Generally, a quality aluminum gutter can last many decades. However, there are things that do reduce the life of an aluminum gutter. Most people understand that a pure aluminum will not rust. However, aluminum is susceptible to a destructive process called “galvanic corrosion” or “anodization”. This occurs when other metals in the structure of the home such as flashings, roof valleys, and copper drains come into contact with water that is also in contact with the aluminum trough. The aluminum is considered “less noble” and becomes what is called an “anode” or sacrifice metal in which case it will start to deteriorate and even waste away.
Another issue is the damage caused by standing water in combination with freezing temperatures. Everyone understands what happens to newly forming ice-cubes in the ice-tray of your freezer. When the gutters are not cleaned regularly, and standing water occurs, then this standing water expands in freezing conditions (just like the expanding ice in your ice-tray) and this expanding ice can and likely will deform the trough.
Hidden/ Built-in Gutters:
Most hidden gutters are lined with a vulcanized rubber called EPDM rubber membrane. The membrane itself is resistant to heat, UV, as well as expansion and contraction damage to the seams. The membrane itself can last a lifetime, however the weak point is the seams and commonly used drains that are undersized (2”). We recommend the gutter membrane be replaced at the time of roofing, however, if the membrane is in good shape then a retrofit to larger drains (3”) and an upgrade to proper seals with a geo-membrane seal can extend the life of the gutter membrane for decades!
As with any gutter system, standing water and/or plugged gutters puts an unnecessary strain on the membrane seals and drains. It is vital that a hidden gutter system be properly maintained and cleaned, as this will ensure that expanding ice and heavy debris does not damage the vital parts of the gutters.
One important note is that this type of gutter system is called “built-in”, hidden, or concealed gutters for a reason. The system is concealed or hidden behind a large fascia board and it is “built-in” to the framing of your home. When a leak does occur, the first point of contact for the leak is the fascia and sub-fascia boards which will be susceptible to dry rot. Sustained or chronic contact with water leaks in the system will eventually lead to expensive reconstruction repairs that can into the thousands or in worst case scenarios can be crippling. It is vital that these leaks be repaired asap.
Leaking seams do not necessarily indicate that the gutter system is in need of replacement. With either hidden/ built-in gutters or with continuous aluminum gutters… unnecessarily expensive repairs can be avoided by simply taking care of the seams. This is the weak point in all gutter systems and by simply ensuring these seams do not leak or ensuring the repairs are done immediately can and will extend the life of the gutters.
Undersized drains are a common problem with both types of gutter systems. It does not really matter how large a gutter system is, or how large the downspouts are, a gutter system is limited by the size of the drain hole. Even with industrial sized gutters (8” commercial grade) or industrial sized downpipes (4” round commercial grade) will underperform with only a small opening to drain the water. All too often, for the sake of convenience and economy, a 2” round drain (actual dimension are 1.5” diameter) is used to drain the system. This undersized drain hole is the weak point or “bottleneck” of the gutter system. To ensure a system performs properly we recommend no less than a 3” drain to evacuate the water from the system. Remember, gutters are not designed to hold water, but to efficiently drain the water away from the structure of your home. We provide drains in 2”, 3”, 4” and custom sized depending on the customer’s needs.
These become necessary when water flow is increased, especially when the drain hole size is increased to a 3” drain or larger. Many drains require a filtration system to ensure that debris does not go down the drains with the rainwater and enter the underground perimeter drain of your home. We install leaf traps that integrate into the downpipes low to the ground (knee level) making maintenance an easy task. This will not eliminate the need for gutter cleaning, but can reduce the need for frequent cleanings as most needles and leaves will drain away from the gutters and into the downspouts which lead to the underground perimeter drain. Leaf traps will catch this debris before it enters the perimeter drain. This will ensure that not only will the gutter stay cleaner longer, but that the underground (perimeter drain) drainage system stays free-flowing and functional.