Home Restoration: DIY Wooden Gutter Repair Guide

Your home’s first line of defense against the elements is its roof’s gutter system. Ask any builder or architect: No matter what it’s made of, if the roof fails, the structure fails. A roof captures rainwater; if it cannot shed that water into gutters that channel the water away from the structure through spouts, the roof will become damaged. During your home restoration process, follow these six steps to clean and repair rotten wooden gutters.

victorian home

This Victorian home’s hung gutters catch water as it rushes over the eave (Photo: Jaimee Itagaki).

  1. Use a round-edged rubber spatula to clean all debris from your gutters.
  2. Inspect your gutters’ lowest points, including their joints. You will find the most damage wherever water and mud can settle.
  3. Use a teardrop scraper to dig out any rotten wood.
  4. Fill the empty space you’ve just cleared with Durabond. Smooth out the Durabond shortly before it dries.
  5. Once the Durabond has dried, cover the entire inside of the gutter with roofing tar.
  6. When the Durabond is still wet, press fiberglass mesh into the tar. Then, repeat Step 5. Let dry.

Tip: For a more detailed tutorial, click here.

Master carpenter Eric Hollenbeck carves an authentic wooden gutter (Photography courtesy of the Blue Ox Millworks).

Why You Shouldn’t Replace Wooden Gutters during Home Restoration

Due to North America’s abundant forests, timber became the primary building material for American homes. Unfortunately, wood is very susceptible to rot, both brown and white. Rot is a living organism that needs air, food and water to live; although white rot will send out tentacles to find and capture water, there is no such thing as “dry rot.” So if your gutters remove water from your wooden roof, they will prevent your roof from rotting—even if they’re made of wood themselves.

Because wood rots, the concept of wooden gutters may seem counterintuitive. But historically, gutters were constructed from either copper or wood; modern galvanized metal gutters weren’t introduced until the late 1920s. Copper gutters were made in short sections, then soldered together to make up long runs. Wood gutters, on the other hand, came in continuous runs of up to 30 feet and could be decorated in a multitude of ways to add interest to a house’s façade.

The two traditional types of copper and wood gutters are Yankee and Hung. A Yankee gutter is a copper-lined trough cut into the roof line about one foot from the eave, while a wooden-hung gutter is attached to the house’s facial board. Yankee gutters channel water away from the roof before it reaches the eave, while hung gutters catch water after it has poured over the eave.

If you’re skeptical of wooden gutters, remember: For five months of the year, rot can flourish with plenty of air, food and water. But for the rest of the year, gutters are deserts, and rot can’t finish a life cycle. If your wooden gutters are installed properly and you keep the inside empty and clean, you can expect them to last a lifetime—or longer.

 

Written by master carpenter and Victorian home restoration expert Eric Hollenbeck of Blue Ox Millworks in Eureka, California

 

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