What Type of Gutters Should I Use for a Historic Home?
We all know or should know that gutters are a necessary feature on a house.
Gutters divert water away from the house to prevent damage to your home and foundation.
While many houses may not have originally had gutters, they are still recommended to protect your home from the inevitable water damage that can occur.
Your house may not have its original gutters but you will see options here that will be correct for your house and not ruin the look of your house like so many K-style gutters do. Please try to understand the impact the wrong gutters can have on curb appeal.
Let me begin with the most common type of gutter which you see on just about every house today.
K-style gutters originally made of wood and now made in aluminum became popular in the 1950’s. This is the type of gutter that should be used for any house built from about 1950 on.
If your house is a Georgian or Adams, Colonial Revival, or Greek Revival, the K-style gutter may be acceptable for your house but that is a huge maybe. Gutters on these style buildings were meant to be hidden. In many cases however a Built-in or Box gutter may be what your house originally had and what it should have now.
The K-style gutter is an adaptation from a design based on the Classical Orders of Design. There is more information on this later.
K-style gutters must be painted to match the trim color of the house NOT the roof, and the downspouts the house color it rests against. If the trim is white, the white gutter that you buy will most likely be a grayer brighter white so it should still be painted so it blends in seamlessly. NEVER do you want K-style gutters to stand out or be noticed. The gutters must appear like they are part of the architecture no matter what style home you are using these gutters on. K-style gutters also come in copper.
Copper looks great but the color will defeat the look that your house should have because it will not disappear with the trim. Don’t waste your money on it.
Half Round Gutters
Half Round gutters date back to the later 1800’s. They are acceptable for older buildings that pre-date these gutters or may never have originally had gutters but added them later. Half round gutters are good for homes that just need rain water protection.
Half round gutters are attached gutters meaning they are meant to be a separate feature and NOT blend in as part of the architecture as the K-style gutters. They can of course be painted to blend in better if you prefer. Half round gutters are an attractive feature on a house.
Copper half round gutters can look really nice. After about two years however the copper will dull down to a brown color. Because of this I recommend installing brown aluminum half round gutters. People will think they are copper. They are very inexpensive and provide the same look as tarnished copper. Copper will first turn brown but will not change to a green patina for about 30 years or more.
(gutters in the images above are not half round but are shown as an example of color)
There is a dilemma however. The trim on a building performs a very important visual function. It outlines a building and provides a sense of structure. The eaves of the house should appear strong to support the roof above. If the trim/eaves is reduced in size it can appear weak. For example if the trim on a house is white and a brown or copper gutter is covering it, the trim will appear thinner and weaker. On some houses it may appear as if there is no trim at all at the top of the house.
One option is to paint the half round gutter to match the trim. Unfortunately now you will not appreciate the beauty of the half round gutter since it is basically painted out of the picture and a half round gutter is something to be seen.
If and only if you paint your half round gutters to match the trim color, you then must paint the round downspout to match the color of the house it rests against.
Standing Seam Metal Roofs and Half Round Gutters
Standing Seam metal roofs are becoming very popular. I will post an article on this very soon. When purchasing a standing seam roof, the salesperson will recommend a matching half round gutter. DO NOT DO THIS. A gutter must not match the roof. If the gutter matches the roof, it will appear that the roof is ending lower than it should. The roof will appear too heavy and will cover the trim that must be visible under the roof.
I have a lot of issues with the design of this metal roof which I explain in more detail in my Porch Roof article but here I need to show the importance of color. The trim is a good size and is not hidden too much by the gutters but the gutters and the nice dark boarder the gutter makes can look appealing in a way. However the roof and the gutters appear as one and they seem to take over. The roof and the gutters should EACH appear secondary. The trim has hierarchy.
Gutters and Underground Drainage on Historic Buildings
When I worked at the New Jersey Historic Trust, grant funded projects for buildings without any record of any type of gutter would sometimes require the installation of galvanized gutters to protect the building. Downspouts would drain into pipes under ground. Since the ground would need to be disturbed to install the drains, this triggered the need for an archaeologist to do testing before any digging was permitted.
Half Round Gutters on Craftsman Style homes
It is possible that gutters were omitted so not to interfere with the exterior design. A character defining feature on Craftsman style homes are rafter tails. If the rafter tails have not been chopped off to install vinyl siding, they are usually covered up and hidden behind gutters. This looks awful! I am quite sure that this house had Yankee gutters so not to ruin the character of the Craftsman style.
Half round gutters are slightly more shallow than K-style gutters but see if it is possible to attach the gutter as high up to the roof as possible. This may or may not work.
Notice how beautiful this house looks without the rafter tails hidden.
Copper gutters are meant to be seen. Usually Tudor homes have fancy conductor boxes.
When gutter shopping be careful not to go overboard by choosing something too fancy or not appropriate for your style house.
While a Victorian Queen Anne may be very ornate, a copper conductor box would not belong.
Yankee gutters go back to the 18th century. These gutters are built on the plane of the roof.
Yankee gutters are also referred to as Philadelphia gutters, Pole gutters, Flush gutters, and Standing gutters.
Yankee gutters can be very simple or ornate.
My house originally had a slate roof with a piece of plain metal serving as a Yankee gutter similar to photo shown later.
There are various styles of Yankee gutters. This house is on my street. New homeowners purchased this home and removed the Yankee gutters and threw out the shutters as soon as they moved in. So sad. I refuse to talk to them.
Copper and aluminum should NEVER come in contact with each other. I guess this roofer did not know that. The aluminum sided Yankee gutter loses a lot of its appeal and detail being covered up like this.
The metal Yankee gutters above are made of metal – don’t know what kind but it should be primed with a rust inhibitor and painted. Just because something is on the roof doesn’t mean it should be neglected.
Neglect of the gutters results in removal. This is what a roof looks like once the Yankee gutters are removed. Sometimes instead of a slate patch you will see 12 inches of asphalt roofing. Either the gutters get removed or the slate roof finally reaches the end of its lifespan and they are removed with the roof. There are less and less homes with these gutters. Today most of the slate roofs from that time have failed and were replaced with asphalt roofing and K-style gutters.
Built-in Gutters – Box Gutters
Built-in gutters are actually part of the architecture of the house. They are not seen as gutters but part of the cornice.
There are many different styles depending on the style of the house and how opulent the house is.
The actual gutter is not too much different than a K-style gutter but would not normally be recognized as such because of all the other trim around it.
In Classical design, gutters were part of the architecture of a building. Let me try to make this as simple as I can. In Classic architecture the top part of a building is the Entablature. The Cornice is the top part of the Entablature. The Cornice is composed of the Bedmold on the bottom, the Corona in the middle, and the Cymatium on the top. The Cymatium represents the gutter which looks similar to the K-style gutter. The Corona represents the fascia.
The image above is from an article written by Brent Hull posted on This is Carpentry.
Here is the full article with more detailed information https://www.thisiscarpentry.com/2012/11/23/the-magical-entablature/ .
Built-in gutters can be on a simple tin porch roof or an elaborate high style Greek Revival. Built-in gutters date back to the time of the Roman empire and have been used on homes through the 1940’s. The later years were for more high style homes. As usual these beautiful gutters were neglected and then were frequently removed. It is impossible to tell if your house had them because the entire end of the roof would need be reconstructed to remove them. Look at an old photograph and see if the eaves extended farther outward than it does now.
I was really surprised at the number of homes with Built-in – Box gutters. I found 9 out of 10 homes had them on my Main Street. Covering them with aluminum however ruins the look.
A huge problem is that both new modern gutters and old style gutters are rarely maintained as they should be. Contemporary K-style gutters are replaced without any thought and old style box gutters etc. are removed in favor of contemporary gutters. Most times the box gutters just need a good cleaning and an application of ACRYMAX roof coating for your gutters will seal them and extend their life indefinitely. Does your contractor know this? Do you think they really care?
Built in gutters were standard on metal porch roofs . Be sure to read my blog article on this.
Links to More Information on Gutters
Half-Round Metal Gutters – Old House Journal 1992 by John Leeke
Scroll to page 35.
Box Gutters – How to bring built-in roof drainage back to life – Old House Journal 1996 by Josh Garskof
Scroll to page 30.
The 3 Most Common Reasons Box Gutters Leak and How to Repair Them – by Paul of Exterior Pro Roofing Inc.
Scroll to page 62
Yankee Ingenuity (2) – Old House Journal 2010 by Lynn Elliott
Scroll to page 34
I had a very difficult time finding these gutters for my house. After traveling 2 hours for gutters I found that there is a company – Berger Building Products, 800-523-8852 that carries various types of half round gutters etc. They are a distributor and will deliver to Home Depot and other big box stores. Here is their website.
There is a lot more information on the internet about the type of gutters discussed here. I hope this information has helped you since it took me 12 hours to compose this!