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Choosing Green Rain Gutters

by Matthew J. Goering

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Gutters aren't at the top of most people's list when it comes to green remodeling, but when you look at the purpose your gutters serve, they certainly have the potential to be a vital component of your home from a green, whole systems perspective. On the most basic level, your choice of gutter material has environmental consequences that you ought to consider. And where the bigger picture is concerned, your rain gutters are a critical resource for preventing moisture damage and mold development in basements, crawlspaces, attics, and roofing. Anyway you cut it, it pays to think green if gutter cleaning, gutter maintenance, or gutter installation is on your to-do list.

Going Green with David Johnston
HomeAdvisor understands that it can be tough for homeowners to wade through all the "green" building information out there, which is why we've teamed up with green remodeling expert David Johnston to provide you with the best, most accurate, green remodeling advice in the business. Johnston is the founder of the green consulting firm What's Working, Inc., the author of multiple books on green remodeling (including the Nautilus Award winner Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time), and with more than three decades of experience in the building industry, we feel he's the perfect person to advise our homeowners on what they can do to make sure their gutters are as green as they come.

Measuring Value the Green Way
For starters, let's talk cost. After all, budget is a big concern on any remodeling project, and rumor has it that going green with your rain gutters can add to your bottom line. In all honesty, there is a chance that a green gutters and drainage systems might cost you more than some conventional alternatives, though that's a questionable claim if you look at things through green colored glasses. Green drainage makes for healthier homes, it can save you big money by preventing costly moisture problems in attics and basements, and there's always the peace of mind that comes in knowing that you're investing in a better world for your children and grandchildren. It's true that in many cases going green can cost a little more in dollars and cents, but when you factor in the value of things like health, longevity, and environmental stewardship, it's easy to see why Johnston makes the claim that going green is worth every penny, and then some.

Thoughts on Green Gutters from David Johnston
So what can you do to make sure your gutters are playing their part from a green standpoint? Here are a few suggestions, drawn from the wisdom, experience, and writings of Johnston himself to help you make sure that your gutters are as green as possible.

  • A Warning about PVC Gutters—While exterior vinyl applications haven't been proven to negatively affect the health of homeowners, residents who live around plants that make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) materials and the employees who work in them have higher rates of cancer, vision and hearing problems, birth defects, gastrointestinal problems, and disorders of the skin, respiratory system, and liver than the general population. To add to their less-than-green reputation, vinyl gutters rarely last as long as greener gutter materials, either.

  • Quality Gutters = Longer Lasting Roofs—One of the biggest sources of water damage to roofing is poor drainage, which can lead to moisture related roofing failure, leaks, rot, mold, and other serious damage to your roofing, substrate, and attic space. A good gutter system ensures your roof and everything under it will live a long and happy life, which will save you money on repair and replacement.

  • Use FSC-certified Wood—If your home is one of the rare homes still outfitted with wood gutters, make sure you purchase Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood to ensure the wood used to make your gutters is harvested in a responsible and sustainable matter. Doing so is especially important with old growth species like redwood and cedar, the two most popular wood species used in the construction of residential wood gutters.

  • Health Consequences of Poorly Maintained Gutters—Poor roof drainage doesn't just mean damaged roofing, it can also lead to the development of potentially dangerous mold in your attic, basement, and crawlspaces. Household mold has been linked to cancer, respiratory problems, and disorders of the nervous and immune systems among a host of other, less severe, health issues.

  • Direct Runoff Away From the Home—Gutters do more than whisk water off your roof; they also divert runoff away from your home and its foundation. That said, proper gutter installation plays a big role in preventing moisture problems in basements, crawlspaces, and other below-grade areas, thereby eliminating the development of hazardous mold, and reducing your chances of experiencing costly foundation failure and repair.

David Johnston on Green Drainage Systems
While gutters are an integral part of your home's drainage system, they're certainly not the only facet of your home's drainage system that can benefit from going green. Here are a few other suggestions from Johnston, some big and some small, regarding green remodeling solutions to help your entire home drainage system operate as efficiently, and as greenly, as possible.

  • Install a Rooftop Catchment System—By diverting your gutters to empty into cisterns, drums, wells, or other rainwater catchment systems, and then using that water for non-edible landscaping needs, you can reduce the amount of water you'll pay to draw from your municipal water supply.

  • Install Green Roofing—If your home has a flat or low-grade roof, you might want to think beyond gutters and install a true green roofing system. Consisting of live vegetation installed over layers of insulation, drainage, geotextiles, and soil, these roofs provide excellent insulation, reduce solar heat gain, reduce wasteful roof runoff, and help combat greenhouse gasses. Even better, they can be used as a rooftop garden to provide you with a plentiful source of organic fruits and vegetables if you so desire.

  • Proper Grading—If you are upgrading your gutters because of moisture problems in your basement or crawlspace, it probably pays to have someone check to make sure your yard is properly graded around the base of your home as well, since poorly graded landscaping can lead to a host of drainage related moisture problems.

  • Green Landscaping Utilizes Roof and Land Runoff—Green landscapes more readily absorb runoff from your gutters and yard, reducing water usage, preventing runoff related damage to your home and landscaping, and reducing the amount of water, fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides that enter the local watershed and water supply.

Which Shade of Green is Right for You?
While thinking green when it comes to rain gutters and home drainage is a smart choice for your pocketbook and the environment, it's not unusual for homeowners to feel a little overwhelmed when presented with the full scope of green remodeling options. If you're feeling unsure about how green you're willing to go with your home drainage system, there's no need to worry— going green is not an all-or-nothing proposition. The truth is that any step you take in a green direction is a smart one, whether you schedule regular gutter cleanings to make sure your gutters are doing the job they were designed for, purchase a greener gutter material like steel or aluminum over vinyl, or green your entire home drainage system with live green roofing, rainwater catchment systems, and green landscaping to boot.

If you do think green is the right choice for your gutter installation, talk with your contractor about adopting a green remodeling philosophy, find a contractor who specializes in green building and remodeling, or seek out the services of a green consulting firm so you can be sure that your new gutter or home drainage project is as green as they come.