Gutters and Downspouts

Downspout Solid State Inspections

Unless you live in Death Valley or the Bolivian high plains, your home will need to survive at lease a few rain falls each year. On the Canadian West Coast where we serve, we see as much as 2477mm of rain (nearly 100 inches) a year which makes water management one of the most important concerns during our home inspections.

Why Do We Have Gutters?

Gutters are about controlling the run off of water from our homes roofs. 

  • Practical benefits of gutters are that we can stand at the front door without water cascading on our heads and look out windows without looking through a water fall. 
  • Gutters prevent damage to our yards where falling water would erode soil leaving a trench around our home. 
  • Gutters protect our homes walls and structure by directing water off our roof and not allowing it to flow down the fascia and possibly along and into the walls. 
  • Gutters prevent too much water from sitting near the foundation walls of the home. This reduces the risk water in the soil finding a way into the basement.

Gutter Design and Installation

Gutters need to be located wherever gravity and the roof slope work together to bring water to the roof edge. Gutters need to be attached firmly to the edge of the building, be free of leaks, and should have a slight slope (1-in-200) to ensure correct drainage towards downspouts. Wider gutters are generally better at capturing water with 5” gutters becoming more common.

Common aluminum gutters have a typical life of around 20-30 years. Tree branches, ladders, poor maintenance, and animal activity like birds nests can all lead to premature leaks and damage which may result in replacement of the gutter system.

As gutters most often fail at corners and joints, long sections of site cut aluminum gutter material are ideal. There are also plastic gutter systems typically available to the do-it-yourselfer although this material is known to be brittle when cold and have a shorter life expectancy. Copper gutters are rare but are a very good quality material with double the life of other gutter systems.


The role of gutters is to collect water horizontally from the roof line and the role of downspouts is manage the collected water vertically to ground. There should be one downspouts for every 35 feet of gutter run to provide sufficient drainage to the gutters. Downspouts should also never be allowed to discharge water onto lower roof surfaces as this concentrated water can cause premature damage to the lower roof surface. Downspouts need to be well secured to the wall and be free of leaks where they meet the gutters and at any joints. 

This roof surface in Chilliwack has been eroded by downspouts from a higher roof surface. The rest of the roof had at least 5 years of life left.

Downspouts can be either directed to discharge water on ground or underground. There is some debate between builders about the best way to manage this water flow (covered in our drainage tile article here) but the goal of both methods is to keep water away from the foundation walls. Where downspouts discharge on-ground, they should have leaders attached to direct water at least 6’ away from the foundation wall. Where connections are underground, the homes drainage systems should carry water to the storm sewers.

What do Home Inspectors Look at with Gutters and Downspouts?

Home Inspectors start by observing the roof design to ensure water is correctly being collected into gutters. We then observe the gutters to ensure they are well attached, properly maintained, free of leaks, and connected to appropriate numbers of downspouts. Following the course of water, home inspectors will check that downspouts are well attached to the building and that the water is safely discharging away from the structure. Home inspectors often find downspouts not connected or crushed which is a maintenance issue for the home owner.

The nature of water is that it will always look for the path of least resistance. Even very small holes or gaps in materials can in a heavy rain allow a lot of water through. Unfortunately for home inspectors, it can be very difficult to assess the performance of a gutter system in dry weather or even light rains. Clients will always need to monitor performance in heavier rains.

What Do I Do if My Gutters are Failing?

Leaking gutters can be caused by minor or major damage. Minor damage can be patched and is part of regular maintenance. Major damage may require a complete replacement of the gutter system. Fortunately, gutter systems are less expensive than many other home repair jobs but this can vary depending on the complexity and size of your roof.

Final Thoughts

Uncontrolled water on our homes and property can do hidden and very serious damage if not address quickly. What looks like a small gutter leak today could become a major repair expense in the future. If you have any concerns about the performance or maintenance of your gutters, call your local home inspector or gutter contractor for help.

By James Bell - Owner/Operator of Solid State Inspections Inc.