When homes are being built, buyers forget that they have to choose each detail they want, or they do not realize why one detail is important. Gutters frequently are not standard on the rear of homes, so you have to choose them.
One means of giving a home character is by the roof line. Some homes in my neighborhood with exactly the same layout appear to be quite different designs simply with how the roof looks. Another trend is to have two stories in the front portion of the house facing the street, while the rear portion is only one story. Another detail to add visual interest to homes is to have one story areas with two or even three story areas. This is great, because we break up the box feel. In all of this planning, we forget that roofs serve a function, and the type of roof we have should really be dependent on our climate. In Houston, we do have to deal with rain, so our roofing systems should be designed to shed water away from the home. Once the water is leaving the roof, we have to be concerned with how we direct the water away from the house. Gutters play a key role in properly handling water; however, they are not easy to maintain, and we do not always see them as necessary.
Having a two story front with a one story rear is quite a popular design. One issue with this design that home inspectors seem to notice, but which others in the building industry have not fully grasped is how water flowing on the roof planes can be channeled to cause damage to the structure. For this post, I want to share with you how your roof could help cause issues with your foundation. Here are two photos taken of the same house.
The higher roof is angled so that the water from the rain flows down to the lower roof, which is angled to shed the water to the side of the home. Most builders grade the ground along the sides of the home to be a channel down to the street. What happens in reality is that these graded channels are effected by the work done on the next house or due to work done by the homeowners later. If you look at the picture of the ground, you will see that there is a depression where water can collect. Most of the water coming from the upper roof has been focused along a path parallel to the wall of the second story. This water is dropping down in a gush in one spot, increasing the size of the depression. A good way to understand this erosion is with your garden house. If I set my head for a wide stream, I am imitating rain falling over a wide area. The pressure of the water in any one spot is not very great, so I do not see the dirt move much if I am using the water to wash dirt away from a sidewalk. To clear the sidewalk, I set the head to focus the water into a compact stream. The pressure has increased, so the dirt moves. This roof design is increasing the pressure of the water coming down in that spot.
This effect of increased water happens on patios as well. The patio has to be carefully angled to shed water away from the home. I find in my home inspections that either the patio was not installed with a sufficient angle, or the homeowner has added to the patio to prevent the water from shedding. This leads to problems around the back door in my experience.
The solution becomes a gutter system. If you hire an installer, or tell the builder to install the gutter, you will face another problem. They will more than likely let the gutter from the upper roof drain onto the higher portion of the lower roof. This is cheaper to install, but will cause you problems on the lower roof. I would take the water from the upper roof in its own downspout to the lower roof gutter. The downspout from the lower roof gutter can come down to the ground where the depression in the ground is located, but I would either have a drainage system going to the street at this spot, or I would at least have a tube to direct the water away from the home. This depression will become a pond for water during rains. This means that the ground at this spot will be more effected by moisture, which helps cause the movement in the ground that harms foundations. In Houston, with our expansive clay soils, this section of the foundation will lift up as other drier parts sink down. This is often a gradual process, so you will see the effect slowly happening over the years, in most instances.
The problem with gutters is maintenance. Gutters catch the debris from the roof. Leaves, the little pebbles for UV protection on composite shingles, toys, and branches are a few common items that I find in gutters. I am nt sure that any gutter system can be entirely maintenance free; although some purport to be. I have screens over my gutters, and I find that once a year I need to do a cleaning. If you have nothing to block the leaves, you will have to do the cleaning more often. I did see a tool in a home improvement center that I think may be a great investment for homeowners. The device is meant to clean your gutters by flushing them out with higher water pressure. You attach your garden hose to a long pole that has a hook on the other end. The hook portion has a nozzle to fit into the gutter.
Should your home have gutters? I tell my clients that if you do not want gutters, you should at least think about how to handle the water from your roof. Going back to this photo, I explained to the client how I would have the gutter along the back. To save money, you may not want a gutter on the upper roof. If money is really a concern, or you have other issues with gutters, I would then consider what is happening down on the ground. You do not want the water to pool, so having some object that forces the water away may be the answer. You could regrade the land here, then install a splashguard. You could have a decorative stone, or something that splashes the water away from the house. A well maintained gutter would be the best, but you do have cheaper options. Remember that any option has to force the water away from your home.