A.Henri de Marne
responds: Gutters are helpful and are required
in many jurisdictions, but they can cause serious
problems in very cold climates. They can fill with
ice and cause water to back up under the roof
sheathing even if a membrane like Grace Ice
& Water Shield has been installed under the
shingles. They can be knocked down by ice and
require yearly repairs. The downspouts are often
cracked open and discharge water onto the siding,
which can lead to rot. I typically recommend
gutters only for houses that are very well
insulated, have effective attic ventilation, and
have gone through one or more winters without ice
Removal or omission of gutters does not have to
create basement water problems. Even if you have
gutters, you can have a damp or leaky basement if
the grading, walks, driveways, decks, or planters
allow water to stand against or run toward the
There are three main criteria for safely
eliminating gutters. First, make sure the grade
slopes away from the building at a rate of 2 inches
per horizontal foot for as far as is practical.
When building new, set houses higher to start with,
so you can grade to them.
Second, plant a healthy stand of grass or ground
cover on the sloping grade for a few feet, starting
at the foundation. This is preferable to planting
bushes and flowers in flat mulched beds, which
allow water to stand and percolate deep. Instead,
plant flowers and shrubs a few feet away from the
foundation; that way, the homeowners will be able
to see and enjoy them from inside, as well.
Third, set flagstones or other paving material
in the sloping grade at the drip line of the roof
to catch the brunt of the roof water and deflect
These measures should ensure that basements
remain dry, unless there is an underground spring
or high seasonal water table.
Henri de Marne is a contributing editor to the
Journal of Light Construction.