I started out in the construction industry 20 years ago,
installing siding, windows, and gutters. At one point I had a
full-time crew dedicated solely to gutter installation. Eight
years ago, when I partnered with a friend to form Access
Builders Corp., a general contracting firm, I held on to my
gutter machine. It was paid for and I figured I could use it on
our projects. Lately, with the downturn in the market,
it’s been getting quite a bit of use as we pick up gutter
jobs to fill in the schedule.
Customers often ask me, “Why do I need gutters if I
don’t have a wet basement?” My answer is always the
same: “It will add years — maybe decades — to
the life of your foundation.” Here in Minnesota, the
ground can stay frozen from late November until the end of
March, and the frost can reach 5 to 6 feet deep. Many areas
around the Twin Cities have heavy clay soil, which retains
water. When the soil freezes, it expands, which can put a great
deal of stress on a foundation. Gutters help keep the soil next
to the foundation dry.
When I got out of the full-time gutter business, I sold the
trailer the gutter machine was mounted to and moved the machine
into my shop. I built a rugged dolly so I can easily move it
out of the way when I’m not using it (Figure
1). If I’m doing a job with gutters no longer
than 35 feet, I run them off in the shop and haul them to the
job site on my ladder rack. When I need longer runs, I take the
machine to the site, loading it on my truck or trailer with a
couple of winches.
Figure 1. The author’s gutter machine,
shown here resting on a shop dolly (left), forms a 5-inch
K-style profile. For jobs requiring extremely long gutters, he
takes the machine to the site (right).
My particular machine is a Panther 5-inch made by KWM
It’s been very reliable and I would have no problem
recommending the brand. New, this machine costs around $6,500,
but you can often find a used one for about a third that cost.
But be careful when shopping for a used machine: Depending on
the brand, some older models require frequent adjustments,
which can be intimidating for the crew and will slow down
My machine is designed to run a standard 5-inch K-style ogee
gutter. It can handle a number of materials, including
galvanized steel, copper, and coated aluminum. The most common
material in our area — and the one we mainly use —
is enamel-coated aluminum. Most manufacturers of the coil stock
offer plenty of colors, so getting a color that matches the
house paint or trim color is usually not a problem.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to own your own gutter
machine. There are companies out there that will “chop
and drop” — make the gutters you need for a
specific job and deliver them to the site. If you already own
ladders and staging, the only other equipment you need is a set
of hand tools: a cordless screw gun or impact driver, a
caulking gun, right and left cutting tin snips, a downspout
crimper, and a snap-lock punch, which is used to crimp on the
end caps (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Besides the gutter machine, the
author’s tools are mostly simple hand tools (top),
including a snap-lock punch for attaching end caps (center) and
a gutter outlet punch for making clean downspout holes
When you set up scaffolding for a gutter install, you
shouldn’t put the plank too close to the house
(Figure 3). Remember that you’re working
on the roof overhang, not the wall, and the gutter will stick
out another 5 inches once it’s installed. So put yourself
at a comfortable working distance from the fascia.
Figure 3. Staging for gutter jobs must be placed far
enough out from the house to allow the crew to work safely at
the outer edge of the roof overhang.
Some crews hang gutters working from the roof. This is
dangerous and can lead to an inferior installation. Say the
fascia board is out of level, which is common on older homes.
Not only do you have to hang the gutter so that it drains
properly in the right direction, but you may also have to fudge
the placement so as not to accentuate the sloping fascia. If
you’re working from the roof, it’s nearly
impossible to position the gutter so that it looks good from
the ground. Plus, it’s tough to concentrate on quality
while hanging on for dear life over the edge of the roof.
While the gutter is on the ground, I crimp on the end caps
using my snap-lock punch. I use plenty of sealant as I go,
making sure every joint is watertight. (Driving around town
sealing up leaky gutters is not a profitable way to spend a
day, especially given today’s gas prices.) I don’t
use regular caulking or silicon — they don’t work!
Spend the extra two dollars on a proper sealant. I use 12-1
Seam Sealer from Ruscoe (330/253-8148,
ruscoe.com). It flows
better than caulk and oozes into the gaps (Figure
Figure 4. The author uses Ruscoe 12-1 Seam Sealer,
which is specifically designed for gutter work. It flows and
seals better than conventional caulks.
I use a hole punch to make the outlet holes, which I do on the
ground when possible. The punch leaves a nice clean hole for
the drop outlet tube that the first elbow attaches to. You can
also easily use the punch after the gutter is installed, which
allows you to place the hole exactly where you want it in
reference to the house. My punch is an older model that only
makes holes. For around $200, Malco (800/328-3530,
offers a punch that can either make a clean hole for an outlet
tube or be set to leave tabs for attaching the elbow directly
— meaning you don’t need the drop outlet.
If you don’t have a punch, you can also make the holes
by hand: Mark the location, using the drop outlet as a
template; drill out the corners with a core bit; and finish the
cut with snips.
Hangers and Aprons
Before installing the flashing apron or the permanent hangers,
you need to make sure the gutter is exactly where you want it.
So I generally start out by fastening the gutter through the
back using just screws. If the fascia is in good shape, zip
screws are often good enough for this first step. Once the
gutter is attached to the fascia, I check to see that
it’s centered properly. It should run about 1/2 inch past
the ends of the shingles. When it’s centered, I check to
see that it slopes toward the outlets. I don’t follow a
prescribed percentage of slope; the idea is to avoid areas
where water can pool. (In this part of the country, pooling
water means more mosquitoes.)
I consider gutters to be an architectural element, so I always
try to slope them as little as possible while following the
lines of the fascia. A gutter that slopes too drastically will
make the fascia look crooked. As mentioned above, on older
homes it’s not always possible to follow the fascia
lines; it’s more important to ensure that the water will
flow to the outlets.
Once I’m satisfied with the gutter placement, I install
the apron flashing, which prevents water from running behind
the gutter. If the roofing was installed with a properly
overhanging drip edge, you don’t need an apron; you just
have to tuck the back of the gutter underneath the lower leg of
the drip edge (Figure 5). On some jobs,
however, a sloping gutter may end up lower than the drip edge;
in that case, I’ll use an extra piece of flat apron
flashing to bridge the gap.
Figure 5. Slipping the back of the gutter beneath a
properly installed drip-edge (top left) prevents rainwater from
running behind the gutter (top right). When the gutter slopes
beneath the drip — or there isn’t one — an
apron flashing serves the same purpose (bottom).
Finally, I install the gutter hangers on 24-inch to 32-inch
centers. If the fascia is nothing more than a 3/4-inch trim
board, I try to hit the rafter tails with the hanger
There a several types of hangers. The most common in this
market — and the one I use — is called a fascia
hanger (Figure 6). I like the fascia hangers
that come with a screw already attached. These cost more, but
I’ve found them to be well worth the extra money. In
particular, I like the fact that the attached screw
doesn’t have to be driven all the way to the fascia. This
comes in handy when the shingles are hanging out too far or
when I’m working on a building with a rigid roofing
system, like metal or cedar shakes.
Figure 6. Forget gutter spikes: Fascia hangers with
the fastening screw already in place speed the job and provide
For other general fastening, I use 1 1/2-inch pole-barn
screws. They’re strong, they bite aggressively into metal
fascia, and they come with a rubber washer in place. Plus they
require the same 1/4-inch nut driver as the zip screws, which
means less time spent changing drivers.
I probably don’t need to mention it here, but make sure
you tuck the higher section of the downspout into the lower
one. Believe it or not, I’ve seen it done the other way
plenty of times, sometimes by those calling themselves
professionals. On horizontal runs, keep the downspout seams
facing up; it looks better and water doesn’t leak through
(Figure 7). Elbows are made only one way, so
keeping their seams up is not an option. For aesthetic reasons,
I put vertical downspout seams against the wall.
Figure 7. Concealing the seams on downspouts makes
for a better-looking job, though it’s not possible to do
this with an elbow (left). Installing the mounting clip at the
joint between the elbow and downspout does double duty: It
secures the downspout to the building and locks the joint
I fasten downspout joints with a zip screw on each side. If
the customer prefers, I’ll use rivets instead;
they’re definitely superior, but they take longer to
install and cost more. Wherever possible, I attach the
downspout saddles (or clips) where the downspout meets the
elbow; this saves time and reduces the number of holes in the
Whenever the house is sheathed with a fiberboard product and
the siding is something less than solid, I make an effort to
hit a stud or a corner board when installing downspout clips.
You have to be careful attaching saddles to vinyl siding
— it expands and contracts considerably, and the longer
the piece of siding, the more movement there is. When I’m
screwing a downspout saddle to vinyl, I make sure the piece of
siding is pulled toward the saddle, so that it can expand away
from it. If you find yourself screwing a downspout saddle to
the middle of a piece of vinyl siding, make sure the siding has
room to expand in both directions. You don’t want to be
responsible for a big bulge in the siding when the weather
Screens and Covers
Gutter covers — intended to prevent leaves from clogging
the works — come in two main styles: screened and solid.
I use both types, depending on the situation. The solid covers
work well and look nice, but in heavy rains the water may shoot
over the top of them. Also, they can be difficult to install if
the roof pitch is steeper than 8/12. The main problem with
screened covers is that they get clogged up with seeds or
needles, so you have to be aware of the tree species in the
area. The aluminum screens I use cost around $1 per linear
foot. When I install a solid cover, I use an aluminum product
called LeaFree (877/543-2700,
which cost about $3 per foot.
Pricing Gutter Jobs
Gutter contractors in our area charge between $4.50 and $6.50
per linear foot for hanging gutters with an apron, and $3.50
per linear foot for installing downspouts. I charge an
additional $20 for inside and outside miters. I don’t
mind quoting general prices over the phone — it at least
gives people a starting point and weeds out those who are not
really serious. That said, I never give a final estimate
without visiting the site and checking conditions. Getting paid
$6 per foot for two 50-foot gutters 9 feet off the ground is
considerably more profitable than hanging one 8-foot gutter
three stories up.
And don’t forget about the existing gutters. I usually
charge about $1 per foot to tear off and dispose of an existing
gutter, unless it’s the kind with a built-in apron; those
have to be cut off with a shearing tool, which takes longer
than hanging the new gutter.
The job shown on these pages was a Habitat for Humanity
project, but if it had been for a paying customer, I would have
invoiced for $620: $220 for materials and $400 for labor.
Altogether the job took four hours on site with one skilled
installer and a helper, plus some prep time spent before
arriving at the site. Had I used a chop-and-drop supplier,
materials would have cost an additional $100.
If you plan to hang gutters on a part-time basis — maybe
on projects where you’re doing other exterior work
— a machine is not necessary, but if you want to run a
full-time gutter operation, owning one is essential. Having
your own machine will save you around $100 per eight-hour day
for a two-man crew, not to mention many hours of schedule
While there are plenty of small tricks to the trade, hanging
gutters is not a difficult operation for a skilled builder.
Keeping gutter installation in-house may be another way to save
money and keep your crew busy in this challenging market.
Mark Petersen is co-owner of Access
Builders Corp. in Shakopee, Minn.