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The only gutter on my house is over my front porch -- or, it was there, until roofers removed it a year ago while redoing the roof, and then never put it back up.    They claim it's too old and in bad shape, and we should get a new one anyway.   I was at work; my husband agreed with them.   A piece of the wood trim (which was probably rotted) broke off and fell to the ground.    My husband tacked it back up, but we know we need new trim up there.
The gutter is white painted (aluminum?) half-round, kind of dented out of shape now (probably from being thrown around by the roofers), and the white paint is flaking off terribly.
We definitely need a gutter up there -- last winter we had a lot of ice build up on the steps, and our mailperson stopped delivering mail for a few days until we cleared it!
We can put the old gutter back up ourselves...
In the spring, do we want to...
- get new half-round?
- just go cheap home depot square white vinyl?

I saw some white vinyl half round on this website:

but I really like this zinc one:

there are other areas around the house where we could use gutters as well, but this main entrance is the #1 priority (plus there's no way we're getting way up high ourselves!)

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I would not go to any great lengths to replace the aluminum guttering. And I definitely would avoid vinyl. The zinc galvanized gutters would look pretty nice and would be paintable (definitely get 1/2 round style). I paint my galvanized gutters to blend in and disappear, and they are much, much stronger than the aluminum gutters that were largely on the house when I bought it. That said, because so much of gutter work is labor, and because repainting gutters is difficult, esp. the insides, which also need continuous painting if you want them to last, I have moved to copper for all of my new gutter and downspout replacements. This place has solid copper for less money than the galvanized that you link to, and with copper you don't have to enter the cycle of painting. These require soldering for installation, so if that is not your thing, you would need a good roofer for the installation:
http://www.copperguttershop.com/Copper_Gutter_Shop_Half_Round_Gutte...
I had gutters put on my house after my new roof was put on. I chose the seamless gutters. It looks like you have crown moulding on your eves which I didn't. When choosing gutters I picked one that looked as much like crown moulding as they had. Once they were installed the roof looks much like it did when it was new. The new gutters came in white prime color and were easy to paint. The life should be 25 years and then they will have to be replaced but the cost was so low I can live with that. I agree with Phil, don't get vinyl. They will sag, bend, and twist and in no time look like crap, at least the ones I've seen. You can spot them from a mile away. Lair
Why do I need gutters on my house?

My house presently has gutters and downspouts that are pretty well clogged up with composting leaves. The house was unoccupied for five years before I purchased it.

I've climbed out of a window onto one of the roofs, and used wide-bladed spatulas to clean out the dirt,
but I'm not eager to be doing that later when I'm in my 70's and 80's.

The local contractors are not too interested in my business - they say that my roofs are too high (35 feet) for extension ladders, the surrounding terrain is too uneven for their high-low lifts, and the mature garden beds are too close to the house.

A couple of the tradesmen I've talked with say that they don't have gutters on their two-stories houses, and they're encouraging me to go that route. I debating to take out the foundation plantings so that I can remove the excessive topsoil piled against the foundation (window wells were added before the dirt was brought in, but the wooden sashes on the basement windows now are rotting), debating to install about 6 feet - 10 feet width of gravel bed next to the foundation so that snow and rain can fall off of the roofs and maintenance vehicles can drive on the gravel. New garden beds will be created about 10 feet from the foundation.

Thus, what are the advantages and disadvantages of going without eave gutters.
The house is an 1864/1870 brick Italianate located in mid-Michigan (42 degrees North latitude).
You do not want water running down the sides of your house or after it hits the ground splashing back up onto your wood frame. If you have a decent overhang on your roof - 16" where I live - the rain will usually hit the ground about 12" out, and if the grade is sloped away from the house, run off into your yard. So, for a simple house shape you do not need gutters.

If you have a valley that collects rain and makes a waterfall, that may need to be directed. 2 roofs at different heights and at right angles to each other can make bad splash back situations and also concentrate the rain. If these places are on the north side of your house, you may also get ice dams. Gutters in these places help move the water along. Victorian houses with their wings and bays often need gutters. At the turn of the 20th century generous gutters were routinely built into eaves, feeding into downspouts and then to dry wells.

At doors and porches gutters are often needed to keep the rain off your neck and the ice off your walk. Usually those are placed close enough to the ground for you to maintain. Sometimes you just need a diverter - a piece of angled metal that slides under the shingles and directs the water to one side.

Most likely your house never had window wells - those wood basement windows were 8" above the grade when the house was built. The foundation was expected to be seen. In the pictures of houses from that era there are no foundation plantings.
If your stone foundation was leaky, common practice was to set leaves, straw or sawdust against the foundation for the winter as insulation. By spring time it was decayed to become part of the soil. Over the years this naturally built up the grade to what you see today.
Thanks for your response, Jane.
Perchance, can you point me towards any references about historic landscaping?

I'm interested in learning about when foundation planting was encouraged. References are few and far between. Rows of annual bedding plants were common in flower beds during the middle Victorian period, but went out of favor from about 1870 until 1900, and were revived about the early 1900's. I've read about George Nicholson (curator, Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, England) encouraging the use of only perennials in border beds about 1890. Bressingham Gardens (Norfolk, England) began about 1926, and Alan Bloom encouraged "island beds" of perennials during the 1950's.

If I do remove the window wells and lower the surrounding grade 8" below the cellar windows, it will be a major undertaking. To remove that much dirt, I'll probably need to hire someone with a bulldozer . I've become wary of the gardening gurus who advocate adding 2" to 3" of organic compost every year to the garden beds, my sidewalks already are about 4" - 6" below the level of my lawn.

Are owners of the pre-1900 houses expected to raise their sunken sidewalks to the new higher level, or instead expected to scrape down their raised lawns to the sidewalk's original level? A lot of dirt accumulated over the past 145 years of lawn growth.
I was told one needs gutters to keep all the moisture away from the foundation. In the winter the snow melts during the day and runs off on the ground. It soaks into the ground causing a wet foundation. Then comes the cold and heaves and expands, cracking the mortar and moving the stones. Over the years the mortar crumbles and your house sets on a pile of rocks.
If you look at most older homes for structural cracks, they all start right below a valley or downspout that isn't directed away from the house. The wet dirt heaves more than dry dirt and elevates the degree of damage done to the structure. An old man once told me water does more damage to a house than the worst tenant could ever think of doing. I have never found that to be false.
About ten years ago, I got 6" half-round copper gutters from the same company featured on This Old House. They are based in Michigan... nice people too.

http://www.classicgutters.com

They are heavy gauge and easy to install with stainless steel rod hangers. You can walk on them or do chin-ups without fear of deformation. I always lean my 32 foot aluminum ladder up against them without any damage whatsoever.

The downspouts are 5" round corrugated and until a birds built a nest, they rarely get clogged.

You need to know how to solder but that's pretty easy with the right flux and a hot enough torch. They loaned me a tool for bending the hangers and a video that explained installation step by step.

AS far as "gutters versus no gutters", I'm glad I put mine up... the basement alone is 90% drier without doing anything else. It only leaks during the first heavy rainfall in the Spring. Once the ground is damp and the clay expands, it stays dry for another year. Before the gutters, it would leak during every single rain storm.

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