This article will help answer some questions about the differences between copper gutters and aluminum gutters. I’ll include here some of the things I’ve picked up during my time as a specialty gutter contractor and copper gutter installer.
Durability – Will Copper Gutters Last Longer Than Aluminum Gutters?
A reasonable question for someone that may be considering a DIY gutter project or somebody that is doing research before hiring a contractor to complete the install – will pricey copper gutters outlast their aluminum counterparts?
The short answer, assuming they were all installed properly, is yes. Let’s look at why.
Copper Gutters Durability
Copper gutters and downspouts are installed with fasteners made of materials compatible with copper, i.e. copper nails, stainless steel screws, copper-coated stainless steel screws, copper pop rivets, brass hangers, etc. None of these material types rust. If you use steel fasteners with copper gutters, the steel will rust at an accelerated rate, and the copper will corrode as well. Just like the copper gutter material, the material used to make the fasteners will slowly patina over time.
Copper gutters are usually sealed with 50/50 tin/lead bar solder. A properly fluxed and soldered end cap, outlet, miter, or seam will last as long or longer than the copper itself, which is potentially hundreds of years.
Many (most) people appreciate the look of old copper gutters – they convey a certain old-world appeal that makes historic-home lovers swoon. Aesthetically, for many people, copper gutters get better with age. The unique patina patterns and even minor dents and dings add to the charm of the material.
Stewards of old homes will seek out ways to repair and preserve their copper gutters. I’ve met a few homeowners that preferred to keep their new copper gutters looking new and shiny. More often than not, though, folks want to know how long it will take for their copper gutters to turn green, or if there is a way to pre-patina or prematurely age their copper gutters.
Aluminum Gutters Durability.
While copper gutters are considered a long-term, or even permanent, the solution to rainwater management, aluminum rain gutters (and vinyl) are more of a semi-permanent solution. As of 2018, the median duration of homeownership in the U.S. is 13.3 years, so given the approximate lifespan of aluminum gutters, a home will need new gutters purchased by every other new homeowner that occupies that home.
Algae and other grime will form on the gutters before 20 years have gone by, but they can be cleaned with a pressure washer. I may do a post on pressure washing gutters in the future, but… I’ll briefly say here that I’ve used a residential pressure washer to clean dirty aluminum gutters and it worked well without any detergent.
The opening in the gutter is cut slightly smaller than the outlet. When the outlet is hammered in, a pressure fit forms and no fasteners are needed. This creates a cleaner look and eliminates unnecessary fasteners that can become a potential leak point later in the life of the gutter.
Aluminum gutters are sealed with caulk, vs copper which is usually soldered. Caulk can be very effective for years or decades, but it does break down over time from UV rays, rain, snow, etc., and will eventually begin to leak. How long it takes to start leaking depends on how well the joints were sealed in the first place, the quality of the sealant used by the installer, and the climate where the gutters are installed.
Some caulk joints will last longer than 20 years, while others won’t make it through one freeze-thaw cycle without the caulk joints beginning to leak. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for a reputable gutter company to be called in to repair another company’s recently installed leaky gutters.
Aluminum gutters are usually fastened to the home using hidden hangers that are inside the gutter and cannot be seen from the ground. Sometimes the hangers themselves will bend and become manipulated by heavy snow and ice loads, or from branches falling and hitting the gutter, or even over time from weighty leaf and tree debris collecting in the gutter. The hangers are usually secured to the fascia board with commercially available steel screws, one per hanger.
Aluminum downspouts are usually fastened together with “zip” screws, a short hex-head screw that, again, are usually made from zinc-plated steel. Stainless steel zip screws (which don’t rust) are available, however, the largest suppliers of home exterior products in the United States only stock zinc plated steel.
DIY Copper Rain Gutters VS DIY Aluminum.
How do DIY aluminum rain gutters measure up against their copper counterparts?
For the homeowner venturing down the path of DIY gutter replacement, you may be trying to decide how far you’d like this adventure to go. Do you dare to tackle copper? Is a quick trip to the home store for some relatively cheap aluminum gutter parts more your speed? Here are some things to consider.
Copper gutter installation is more involved than aluminum, but both are possible for DIYers with the right research and preparation.
Some believe that if you’re in for a penny, then be in for a pound. Both material types are available to DIY folks in 10’ and 20’ lengths. Many of the hand tools that we use to make and install the different types of gutters are the same, including tin snips, end cap crimpers, long nose pliers, drill/driver, etc. Some of the concepts you need to learn are the same for both types of gutter, such as taking measurements, knowing how much to slope the gutters, and cutting the materials.
Some of the main differences between DIY copper and DIY aluminum rain gutters include:
- Soldering. Do you know how to solder? If you want to install copper gutters like the tradespeople from yesteryear, you’ll need to learn to solder. For more info on caulking copper gutters, check out this post about that very topic.
- Caulking. If you’re caulking your gutters, no matter the material type, you need to know the right type of caulk to use and the best way to apply it. Otherwise, the gutters you spent all of the time installing will leak.
- Weight. If you’re working alone, lightweight aluminum is easier to work with. 16 ounce copper gutter weighs 1 pound per foot of gutter, while 1 foot of aluminum gutter weighs less than a half-pound. This can add up if you’re supporting with a long run of gutter at the top of a ladder.
- Accessibility of materials. Aluminum gutter parts are usually easier to access locally than copper parts. Outside of major cities, copper gutter parts are usually a special order item. This means it’s important to order right the first time to avoid delays for shipping and additional shipping costs. This is regional depending on how many older buildings and homes are in the city.
- Materials Cost. Materials cost of copper is obviously going to be more than that of aluminum – let’s see how much here:
Sample DIY Gutters Materials Price Breakdown
Most Popular Styles and Profiles.
Gutters and downspouts come in many different shapes and sizes, with looks ranging from utilitarian to modern industrial to historic. Which metal types conveys which look? That answer depends on the profile of the gutter and type of building that the gutter is being installed on to.
As of 2019, the most common residential gutter profile in the United States is 5” K-style aluminum. Most single-family residential new home construction features 5” aluminum k-style gutters and corrugated rectangular downspouts. This type of gutter was developed to mimic the look of crown molding and adds a nice finished look to the eaves of the home.
6” Aluminum K-Style Gutters – Higher Capacity / Standard Profile.
6” Aluminum K-style Gutters are commonly found on light commercial buildings, multi-family buildings, and homes with large roof areas to drain, and/or long roof valleys, and/or numerous corners for the water to navigate around to reach a downspout. 6” gutters provide extra capacity while maintaining a clean look.
Pro Tip: For folks that like the look of round downspouts but can’t afford half-round gutters, try considering 6” K-style gutters with 4” round downspouts. Though the diameter of 4” spouts are too large for the bottom of 5” inch gutter, the bottom of 6” K-style gutter is big enough and the two profiles look nice together.
5” / 6” Aluminum Half Round Gutters – Old World Charm without the copper price tag.
5” and 6” Aluminum half-round gutters are a very elegant option with a price point that falls in-between aluminum k-style gutters and copper gutters. We’ve installed aluminum half-round gutters on homes across the architectural style gamut, from Tudor revivals, to mid-century ranches to colonials to modern.
Aluminum half-round gutters are available in a variety of colors, though sourcing the different colors can be challenging for some contractors.
Even though aluminum half-round gutters are (usually) cheaper than copper half rounds, sometimes they match the exterior design better than copper. For example, if the home has aluminum soffit and fascia, aluminum half-round gutters might be a better fit visually and there won’t be any issues of dissimilar metals interacting.
When you’re trying to choose between copper and aluminum, it’s a good idea to consider the look of the copper through its whole lifecycle, from shiny to brown to patina green and how it matches with the color of the roof, siding, fascia/soffit.
Aluminum half-round gutters are usually paired with smooth round and corrugated round downspouts. Less commonly, they are paired with rectangular downspouts in lieu of round, which will usually save money for the homeowner.
5” / 6” Copper Half Round Gutters
Copper Half Rounds are the most popular profile of copper gutter in the US. There may be areas of the US that favor copper K-style gutters over copper half rounds, but I haven’t been to those places yet.
If you live in an area where copper K-style gutters are popular, leave a comment below letting us know!
A google image search for “copper gutters” turns up mostly photos of half-round gutters in the search results, and when I’m asked to quote a “copper gutter” job, the customer is usually looking for a half-round gutters in their head. As a contractor, the overwhelming majority of copper gutters I’ve bid and installed have been half round.
Half Round gutters convey a certain old-world charm that gets the historic preservation crowd titillated. They readily available in 10-foot and 20-foot lengths, and sometimes are locally available in seamless lengths. Copper half-round gutters are usually paired with smooth round or corrugated round downspouts. I have, on a couple of occasions, heard from concerned homeowners that the round downspouts looked like they were “trying too hard” to look historic. For these folks, I suggest 6” half-round gutters with 3” x 4” rectangular copper downspouts. They look great together and the rectangular copper downspouts are a little more subtle than the round downspouts.
Copper gutter should function better than aluminum gutters in the long term because the soldered end caps, outlets, miters, and seams having a longer lifespan than caulked end caps, outlet, miters, and seams. In the short term, with all other things being equal such as quality of the workmanship and profile of gutter, the material type shouldn’t affect functionality.
Gutter profile can make a difference in functionality, and I mention that in this copper vs aluminum article because copper gutters are usually half-round and aluminum gutters are usually K-style. Do round gutters drain better than standard K-style gutters? I think they’re comparable. However, the sizing and availability of the two gutter profiles will affect functionality. Read on…
The most common sizes of both half round and K-style gutters are 5” and 6”. What most people don’t know is that 5” K-style gutter and 6” half-round gutter are made from the same width coil – 11 7/8” wide.
What this means is that while the 6” half-round gutter is an inch wider than 5” K-style, they both handle a comparable volume of water. That extra inch can make a big difference if the roof materials hang past the roof edge more than average, like on many wood shake roofs, but the overall capacity of the two gutters is comparable.
If you need the extra capacity, 6” K-style gutters are readily available in aluminum and copper, and require an extra-wide 15” gutter coil – that’s 3” wider than 5” K-style coil and 6” half-round coil. Larger half-round gutters are available in 7” and 8”, though they are only available in copper and parts less readily available than 5” and 6”.
Copper gutters are pricey, but look great and last much longer than standard aluminum gutters.
Aluminum gutters range from utilitarian to elegant depending on the profile you choose.
Depending on your needs and budget, there’s probably a gutter option for you. The key is knowing what’s available so you can make the right choice. Hopefully, this article and the rest of the blog help out!
What kind of gutters are on your radar? Are there any differences between copper gutters and aluminum gutters that I missed? Let me know in the comments below!