Gutter Materials


Aluminum gutters, steel gutters, copper gutters, zinc gutters. In a nutshell, those are your choices of material. These four metals divide very neatly between the two markets: aluminum and steel are common for retrofit gutter installations, while copper and zinc are exclusively for the custom home gutters market.

There is a reason why aluminum easily dominates the retrofit gutter market. The metal is corrosion-resistant, lightweight, easy to work with, available in wide range of colors, and less expensive than the alternatives.

More information about each specific gutter material:

Copper Gutters and Zinc Gutters

Copper gutters and zinc gutters are often our of the price range for more homeowners. Copper gutters can cost up to three or four times more than aluminum or steel gutter systems. Within the gutter trade, copper gutters and zinc gutters are referred to as “exotic” metals.

Yet copper is a gorgeous metal that patinas to a rich green or brown (depending on whether you live in a coastal or inland location) and will give your new custom home undisputed bragging rights—though at a five-figure cost. Copper prices have been quite high in recent years.

 

And because the metal is so expensive, you’ll need a skilled specialty gutters installer who makes no mistakes and wastes no copper.

Copper gutters are often used on older homes with finer architectural details. Classic home restoration often calls for copper gutters to remain true to the original design and construction of the home.

 

Zinc is a popular gutter material in Europe and was introduced more than a decade ago to the U.S. market. Its blue-gray color blends with zinc or slate roofs and goes well with either Old World or contemporary styling. Zinc gutters cost less than copper but is more difficult to solder, has a higher rate of thermal expansion and contraction, and can become brittle in cool temperatures.

 

Steel Gutters

Galvanized 26- or 24-guage steel remains a viable choice for the retrofit gutter market because of its high strength and low rates of thermal movement. Steel gutters have twice the tensile strength of aluminum, with approximately half the amount of thermal expansion and contraction. That can be important if you live in climates that experience heavy winds, hail, or snow.

 

The cost of a steel gutter system will be higher than aluminum and the choice of colors will be more limited. Because steel gutters are typically about twice the weight of aluminum gutters, installers cannot lift and handle steel as easily. Joints must be soldered. All of this adds to labor costs. But if you want a stronger alternative to aluminum, steel gutter systems can still be competitive with aluminum gutters and gutter systems. They will hold up over time, and if you’re willing to sacrifice some aesthetic choice, they are a good choice for gutters.

 

Aluminum Gutters

For products like gutters that are made to handle rainwater, resistance to rust is vital. Aluminum gutters light weight means that gutter installers can easily lift and handle even lengthy sections of gutter, speeding installation and reducing cost. And since aluminum is easy to cut, installers can quickly miter those pesky corners.

 

As you’ll learn, aluminum gutters can be made-to-size, on your property, with a machine that rolls out seamless lengths of trough. And when we talk about coatings, you’ll learn later why aluminum is available in so many colors.

 

The roll-forming machines, used by installers to turn out seamless lengths of gutter, are made to take two standard thicknesses. For that reason, professionally installed aluminum gutters are either .027 or .032 inches thick. The thicker the better, the more likely your gutters are to hold up in difficult weather conditions. By contrast, off-the-shelf aluminum gutters sold to homeowners at chain stores are typically .019 inches thick. With gutters, you tend to get what you pay for.

 

Yet aluminum has its drawbacks, as well. The metal is much weaker than steel, copper, or zinc. Lean a ladder against aluminum gutters and the gutters will deform. Same thing, if the gutter is struck by a falling tree branch. Hot and cold weather causes the metal to expand and contract, which can cause more gutters to deform and even pull the gutter away your roof’s fascia board and allowing water to leak in between. And as those smooth troughs become crinkled, the dents and dings attract dirt and debris that must be periodically cleaned out.

Moreover, those mitered aluminum corners and other joints are riveted and caulked, rather than soldered. Caulk eventually becomes brittle and must be replaced. And finally, while aluminum gutters are rust-free, the metal is subjective to a corrosive “galvanic reaction” if it comes in contact with different metals such as steel, tin, and copper.