Gutters don't look very impressive, but they're about as important as the roof over your head. Most basement water problems are really gutter and downspout problems. In fact, leaky, overflowing gutters can buckle basement walls in just a few years, so it pays to keep your system working properly. When the time comes to replace your gutters, you'll have tow major options: professionally installed, seamless aluminum gutters and do-it-yourself steel or aluminum systems available at the retail level.

Seamless aluminum gutters are attractive and can last a long time, but they're expensive. Eo-it-yourself components are more affordable, and the quality is really quite good. When installed and sealed correctly, they'll last as long as seamless gutters. Steel components, which dominate the retail market, are usually zinc coated and painted, inside and out, Galvanized, unpainted gutters are also available, as are plastic and aluminum systems, though aluminum can be hard to find in home centers. To prevent corrosion, avoid combining steel and aluminum. 

Prices will vary with the house and the market, of course, but a comparison we made points to real savings. For a basic 1960s 24x40-ft ranch with a hip roof, our contractor's estimate was $670, which included removal of the old gutters. In contrast, home center prices for the steel components to handle the same job come in just under $200. [Editor's Note: these price estimates were accurate c. 2001.]

This project was originally published in the March 2001 issue of Popular Mechanics.  You can find more great projects at Popular Mechanics DIY Central.

Step 1: Aluminum Vs Steel

If you have a choice between steel and aluminum systems, which is best? Steel is stronger and heavier than aluminum, so it's less susceptible to wind, ice, and tree damage, downspout extensions are less likely to be blown away or crushed at the ends, and the ladders won't crease the gutters wen they're placed between fasteners. Steel gutter components are zinc coated and carry 20- to 25-year corrosion warranties and up to 40-year paint warranties. And steel expands and contracts less than aluminum, which means less stress on sealed joints. As for the price, steel costs about 15% more than aluminum.

On the other hand, if you'll be working alone or with unskilled help, or if you're working 20 to 30 ft. above the ground, aluminum might be a better choice. It's easier to assemble and drive fasteners through, and much easier to lift from one end,. These are important advantages when you're clinging to a ladder. Because aluminum doesn't rust, warranties focus on paint durability, usually 20 to 25 years.
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Bio: The official instructable for Popular Mechanics magazine, reporting on the DIY world since 1902.
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