Rain Gutters are easy to make and in turn make the home an amazing and effective collector of rain water and snow melt. Water is precious and can be in short supply at times. Rooftops effectively capture rain and snow, but without rain gutters, we are unable to channel this freely available water to storage systems for later use.
I made and installed my first set of aluminum rain gutters about 13 years ago and have been very happy with they way they have performed and how durable they really are. I use the rain water to irrigate my garden and plants around my home. The rain water is free and saves me money. I also like the way the rain gutters look.
This tutorial shows how to make rain gutters from recycled aluminum panels and how to install them on the roof.
Step 1: Getting Started: Tools and Materials
Simple hand tools are all that are needed to make aluminum rain gutters.
Block of wood, 2X4 works great
Boards: two are needed, any size....the longer the better
Aluminum panels (used or new): 16 inches (42 cm) wide and 8 feet (2.4 m) long
Aluminum roofing screws
Aluminum-colored silicon caulking
An assistant (Photo 2) is also useful to get your attention when you are about to make a mistake.
Step 2: Making the Rain Gutter
Start with an aluminum panel. I had salvaged panels that were definitely poor in appearance but in good overall condition. The color, dents, small rips/holes and other blemishes are unimportant as the panels are folded in half, lengthwise, such that the painted exterior is hidden inside the fold and the unpainted side now becomes the exterior side. Dents and wrinkles are pounded out with the rubber mallet. If needed, small holes and cracks can be sealed. The larger, seemingly deal-breaker rips, seen in Photo 2, are still OK as the edge will be tucked and hidden under the roof flashing. More on that in the installation section.
As seen in Photo 3, use the ruler to mark the middle of the panel at locations along the length of the panel. Enlist help, as I have done, to double check your measurements!
Lay one of the long boards down (Photo 4) then place the panel, painted side upwards, on top so that the center of the panel is roughly aligned with the center of the long board. Place the second long board on top of the panel so that the edge of the top board is aligned to the center marks on the panel as seen in Photo 5.
With your knees on the top board, use your hands to pull the edge of the panel upward to fold it in half, lengthwise, along the edge of the top board, as seen in Photo 6. Use the block of wood and rubber mallet to tighten the folded edge as seen in Photo 7.
Remove the top board and continue folding the panel so that the edges meet and the panel is now fully folded in half, lengthwise, as seen in Photo 8.
Place the folded panel back on the lower long board such that the folded edge is in the center of the long board, then place the top board over the folded edge as seen in Photo 9
Now put to good use all of that holiday-weight gain and step on the top board to further crush the folded edge. This will produce a nice rounded, but tight fold that becomes the outer rim of the rain gutter. Though tempting, do not use the mallet to pound the fold flat as that will produce a very flat folded edge that is weak and prone to bending and kinking during installation. Photo 10 shows the difference between a rounded rim on the left and a flattened rim on the right.
Step 3: Making the Supporting Straps
Next we will make supporting straps for the rain gutter. This procedure is very similar to the one used in making the rain gutter.
As seen in Photo 1, take an aluminum panel (short ones are great for the straps) and with the marker layout a rectangle 4 inches (102 mm) wide and 20 inches (508 mm) long as seen in Photo 2. Use tin snips to cut out the rectangle.
Use the mallet to pound out the dents and wrinkles (Photo 3) then use the ruler and marker to draw a line 1 inch (25 mm) from the left edge. From this line measure 2 inches (51 mm) and draw a second line parallel to the first. These two lines are fold lines as seen in Photo 4.
Place the panel, painted side up, on the long board, then place the top board so that its edge is aligned with the fold line drawn 1 inch (25 mm) from the edge. Hold the board firmly with the palm of your hands and use your fingers to pull the panel edge upwards against the edge of the top board as seen in Photo 5 and 6.
Use the mallet to flatten the edge (Photo 7) then use the same procedure to make the second fold as seen in Photos 8-10. Use the mallet to flatten the folds. As seen in Photo 10 the edges come together or may slightly overlap, effectively concealing the painted side completely. This side is the inner side that will make contact with and support the rain gutter. The other side (Photo 11) is the exterior side and will be visible.
Step 4: Preparation for Installation
In preparation for installation, take the strap and press the side with the folded edges against a tree branch or trunk to round it as seen in Photo 1. Do this carefully and slowly applying gradual and even pressure. The flattened edges allow the strap to be easily bendable but too much force will cause it to kink. Only bend one half of the strap into a "J" shape as seen in Photo 2.
Examine both sides of the rain gutter panel and determine which side will be the interior and the exterior. The interior will of course be the surface that catches and channels the rain water from the roof to the rain barrel. This examination is especially needed when using reclaimed panels to create the rain gutters as there will surely be small screw or nail holes as seen in Photo 3. Choose the side with the fewest holes then use caulking to seal the holes. Apply caulking from inside the fold by opening up the folded panel just enough to apply the caulking. Smooth any caulking that may extrude on to the surface of the panel as we want the surface that will have contact with the rain water to be as smooth as possible so that the rain water will be unimpeded as it flows through the rain gutter.
Next, prepare the gutter panel ends for joining end to end. This is only needed for long runs where more than one gutter panel is needed.
Start by flattening about 6 inches (152 mm) on one end of the panel fold using the mallet as seen in Photo 4. The flattened end is then inserted into another gutter panel that has not been flattened with the mallet, as seen in Photos 5 and 6. It doesn't matter that one of the panel edges sits higher that the other because the uneven edges will be tucked under the roof flashing and concealed.
Caulking is applied to the seam after installation. Photo 7 shows the two gutter panels temporarily fitted together.
The last thing to do is to mold the rain gutter panels into U-shaped troughs. Use your hands to hold the edge and rim of the panel and apply compression, forcing the panel into a trough. Just get it into a rough trough for now. Final shaping will be done in the installation .
Step 5: Installation of the Rain Gutters
Assuming that your roof and flashing are in place, insert the rain gutter edge under the roof flashing, then insert the J-shaped supporting strap under the gutter as seen in Photo 1. Install a self-drilling aluminum roofing screw that pierces and secures the flashing, gutter and supporting strap (Photo 2 and 3). Install the remaining straps with a spacing of about 2 ft (61 cm). For roofs with a metal covering, your exact spacing will be determined by the peaks and valleys of your roof sheeting panels. Always install the straps on the peaks of the roof sheeting.
Now tighten the U-shaped trough into its final form and bring the supporting strap up around the gutter and install another self-drilling aluminum screw that pierces and secures the supporting strap and the roof. Ensure that the supporting strap is located so that the end attaches to one of the peaks on the roof sheeting as seen in Photo 3.
Joining two rain gutters together for long runs is straightforward. Simply insert one end into the other and ensure that the joint is supported by a strap as seen in Photo 4. Caulk the seam and smooth to prevent an obstruction to the flow of rain water. I also like to slightly elevate the joined rain gutters so that rain water will flow away from the joint. Looking at Photo 5, in the center section of the gutter, where the joint is, there is no standing rain water because I slightly elevated the joint when I fastened it.
You will also notice in Photo 5 that I did not pretty up the rain gutters for the photo. These are rain gutters in the raw, doing their thing as they have been doing for the past 13 years! In fact I have never cleaned the gutters once. The wide U-shaped trough allows for easy movement of rain water along with any debris that has fallen into the gutter.
The rain gutters are virtually maintenance-free! However, the silicon caulking, used in the seams, will need to be replaced at some point. It has a long lifespan of over 10 years, but degree of exposure will influence the actual life of the caulking.
Step 6: Collecting Rain Water
I have a simple rain collection system in place for now. I insert the upper end of a plastic pipe into a wire loop that keeps the pipe in contact with the edge of the rain gutter and place the bottom of the pipe into a barrel. The rain water leaves the rain gutter and flows down the outside of the pipe into the barrel. I can place the pipe into a different barrel and fill that one when the first barrel is full. I have these collecting barrels located at the corners of my house. This allows me to draw rain water from these different locations to water plants.
Step 7: Snow
A question was asked about how the rain gutters hold up to snow. As seen in the photos, the gutters fill with snow and then any additional snow that slides down simply slides over the snow-filled gutters and falls to the ground or melts in place.
The straps are very effective in holding up the gutters under the weight of the snow.
Once the temperature warms up enough, the snow in the gutters melt and drain as they normally do.
Step 8: Final Thoughts
I really like this project because I was able to scavenge and reuse aluminum panels to make rain gutters for free. The aluminum rain gutters are strong and will not rust and are virtually maintenance-free. The rain gutters could be painted but I prefer the natural aluminum color which fades to a soft grey over time.
I find that the rain gutters are attractive with the U-shaped troughs held in place by evenly spaced supporting staps. The rain gutters are not factory smooth but do have dents and wrinkles which I find appealing as well because they tell the observant person that there is a story behind the gutters.
The rain gutters are a simple addition to my home that has made my rooftop a most effective collector of rain water and snow melt. I am able to take advantage of all the rainwater and snow melt that I am blessed with and in turn use the water to irrigate my garden and ornamental plants. The water is free and has saved me a lot of money over the course of 13 years.