Rain gutters are one of your home’s most vital protections against the elements. They gather the runoff from your roof caused by rain and melting snow and divert it away from your siding and foundation ensuring it does the least amount of harm. Because your rain gutters are such an important part of maintaining the integrity of your home, it’s important that you make an educated and informed decision as you look at available styles and materials and make the best choice for your home and budget.

Gutters are a crucial component of your home’s drainage system, and like many other exterior features, they’re subject to wear and damage. An important item on your home maintenance checklist should be examining and cleaning out your gutters.  Regular cleaning and maintenance go a long way toward getting the maximum lifespan out of your gutters.

Signs You Need New Gutters

If your gutters are showing signs of extreme wear like cracks, holes, and leaks, for example, or if they’re sagging or pulling away from the house or have missing, loose, or bent fasteners, it’s probably time to look into replacement.

Below is a list of the most common gutter materials, as well as their benefits and drawbacks. Review each option so you can move ahead with your next rain gutter purchase with confidence.

Vinyl Gutters

Vinyl gutters have quickly become a homeowner favorite because of their easy installation, the fact that they don’t rust or corrode, and their cheap purchase price. Because they are so lightweight and sections easily snap together, they are very easy for those that like DIY to manage and install.

Additionally, when used in milder climates they function just as well other materials, especially when installed correctly. However, poor installation can result in sagging sections, and vinyl gutters do have a reputation for growing brittle and cracking over time and in extreme cold weather. These home gutters are a good solution if you need new gutters on a tight budget.

Aluminum Gutters

Next in terms of cost efficiency are aluminum rain gutters. Like vinyl gutters, aluminum house gutters also have the advantages of being lightweight, rust-proof, and pretty easy to work with. Unlike vinyl, however, they are weather-resistant across the board and maintain their integrity even in cold climates. Add to that the fact that they hold paint well (again something that vinyl gutters don’t do) and can be manufactured in seamless models (we’ll get to this later) and it’s clear why many homeowners and contractors prefer aluminum home gutters over all other materials.

Their only drawback is that they aren’t structurally as strong as many other materials, meaning they will dent, and they can be distorted by poorly placed ladders and the like. This can be mitigated to some extent by purchasing gutters made of primary aluminum, which is thicker and of a higher quality when compared to secondary aluminum products which are made mostly of recycled materials.

Steel and Copper Gutters

As with aluminum gutter products, steel gutters come in several varieties. Galvanized steel rain gutters are by the far most popular as they are very competitive cost-wise and are sturdier than their aluminum counterparts when it comes to damage inflicted by falling branches and ladders. The main drawback of galvanized steel is rust. Eventually, rust can take its toll with this type of steel and they will rust through, but with proper maintenance, they can still last for a very long time.

Stainless Steel

These are virtually indestructible, hold their shine for years on end, do not rust, and are pretty well accepted as one of, if not the, strongest materials in the industry. The one big drawback is price. These gutters will run two to four times as much as gutters manufactured from other materials, so be prepared to spend more money if you go this route. Finally, copper gutters are probably the most beautiful rain gutters on the market, and like stainless steel, they are virtually indestructible. The only barrier here is again price, as copper would easily win first place if there was a “most expensive gutter material” competition.

Wood Gutters

Wood gutters used to be the norm several hundred years ago, though with the advent of cheaper, mass-produced materials that are more weather resistant, this gutter material has mostly dropped out of favor. Wood rain gutters made of cedar, redwood, and fir are still available however, but they are most often used in renovations of older, historic houses, where staying true to the original building materials takes priority over longevity. Be prepared to spend big as well if you choose this classic house gutter material.

Sectional vs. Seamless

The last thing to consider is whether you want sectional or seamless gutters. Most materials are only available in sections which are joined and fastened together as they are installed. Aluminum gutters though are now available in seamless varieties and can be custom made to fit your home out of single, long sheets of metal. The advantages here are clear. The most common place a gutter fails after years of wear is right at the joints and seams. A seamless gutter won’t ever have this problem, making it a popular choice for those who can afford the extra cost.

Whether you’re looking for cost savings or are more concerned with looks, there’s a rain gutter out there to meet your specific house needs. Talk to a certified gutter installer or gutter contractor to figure out which material is going to work best for your home and your budget, and to ensure that your gutters are installed correctly so that you won’t have to worry about them anytime soon!