Gutters have been around for a long time in one form or another and they can make a big difference in keeping your home safe from water damage. But, modern style gutters often look out of place on an old house, so what can you do? What types of gutters will fit a historic home?
There are options that fit perfectly on almost any style historic home whether you have a Greek Revival or Craftsman Bungalow. If you choose one of these styles and materials below, your gutters will be in good company with your historic home.
Types of Gutters
What types of gutters work with a historic house is largely dependent on the age of the home. For most mid-century homes, you have a lot more options than the a 19th-century Queen Anne Victorian. So, for each style, I’ll give you a sense of when it was popular so you can best pair it with your old house.
K-Style Gutters (1950s – Present)
K-style gutters were invented in the mid-1940s and soon after became the predominate style gutter in America. They are most commonly made from aluminum with a crown molding like ogee profile on the outside face.
You’ll find them at every home store and on most suburban tract homes. They are so ubiquitous that if you call a gutter company and ask for new gutters they won’t even ask what style, they will almost always install aluminum K-style gutters.
While aluminum is the most popular material today, there are also options like vinyl and copper. Vinyl gutters have a fairly short lifespan and in my opinion, are never worth the savings you get, whereas copper can add a bit of class to your home as they age gracefully from a bright copper color to that old dark penny color before eventually turning that amazing verdigris green color.
K-style gutters come in varying sizes but for most homes a 5″ or 6″ gutter paired with rectangular downspouts works fine unless you have an unusually large roof. K-style gutters also have the added benefit of carrying more water due to the design than half round gutters.
Architectural styles that fit well with K-style gutters would be Colonial Revival, Greek Revival, Mid-Century Modern, Minimal, Adams & Georgian or other similar styled houses.
Half-Round Gutters (1900s – 1960s)
Half round gutters were popularized in the early 1900s when metal roll machines came into regular use. They are, just as the name implies, a half round design with either a single or double bead rolled edge for added strength.
In their heyday at the beginning of the 20th-century (until the K-style gutter rose to popularity in the late 1940s) the half round gutter was commonly found in a multitude of materials readily available at the time. Today they are mainly made from painted aluminum for performance and cost purposes. Below are some of the various materials you could find half round gutters in historically.
- Galvanized Steel – The most affordable option these gutters only lasted about 5-10 years before rust began being a problem
- Galvalume – Steel gutters dipped in molten zinc and aluminum for strength and corrosion resistance this extended the life of gutters to 30 years and beyond
- Zinc – A premium price and for a premium corrosion resistant material
- Copper – The gold standard for metal gutters lasting easily 100+ years with minimal to no maintenance
Half round gutters are typically sized one size larger than a K-style gutter because they don’t carry quite as much water. Also, you have the option of choosing a double beaded style that looks at home on open rafter tail Bungalows or Missions style homes, or you can choose a single bead style that has a taller backside to prevent overflow into the fascia and cornice.
Architectural styles that fit well with the half round would be Bungalow, Victorian, Spanish, Mission, Vernacular, Gothic Revival, other similar styled houses.
Cast Iron (1820s – 1870s)
These were never hugely popular due to their weight and difficulty to install, but some houses in the mid 19th-century were fitted with cast iron gutters. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the growth of the railroads these new manufactured gutters because more and more available.
These were often similar in profile to the K-style gutter or simple U-shaped boxes. Perhaps due to the rust issue that is inherent with cast iron these were never as hugely popular as their predecessors or the wooden gutters of the day that performed better and were easier to make.
Architectural styles that fit well with cast iron gutters would be more urban townhomes in the bigger cities of the day.
Wood Gutters (1600s – 1910s)
Simple wood gutters often called “Yankee Gutters” or “Box Gutters” have been around for a long time in one form or another. Often the old-growth wood was rot resistant enough to perform admirably for decades and other times the gutters were lined with a sheet metal like lead or copper to extend their life.
These site built gutters were often times incorporated into the cornice of old houses so that they seamlessly blended in and went largely unnoticed save for the typically copper downspouts that were also site built and soldered together.
The most common designs were a U-shaped or V-shape gutter with a built up cornice to incorporate the gutter into the design of the house. These gutters while costly to build today can be easily repaired by replacing and rotted or missing wood and with the replacement of the metal lining they can be given another 100+ years of life.
While no two styles were exactly the same in appearance from the street, the design of the water handling portion of the gutters is usually pretty similar. One of the unique challenges of wood gutters is that it is difficult to find leaf guards that will fit and so you are often left cleaning your gutters on a more regular basis if you wish to keep them in good working order.
Architectural styles that fit well with the wood gutters would be largely the same group that work with K-style gutters since K-style gutters were an attempt to mimic the look of more traditional wood gutters. Colonial Revival, Greek Revival, Adams & Georgian or other similar styled houses.
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I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.
7 thoughts on “What Types of Gutters Fit Historic Homes?”
I am deciding how to replace some very leaky, old gutters. They’re practically an architechtural feature of my 1925 home in the Catskills. I’d love to get your and your readers’ opinions. The cost difference is manageable. Can I post pictures of the home?
You may want to consider a Patron Membership: https://www.patreon.com/thecraftsmanblog. This is where you can email Scott your questions and send photos.
-The Craftsman Blog Team
It’s nice to know that galvanized metals are great to use for the gutters of a historic home. I’m currently looking to move into one for its nice rustic aesthetic. However, I’d also like to make sure that some essential parts would be modernized such as its roofing and gutter.
My (now our) house had wood built-in gutters originally, and I was stupid enough to let the contractor talk me into leaving them off during the roof repair in 1996 and putting on copper K-Style gutters. Now we are faced with tearing up the roof to reinstall the built-in gutters and put the house back the way it should be at a cost of probably $20,000 (or more). I did insist the built-in gutters be put back on the front porch when it was first redone in 1997, and they are lined with copper so they should never go bad. Would post pics if I could, have old postcards that show the house with the built-in gutters and the resulting one plus foot cornice it created all around the house. All good things in time I guess.
Has anyone used rain handlers/rain diverters? They look like they are unnoticeable, come in white or aluminum and disperse the rain coming off the roof. Most of the people I know have a lot of problems with gutters. I also have a Victorian metal shingle roof and I don’t know how I would attach regular gutters. My roof has a lot of steep pitch and the top section coming down on the porches is very hard on the porches. I think these things are also inexpensive compared to gutters and I think easier to put up. Has anyone used them? They have very good reviews on their site.
Of course we should all stick around here and patronize Scott. Also, This Old House did a short video on “How to Install an Alternative to Gutters” that used a rain diverter.