This is a list of questions I’m often asked as a contractor that specializes in custom gutters and copper work. Subscribe for more content like this, and please share with your peeps!
1. How Much Do Copper Gutters Cost?
Cost is probably the number one question on the minds of folks researching information about copper gutters. Copper gutters look amazing, but at what financial cost? The short answer is: They are expensive – by most people’s standards. Here’s why:
- Time. Copper requires more time to install than other materials, and, as they say, time is money. There are more steps involved with installing copper gutters than aluminum or galvalume, including soldering, fingerprint precautions, cleaning the materials after installation, etc. The time it takes to hand cut an outlet into half round copper gutter is greater than the time it takes to use an outlet hole punch on aluminum gutters
- Skills. Copper gutters, especially half round copper gutters, requires expansive skill set to properly install. Skilled workers don’t come cheap and cheap workers don’t come skilled, am I right?Companies will usually send their journeymen to tackle the copper projects, NOT the apprentices. This cost is passed along to the building owner.
- Materials. The materials cost of copper plays a large role in the total installed cost of copper half round gutters. Copper is a commodity and the prices fluctuate from year to year. Like most building products, though, the prices mostly just go up. I once had a homeowner tell me (and I quote from his email),“With copper prices very low, thought it would be a good time to do it. I think somebody has old copper priced inventory. I’ll wait until they move it out.” Copper downspout prices are down 10% from their 2010 costs, gutter pricing is flat, and the copper Berger brackets used to mount the gutters to the home have gone up 30% since 2010. Overall (speaking in broad general terms without consideration of project specifics), materials account for about 1/3 of the total cost of copper gutters.
“That’s nice, but how much do they cost?” Okay, the cost is approximately 5-8 times the cost of aluminum gutters. This is from personal experience as a contractor that specializes in this type of work. There are some laughable cost estimates online for copper gutters, usually posted by bloggers without copper gutter experience that have copied their content from other bloggers without copper gutter experience (Gotta love the internet!). I’ve also seen some pretty misleading numbers from the big websites like fixr and homeadvisor (maybe this is where those bloggers got their prices?). Let’s check out the fixr prices, shall we?
Fixr’s materials costs breakdown is close to accurate for 5” Copper K-style. However, most contractors, at least in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic, are installing 6” Copper Half Round gutters. The materials cost is substantially higher for half round gutters – the brackets alone for half round cost almost as much as the k-gutter material (which doesn’t require the decorative external fascia mount brackets). Fixr doesn’t mention crating and freighting charges to ship 20-foot-long gutters and 10 foot long downspouts – these items cannot ship via UPS or FedEx, and require freight delivery, oftentimes on a flatbed tractor trailer. A quick look at their miters and outlets costs shows $147 for 8 pieces, but 2019 real-world pricing of $48/miter x 4 miters and $7/outlet x 4 outlets quickly shows that their number don’t add up.
Fixr’s Labor Cost breakdown is where they really screw the pooch. $710 labor for a 2-3 day project not to mention the time it takes to measure the job before it’s sold, create and send a quote, create a materials list, seek materials quotes, etc. What about profit and overhead? Quintupling their labor pricing will get you a little closer to the final cost. Overall, I’d say Fixr is off by half for copper gutter pricing.
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2. Can copper gutters be caulked?
All end caps, outlets, and miters on a copper gutter installation need to be sealed – otherwise, the water leaks out of the gutter system. The question everybody’s asking (other than cost): can copper gutters be sealed with caulk? Short answer – yes. Read on.
Solder. Copper gutters are known to last a LONG time. Traditionally, copper gutter installers rely on solderto seal joints because it’s a permanent solution. If we want the gutters to last long enough to patina, solder is the low or no maintenance solution.
Caulk. Copper gutters can be caulked, but I write this hesitantly with reservations and caveats. Why? Because, I think if folks take the time and spend the money to install copper, they should do it or have it done in a way that assures longevity. By caulking, you are setting your gutter installation up for failure down the road. As of 2019, there is no “permanent” or “lifetime” caulk product that will last as long as solder, but there is a polyurethane sealant we like that will last for years. Please check out our DIY section for specifics on which sealant to use and how to apply it.
3. How long will copper gutters stay shiny?
Within days the shine will begin to fade. After a month or two, they will really start to develop streaking, discoloration, and browning. After a year or two, they will be a tarnished, mostly brown color. In many more years, they will turn green and black.
The timeline I’ve laid out here is intentionally vague. A Georgian Colonial sprayed constantly with saltwater in Martha’s Vineyard will see patina green gutters sooner than a bungalow on a luxury dude ranch in bone-dry Arizona. Not only will the copper aging process vary greatly from state-to-state, but from home-to-home within a particular neighborhood. Heck, the copper gutters on the front of a home may age dramatically faster than the gutters on the back of that same house because of differing exposures to the elements.
For many people, the unique patina of each installation is part of the charm. However, there are methods available to delay or prevent the onset of the patina process, reverse the patina process, or speed up the aging process of copper gutters, all of which I will post about in the future. Please sign up for our email list if you want to be alerted about new posts.
4. What shapes are copper gutters available in?
There are two profiles that copper gutters are most commonly found in – Half Round and K-style:
- Half Round is most common profile of copper gutters installed in the US. From new construction homes in the Midwest to old historic homes in Baltimore, MD, half round gutters are the go-to profile of copper gutters. They are “U-shaped” and are often seated in fascia mount brackets that wrap around the outside of the gutter (as opposed to internal hidden hangers commonly used on k-style gutters). Half round copper gutters, along with round copper downspouts, convey an old-world charm that historic architecture lovers are drawn to.
- K-style copper are a common alternative to half round. K-style copper gutters are usually made with the same 16 ounce copper gutter coil stock that half round gutters are made from (sometimes heavier 20 ounce material also).
There are a couple benefits of copper k-style over copper half round:
- Copper k-style is more readily available in seamless lengths than copper half round gutters because k-style gutter machines are more widely available. It’s not uncommon for half round gutters to be freighted-in to a location in 10- and 20-foot lengths, so the advantage goes to k-style here.
- Copper k-style gutters are fastened with brass or stainless steel hidden hangers that aren’t visible from the ground, while half round gutters are commonly installed with external fascia mount brackets. These brackets or hangers can be seen from the ground, andare functional as well as decorative.
However, for folks trying to achieve an historic look, half round copper with external hangers is usually preferred.
5. How durable are copper gutters?
I’ve removed and replaced copper gutters that have made it 100 years. On one home in Maryland, the copper half round gutters made it a century before being completely destroyed in places by snow and ice sliding from a slate roof. After 100 years, even the gutters that weren’t damaged during the ice storm were a little misshapen and drooping in places.
However, we’ve all seen the photos of churches from the 18th century sporting patina green roofs and gutters – so, the potential is there for copper gutters to last beyond a century. Here’s some factors to keep in mind:
Copper gutters, like any other gutters, require maintenance. Installing a leaf screen product to keep your gutters free and clear of debris is one of the easiest ways to keep the gutters and downspouts functioning well. Copper is resilient, but it corrodes (that’s the green patina in action), and a great way to make your copper gutters corrode faster is by allowing leaves and other tree debris to trap moisture inside the gutter. On at least two occasions, I’ve seen steel gutters that were less than 10 years old rusting through in several places because the owners didn’t feel like cleaning the leaves out. Copper gutters won’t corrode this fast, but failure to keep the gutters clean can reduce their lifespan to 50 years from over a hundred. Not to mention – clogged gutters don’t drain properly!
Copper gutters that have been sealed with caulk will not last as long as solder. This is probably obvious, but soldered seams will last longer than caulked seam
Sometimes, maintaining other parts of the home will help the gutters live a longer life. For instance, cutting back overhanging tree branches will increase the lifespan of the roof and gutters. When a large falling branch hits your gutters, they may dent or begin to slope the wrong way from the impact. Also, depending on your roof configuration, snow guards or a snow retention system may be necessary to protect your copper gutters from sliding snow and ice. We have replaced copper gutters on several houses that were damaged by sliding snow and ice – this is a real issue that needs to be addressed, especially if your roof is slate, metal, or tile.
6. Are copper gutters worth it?
You may be trying to decide if copper gutters are worth the money to have someone else do the installation, or worth the money and time to install copper gutters yourself. We could do a cost breakdown that looks at the lifespan of copper gutters vs. aluminum gutters, but I think the real question is how much more are you willing to pay for the aesthetics of copper over aluminum. If you love the way they look and can afford them, then you should get them!