout connections, instead.
Shine the joints. After soldering the joints, you may notice that the solder is a different color than the rest of the gutter system. Fortunately, you can buy products that will make the gray solder look just like the copper gutters with a simple application. It only takes minutes, and it makes the entire installation look seamless. Whats more, properly finishing the joints reduces the likelihood of leaks later down the road, and it even extends the life of the system.
Of course, when it comes to hanging copper gutters, it is often best to leave the installation to seasoned professionals who have many years of experience in the trade to ensure a high-quality, beautiful installation that you can enjoy for many years to come. Often, homeowners find that hiring a professional to get the job done saves them time and money in the end. Gutter installation can be difficult work, and for homeowners who are not experts, it can be incredibly time-consuming, as well.
Oxidation: The Weathering & Aging of Copper Gutters
When copper is brand new, it is easy to see where the metal gets its name. It has a high-shine finish that truly stands out, especially against dark-colored exterior paint. Copper oxidizes over time, though, so it will completely transform from that new penny shine into a more matte greenish patina over time if you do not take the proper steps to prevent it.
Patina, or copper dioxide, is the result of a chemical reaction known as oxidation, which occurs when the oxygen in the air interacts with molecules at the surface of the metal in the presence of moisture or water. Because your gutters were designed to be in contact with water every time it rains, you can expect the patina to develop quickly, even on brand new gutters. Depending on the exact way this reaction occurs, you could end up with one of three very unique colors. Brochantite is the most common patina, and it is dark green or emerald in color. Next is azurite, which is a bluish hue that many homeowners love, and the last is malachite, which is a very dark greenish-blue.
That patina is the number one reason why so many people who are performing historical renovations prefer copper to other metals. Once the patina develops, the shabby chic transforms the entire aesthetic feel of the home. You can prevent the patina with a copper polish that is designed specifically to prevent oxidation, or you can just let nature take its course and let the patina develop. Depending on where you live, the amount of moisture in the air, and the frequency of rainfall, that patina may start developing in a matter of months. If you live in a very arid location, it may take years.
The Tools of the Trade Needed for Installing Copper Gutters
When you install copper gutters, there are several tools that you may want to have on hand. These tools make the job safer and far more convenient in the end. They include:
Good ladders. Whether you are working on the ground floor or you need to climb three stories into the air, a good ladder is crucial to your health and safety. Read the weight ratings, understand how any safety features work, and never use a ladder outside of the manufacturers recommendations.
A saw. If you will be cutting lengths of gutter to size, a saw is a must-have piece of equipment. You will also need outlet saws for punching holes in areas where outlets will link to the gutter.
Soldering iron and accessories. A soldering iron is crucial for creating a seamless look and preventing leaks, so make sure you invest in an iron that can get the job done. You should also investigate accessorizing with everything from flux to gas regulators, bits, and carry bags to keep things organized. Remember that your accessories do not have to be copper; you can utilize bronze, brass, and stainless steel, as well.
Caulk and caulking guns. A good high-quality caulk is imperative for preventing leaks at seams and for sealing the gaps between gutters and walls. Not all caulk is created equal, so be sure you read plenty of reviews and choose a product that works well for copper gutter installation.
Safety gear. As always, keeping yourself safe is the most important priority, so dont skimp when it comes to safety gear. A good set of gloves will protect your hands from sharp edges, safety glasses will keep debris out of your eyes, and non-slip shoes will ensure that you can remain stable as you climb up and down the ladder during the installation process.
Of course, this is not a complete list of tools, but it does represent the most common and the most important. You may find that things like chalk lines, measuring tapes, and various other tools you already have at home are just as important. You may also need drills, screwdrivers, and more to help with the process of installing hangers and putting the gutters into place. A gutter installation toolkit is extensive but is designed in such a way that it gets the job done and ensures a long-lasting, high-quality install.
If you do not have these tools available to you, calling a professional for the installation is often the best choice. Homeowners often believe they can save money by completing such projects themselves, but by the time they spend the money to procure the tools they could have hired a pro in the first place. Whats more, many homeowners can even save money since contractors tend to buy copper gutter systems in bulk and can offer them at much lower prices than homeowners can procure on their own.
The Best Accessories to Dress Up Your Copper Gutter System
Now that your copper gutters are properly installed, you might want to know what kind of accessories you can use to dress them up. First, make sure that all your gutter accessories, including braces, brackets, and hangers, are also made of copper. Otherwise, your accessories will undoubtedly clash with the copper and create a mismatched and jumbled appearance.
Aside from these things, you might also want to consider foregoing the traditional downspouts, instead installing rain chains. Though rain chains are not ideal in every climate, especially in areas where prolonged heavy rainfall is considered normal, they are sufficient for moving rainwater off of roofs and into drainage areas like buckets, barrels, or even designated portions of the yard in most others.
Rain chains come in a wide variety of styles and types, which is nice for customization. You can find simple copper link chains that move water down the loops, or you can find rain chains that have cups built right in. These come in several shapes, including flowers, baskets, squares, loops, scallops, and much more. Copper is a popular material for rain chains, as well, so you should have a wide selection available to you.
Finally, you might also want to consider decorative conductor heads. Conductor heads are enlargements at the top of the downspout designed to control the speed and flow of runoff, and while most are plain, you can find some with unique designs and shapes that can give interest to your home. You might also choose to install decorative hangers, which can come adorned with spirals, curves, and even leaves, as well as beautiful downspouts that spiral rather than move water in a straight line. The possibilities are truly endless.
How to Maintain a Copper Gutter System
With all your copper gutters and accessories in their proper places, now is the time to start thinking about copper gutter maintenance. Copper is one of the most durable materials for gutters, and that means they will last for decades, and sometimes even centuries, with little to no intervention whatsoever. Nonetheless, the amount of maintenance that goes into your gutters will ultimately be decided by the type of aesthetic look you want for the long term. Once again, copper is highly prone to oxidation and the development of a greenish patina, so you will want to make certain that you use the appropriate polish regularly if you want to prevent this.
Aside from copper-specific maintenance tips, you should also:
Keep your gutters clean. Over time, dirt, debris, and even bird excrement can make its way onto your gutters and cause them to become dirty and dull. You should ideally wash your gutters once a year to remove buildup and keep them looking the way you like.
Remove leaves and debris regularly. Depending on the number of trees situated above your roof and the climate in which you live, you may need to clean your gutters as little as once a year or as frequently as three or four times a year. Removing any debris from inside the gutters reduces their weight and helps to ensure a longer life.
Use protective coatings when applicable. Not all copper polishes are the same. Some are excellent at removing patina and restoring that beautiful golden-brown glow, and others are ideal when it comes to preventing oxidation in the first place by creating a barrier between the metal and the outside air. When buying coatings, be sure that you are getting exactly what you need to get the look you want.
Consider installing leaf guards. Leaf guards, also known as gutter guards, are important in many places, but if you have limbs overhanging your roof, these guards could save you countless hours of work. There are several types available, including standard leaf guards that prevent large debris from entering the gutter system as well as mesh guards that prevent even the smallest debris from entering, including things like pine needles, animal droppings, and even larger insects.
Inspect your gutters regularly. Copper gutters are more durable than their aluminum or even steel counterparts, but you should still inspect them regularly for any signs of damage or unusual wear, especially at the soldered joints or the areas where caulk was applied. Regular inspections, especially after severe weather events, could save you thousands in repairs.
Complete repairs in a timely fashion. If you notice something amiss during one of your inspections, it is crucial to have it repaired right away. A leaking or sagging gutter can lead to devastating damage that includes everything from discolored siding to a serious crack in your homes foundation. Though you dont spend much time thinking about gutters, they do play a vital role, so keep them in good condition and get repairs as soon as possible, ideally from a professional.
Copper gutters are wonderful additions to many homes, whether youre building a brand-new Victorian-style home designed to resemble the ones from years ago or youre renovating an old Tudor-style, and you want to bring back its original appeal. Whether you prefer the coppery shine or the greenish patina, copper is always a great choice, and it can certainly improve your homes value should you choose to sell it down the road, too.