We never eat fruitcake, because it has rum.
And one little bite turns a man to a bum!
Oh can you imagine a sadder disgrace
A man in the gutter, with crumbs on his face?
– The song of the Temperance Legion.
Whoever designed the roof line on this house must have been drunk.
Sure, all the water that pours off the roof in a rainstorm makes its way into the drain pipes we buried in July, but the math says a slug of water falling off the north roof would hit the ground at 35 mph if the air would let it. It power washes the the ground where it hits, and mulch and plantings don’t stand a chance.
Plus, most of our thunderstorms blow in on strong winds from the North, and the water falling from that side of the roof gets blown back onto the house, and the picture window, slider, and door to the shop take the brunt of it.
What I really need is some gutters.
But when they put the roof on last fall, the guy in charge took me aside, looked me in the eye, and said: “Do not put gutters on this roof.” He said that sooner or later, the day after a big wet dump of snow is going to be sunny and warm, and the snow will avalanche off, taking chimneys, vents, antennae, and gutters with it. And he should know: he makes a good living fixing such damage.
So I can’t win.
Apparently, the usual way to deal with roof runoff is to put a lot of crushed rock and sturdy bushes under the drip line, but Mary is bent on having attractive plantings in those areas and I found out the hard way in Westford that if you channel your water toward the foundation drain, you’ll eventually get dampness and mold. Plus, sturdy bushes don’t help with wind blown runoff.
So I got online and googled gutters.
They’ve come a long way since I had them installed in Westford, so I had a contractor come by to look it over and give me a quote.
And a heart attack: $4500 bucks!
A friend had recently had a (simpler) gutter job done for $1200, and 4x sounded way high. The contractor had promised to mail me his quote, along with a bunch of product information, but it never came, and it dawned on me that maybe he figured it as a tough job and didn’t want to get involved. Sure, there’s a high roof, some nasty valleys, and a stepped fascia profile, but it didn’t seem too horrendous to me. So I got to thinking.
Always a dangerous thing.
What would it take to put up a home-grown gutter system?
Probably a lot. I’ve never done anything like it before, and I don’t have the tools or time to do anything like it. This is a bad idea.
But what about a gutter system unlike anything you’ve ever seen before? One you look at and smack yourself on the head, thinking “That’s crazy. I’m glad I didn’t think of that!”
This is also a bad idea.
Before we moved, Mary set me up to take a welding class in Hinesburg, and the lesson I took away from it was that if I want to get good at welding, I have to practice. So ever since then, I’ve been looking for a project involving lots of welding.
The only thing my welder is good for is steel, so how about we make a gutter system for the house out of structural steel?
The little guy on my right shoulder said: “Snap out of it! That’s crazy. It’s the dumbest thing I ever heard. ”
The little guy on my left shoulder said: “That would be cool. What would it have to look like?”
Wouldn’t you know; I can only hear in my left ear.
So I did some sketching, and decided there would have to be 3 manifolds to collect the water from the gutters and the valleys, and by the end of the afternoon, I’d built 3 plywood mockups.
So far so good, but I needed steel.
Queen City Steel is right next door to Garden Way, where Mary has a gift certificate, so we went to Burlington and came home with a Hydrangea plant to climb the new trellises, and some 10′ pieces of 1/8″ steel, which fit in the Tahoe with the back gate closed.
We were both happy.
I reminded myself that this is crazy to begin with, and then I made a steel manifold, just to see if I could do it. It took a few days, but it turned out good, and I learned a lot about warping and spot welding, while filling the house with a smokey haze. All further welding sessions, I was informed, should be performed with the windows open.
Mary said: “What did you say these things are for?”
The voice of reason said: “It’s going to weigh a ton, turn to rust, cost a bundle, and look like hell.”
Reid said: “Exactly! Come on, it will be fun!”
Three manifolds are going to need three drain pipes. The idea was to screw 4″ pipes to the side of the house and run the water directly into the drainage pipes we buried in July. Back then, I didn’t think the front porch needed a gutter, but when we put the front garden in, the topsoil we mounded up made the water puddle up pretty good, and it really needed a drain, gutters or no.
So I dug a ditch and put in a drain pipe, with a branch for a gutter.
Just in case I should ever decide to put one in.
The hardest problem was shaping up to be putting a drain pipe on the North side of the house, where the roof valley pees into the wind, 19 feet up. A drainpipe would have to follow a laser path through an obstacle course, avoiding 6 electric boxes and a window on its way to the ground. With 3 bends in 2 planes, building this monster was a leap of faith, and proof that high school geometry is useful.
This assembly weighed in at over 100#, and there was no way I was going to haul it up an extension ladder, position it with one hand, and fasten it in place with the other. A couple of brackets held it up while I planned my next move.
By a stroke of luck, right behind the 15′ vertical line of the pipe, there’s the structural column that holds up the beam that holds up the roof, so adding a drain pipe to the load is like adding a straw to a camel’s back. I splurged on some attractive 8″ lag bolts to hold it securely in place, and when that warm, slippery-when-wet dump of snow comes along and tries to tear the gutters off, it’ll have to take the structural column with it.
By this time, the little voice of reason on my right shoulder had given up. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he muttered. “You knew what you were getting into.”
I knew I was knee deep in a tough project, alright, but I wasn’t in over my head. Everything else I still had to do, I knew I could do. But there was a lot to do.
For starters, I wasn’t sure how I was going to make the gutters themselves. We didn’t want to attach anything to the fascia, because Mary likes the red color and wants to be able to see it.
We also wanted it to look funky, and nothing is funkier than angle iron.
But will it work? Your basic seamless gutter has a cross sectional area of about 20+ sq in, vs about 7 sq in for 3″ angle iron. Will that be enough to handle a hard rain? I’m still not really sure about that, because thunderstorm season is behind us. But I know regular gutters barely slope at all in a long run. And in a storm, I think all that cross sectional area just lets it fill up with water before it starts flowing sideways. I figured if I can give my gutters a serious tilt, 7 sq in will be plenty.
And how was I going to mount these things? It took a lot of head scratching before I had a stroke of genius:
Little pieces of 4″ angle, welded to short 3/4″ threaded rods, each mounted to a truss.
Attractive and adjustable, rock solid without touching the fascia, and simple enough to make 44 of them. And versatile, too: just picture these brackets accessorized with Chinese lanterns, Tiki torches, tarp grommets, or Christmas lights!
By this time, I’d gotten a lot of practice welding, and I was a lot better at it than when I started. So even if my welds are not very good, they’re not too bad, either.
(if I do say so myself)
Getting the manifolds built had gotten the whole project off the ground, but they really weren’t done. The weld penetration was about half the thickness of the steel, so the insides of the welded edges were really crevasses where water was going to collect. I decided to braze these cracks smooth. The last time I tried brazing, I melted holes right through the metal, but by now, I was beginning to understand the subtleties of heat, and the only mishap I had was running out of gas. Twice.
And, of course, the soffits and fascia had to be painted before the gutters could go up. Mary did what she could where the roof is close to the ground, and for a week, my extension ladder was my BFF. I never had a mishap while I was on it, but I turned my back on a windy day, and the ladder took aim at a window.