It’s something most people don’t give a lot of thought to—whether to equip their homes with rain gutters or not. Whether or not you use rain gutters completely or on certain rooflines depends on a number of factors.

House location, foundation and grading — Rain gutters interact with a home in a number of ways, all of which can solve or create problems on their own. So, it can be a matter of balancing the benefits and downsides before opting for or against gutters and downspouts. The primary purpose of rain gutters is to move water away from your home’s foundation and basement. If your home is situated on level or downwardly sloping land, proper drainage may occur naturally, without requiring gutters to act as conduits. However, if the topography is not naturally well drained, gutters may be needed to keep excess moisture out of your basement and away from your house and foundation.  If you have a retaining wall in near proximity to your home, you’ll also need to install gutters to direct water away from that area. Hydraulic pressure from rain soaked soil behind the retaining wall can push it over.

Surrounding Vegetation — If your home is in a wooded area, particularly with pine needles, gutters may add an extra and time-consuming maintenance task to seasonal cleaning. To work properly, gutters must be kept free of leaves, needles, seedpods and other wind-blown debris that can clog gutters and downspouts. If you live in a colder climate, allowing debris to accumulate in gutters and downspouts can result in damaging ice dams. If you do opt for gutters and downspouts, there are a number of products that help to mitigate the debris problem by covering, shielding or otherwise keeping from debris from blocking the flow of water. One interesting and relatively simple solution is called the Gutter Brush Gutter Guard. The device is a simple length of synthetic brush that is inserted into an existing gutter (see left). Most leaves and large items will pass right over the Gutter Brush Gutter Guard, while small debris is trapped by the brush bristles, while allowing the rainwater to pass through and drain properly.

Average Precipitation — Make note of your home’s area precipitation history. If you experience a lot of precipitation in the form of rain, gutters and downspouts may be a necessity to maintain appropriate drainage around your home. If your area experiences heavy snowfall, gutters may be more hindrance than help in clearing snow off your roof and avoiding damaging ice dams. One additional tip for roofs in moderate to wet climates, is to install a strip of zinc near the roof ridge on the north-facing roof to avoid accumulation of roof fungus, mold and moss. These can cause shingle breakdown, staining and ice damming if allowed to accumulate.

Water Collection and Conservation — If your area has a rainy season followed by a dry season, rainwater collection might be worth considering. To collect rainwater, you will need to have gutters and downspouts installed, along with some sort of rain barrel, or storage tank or cistern. One nifty solution to rainwater collection is the Rainwater Pillow, which is a heavy-gauge durable military grade fabric bladder to collect, store and distribute rainwater for non-domestic uses. Collected rainwater can relieve your landscaping during dry seasons, conserve your well water for domestic use and provide water for use in emergencies.

Gutter Maintenance— If you opt for aluminum or vinyl gutters, they can be either painted or purchased in complementary colors to minimize the visual impact. If you opt for wooden gutters, they need to be painted, cleaned and maintained both outside and inside to keep them in good shape. If your gutters have no covers, vents or other shielding such as the brushes mentioned above, you must clean them regularly to keep debris from building up and blocking water flow. In the winter, blocked gutters can freeze up and require additional maintenance or replacement.

Tips for no gutters — Make sure that you have at least 6 inches of roof overhang to keep water away from log walls. Install directional V-shaped guides over doors, entry areas and walkways so that people can pass underneath without getting drenched. Ensure that your drainage around the house, including the base of your foundation is sufficient to carry water away from your home. Many homeowners install a gravel perimeter to the foundation under the drip line to help dissipate the flow. A gravel perimeter can also keep splashing from occurring on the lower part of the exterior, which is a particular concern for log homes. Allow enough space for plantings to be out of the direct stream of water, and more importantly to protect woody bushes from snowfall falling from the roof.