Dear PoP – Decorative Wood Gutter Replacement

“Dear PoP,

I need to replace the decorative wood gutters because they have rotted and are beginning to detach from the house. Do you have any recommendations on who may be able to repair/replace the gutters and what this might cost? There doesn’t seem to be much information on the web about this sort of thing.

Of course, I am limited in funds, since I’ve just bought the house. I’m sure a more cost effective option would be to get rid of the ornate wood completely and install more modern gutters with plain flat wood supporting it. I would hate to do that, since I would lose a lot of the character and integrity of the house.”

Does anyone else have experience replacing/repairing these type of gutters? Any recommendations or guesses of how much it will cost?

37 Comment

  • Since you have the old gutter, you would have a pretty good guide to building one on your own.

    Take it down, give it a thorough look through, take it apart, and then simply cut your wood to match the old pieces. Shouldn’t be too tough.

    That’s going to be the most effective way.

    Am I right?

    • Agreed. I would go so far as to consider doing it in PVC, since it would last longer and not need to be repainted as often. This would probably have a higher material cost though.

      You could always put up a flat piece temporarily with the expectation of replacing it when you have the time and money. Pay attention to how it’s attached to the house when you pull it down.

      • I think you all are being awfully presumptuous about the skills required to do this. I can say that I watched lots of fix it shows but after I bought my house when I sat down to do the work I failed to deliver results 100% of the time.

        The first thing I think you two are supposing is that this person owns or knows how to use/secure the right sized ladder. I saw someone climb up a flat ladder alone to get to their roof when the ladder slid (no one steadied it).

        This doesn’t look remotely easy to me. Does it really to you?

        • I don’t think I am. The poster said he didn’t have a lot of money, not that he was incapable of learning or unwilling to try alternatives. It’s a suggestion to consider, not an encouragement for any particular option. It’s up to him to decide if he can tackle the problem not me; he’s not my employee or anything.

          It doesn’t look easy at all to me, but the option of waiting until it falls off the roof and harms someone is unacceptable. So either you find the funds to fix the problem, or you march your butt down to the library and start reading up on how to do stuff. There’s an entire dewey decimal assigned to home repair: 643.7 and we have the best free library in the country.

          • The LOC doesn’t use the Dewey system…

          • you can’t learn woodworking from a book, trust me, I tried and tried. Almost none of the repairs I made lasted more than 5 years. There was a lot of,

            “Did you use regular dry wall in a bathroom?”

            “Did you put down primer?”

            “Did you buy this in Virginia? You can’t use this kind of Dryer hose in the district!”

          • Carpentry on a ladder or roof is not a DIY job. Leave it to the professionals.

          • Neener: You’re full of excuses as to why you were unsuccessful at figuring this out and you gave up. Sorry you were unsuccessful. As my former Taiwanese boss told me, “try harder next time”.

            Just sayin: Way to miss the point.

        • Agreed. I would enlist the services of a professional to do the work. It is not what you know, or may know how to do or even could accomplish that will ultimately cause problems – it is what you don’t know and don’t recognize that will cost you more money in the long run.

          • Yeah – “simply cut your wood to match the old pieces” is not going to get you very far – even with the library. Sometimes it is well worth it to just pay someone who knows what s/he is doing and has all the right tools. Besides, people with skill and knowledge ought to be hired and paid.

    • No you are not! I am sorry but coming from someone who bought a 100+ year old house it is not that simple. I have come to the conclusion that for some jobs it is worth it pay to have it done. In this case trying to build a gutter from scratch (when you have never done anything remotely similar) and installing (alone) is not something I would recommend someone to do. It is painful paying so much money for something that may not even “show” but the good work will save you thousands in other possible damages.

  • I recommend Keith Roofing. They do excellent work

    • Also, as a follow up. Hugh Keith will provide you with detailed recommendations, explanation of what you can and cannot do, and he will take pictures to show you exactly what needs to be done.

    • I just had Keith roofing do this exact thing on my house. They take pictures of everything to show you the work afterward and in general are excellant at their job. It will be a decent chunk of change, but you will know that they will do the job right the first time, and the end result will last a long time.

  • I’m doing it right now. It will cost about 7k to have it done right.
    Please do not hire someone to put up cheap inappropriate gutters. If you can’t pay for the proper upkeep on a 100 year old house, you should not have bought one. Having home shopped for about 2 years in Petworth and Columbia Heights I have seen a lot of houses that were owned by people that could not afford to take care of them they way they should have. It is disgraceful.

    • If you can’t pay for the proper upkeep on a 100 year old house, you should not have bought one.

      being an ass is disgraceful too.

      • Agree. Rather see someone TRY to do maintenance on an old and crumbling property than not, and let it become a blighted and crumbling property. Was that necessary?

    • That’s good advice Mr. Moneybags.

    • Whoa! I’m all for “This old house” groove etc. but honestly, I’ve never walked down any street in any place all over the world and had my day ruined by seeing a bad gutter. Really – slap up anything that works and plant a few flowers out front to distract the potentially offended. “Hap” is clearly not a happy person.

    • I can understand if you’re angry at needing to pay a contractor $7K to do that work, but don’t take it out on everybody else. Some people just need an affordable place to live and not every place is going to be perfectly kept up.

      Without people willing to take chances on older properties a lot of them would sit vacant until they were flipped with crappy carpet and cheap home depot doors. Some people need actual places for their family to live and can’t be bothered with maintaining your street’s quaint historical accuracy in every detail.


  • Some gutters are internal, meaning that what you see in the picture is just a large piece of painted crown molding. Behind the molding is a half-round gutter that sits flush with the top of the molding and flush with the deck of the roof.

    If this is your construction, it would take some trim carpentry and roofing skills to do the job on your own…but doable if you spent time researching proper methods and materials. Ofcourse, if perfection is what you’re after, hire someone.

  • Don’t buy into the hype that ‘poor you’ is incapable of doing a repair just because you’re new to it. There are plenty of resources on “how to use a ladder”, how to not kill yourself with power tools, and how to work with wood. It’s not easy and there’s a learning curve, just like everything else in life. You may not be able to do this repair as cheaply as you think. But, if you read, then plan, then talk with people who know what they’re doing it’s amazing how much money you will save in home repair. Even if the first time you try this it doesn’t go 100% according to plan, you’ll learn a lesson and you’ll be better the next go around. If your house is in any kind of shape like mine, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get better.

    I’m amazed at people’s fear of the unknown and fear of screwing up. I hear so many kids say “I’m not good at math” before they’ve even given it a try. Well, you need to get good at math if you want to be a successful adult. Same thing applies here if you want to save money as a homeowner. You won’t learn nearly as much writing checks as you will trying stuff.

    “life is tough, it’s tougher if you’re stupid” Only you know what you’re capable of so work within your limits, go slow, and you’ll make the right choices.

  • I’ve figured out how to do a lot of handy things that I probably would have avoided earlier in life – using a jigsaw to cut a sink hole in laminate counters, installing said sink and counter, wiring a garbage disposal, connecting waste lines and a dishwasher, hanging doors, patching plaster, caulking a bath, installing light switches, etc.

    But for all that I’ve learned how to do, I would still leave gutter and roof things to an expert. I like to think that I’m handy, but that combination of precision, height and awkward working space is a definite no-go as far as I’m concerned.

    I wish the poster luck in finding someone good who can do it on your budget. And yet again, I recommend Urban Referrals as a place to do just that. Good luck!

    • Angie’s List is a great resource too. It’s a pay service, but they are very thorough about checking out all the details about a business and validating the reviews that customers post.

  • The gutters aren’t going to fall off the house. It’s just some rotting wood. Just get some epoxy, stuff it in there, and leave it for the next owner to repair.

  • This is what the first time home buyer credit is for.

    I don’t understand what is disrespectful about my previous comment. The poster just bought a house, I”m sure there was an inspection and the gutter problem did not just show up over night. Home owners is older neighborhoods have a responsibility to maintain the look and feel of their neighborhoods. There are plenty of places to raise your family without the responsibility of maintaining an old home. You have this responsibility to your neighbors, future neighbors, and, in the long run, yourself. The poster him/herself doesn’t want to go with the crappy gutter either…

    Anyway, you can probably get the cheap crappy gutter for 3-4K. there is scaffolding to rent, which needs their own permit (I think) and there is a metal gutter inside the wooden front, which might be salvageable. You will have no idea what kind of damage is behind/under the front until you open it up. Have you looked in the attic to see if any moisture is coming into the house?

    • Um, that you’re being an ass? Who are you to tell people how to spend their money?

      It sounds like the original poster was trying to respect the integrity of the house. I’d agree with you if he was going to deliberately destroy it, but he’s not. Telling him how to spend his money and for all intents and purposes, calling him an idiot for not planning on this expense – again, falls under being an ass. Inspectors miss things all the time.

      Better to see someone try to do things right than to see someone stick an ugly pop up on it or try and redo the entire place in vinyl siding.

  • Right on Hap! This faux working class crap about how no one should be expected to keep their historic, 100 year home maintained is crazy. We are stewards of these old negihborhoods and their archetecture. If you own your home and loose your job making it impossible to keep it up, I can see that. But it sounds like you’re considering a cheap fix just because you have no interest in the neighborhood you just moved in to. If everyone took your cheap way out you probably wouldn’t have chosen to live in this quaint, Victorian block.

    Be a good guy, good steward of your house, and team player for the good and future of your block and get the internal gutter fixed!

  • Honestly, none of us can make an accurate comment about what repairs are required unless we had multiple pictures of the gutter system. It may be simple or it may be complex.

    It appears to be a classic box gutter, possibly with a metal cornice, not sure because the picture is not clear. More than likely there are pieces of dimensional lumber extending out of the brick wall at a perpendicular angle. Is this wood deteriorated? If so, it may require removal of the cornice, regardless of the cornice material to provide the proper structural support for the box gutter. You would need to know rough carpentry and masonry skills for this repair.

    Has the box gutter been relined with an asphalt based material? The original box gutter was probably wood framed with lead, copper, or tin lining. Do you want gutter rebuilt to its original construction? Either way, be sure not to allow contact between dissimilar metals or a galvanic reaction will occur and undo a lot of the work. Different materials have different thermal expansion coefficients, which make box gutters tricky because of the multiple materials and the contact they make with each other. The original lining was probably hand soldered together and had a low expansion coefficient. Asphalt based materials work, but not for as long as the original metal lined gutter.

    Since there is a slate mansard style front roof, you will need to insure that the flashing at the bottom of the slate starts under the tile and sheds the water correctly into the box gutter. If the existing flashing is damaged it will need to be replaced, which may require additional work to the slate tiles.

    Once the water makes it to the downspout, you have to be sure that the box gutter drains completely INSIDE the downspout or the water could end up back inside the cornice or on the front brick wall. A stream of water directly on your front brick wall could cause moisture problems over the long term.

    In short, it’s a complex system, but the extent of your problem is not clear. In order to know exactly what needed to be repaired, a contractor would need more information than what is posted here. Hopefully, it’s a simple fix, maybe something you could do on your own, maybe not, post more pictures and you’ll probably get a better response. Good luck.

    • Nice, thoughtful and helpful response.

      I am a “this old house” type and have learned by doing a lot of repairs – and I think this is a HUGE undertaking for a newbie.

      That said: I’ve seen so much “professional” crap renovation work around the neighborhood that I’m skeptical one can get a professional job done correctly without already knowing how to do it yourself. My favorite example of this is the deteriorated siding desperately in need of paintwork – almost certainly subject to EPA regs – which are addressed by simply covering them over with vinyl siding! Not only is vinyl siding the crap-tastic stuff of the stapled-up boxes from the burbs and not in keeping with the generally excellent materials of the housing stock in these neighborhoods, but it’s also just covering over huge problems, which are likely to manifest five years down the road (long after the flipper “investor” is long gone).

      I think the OP’s best bet, if they want to get a quality original job, is to take down the cornice, take it to their basement, and disassemble. It can be used as a guide.

      I’d personally be very leery of letting a “professional” yank it down for me, as I think they’d very likely just hack it up. If, as you suggest, the structural (dimensional) lumber that this is connected to is rotten, then this gets a lot bigger as a job. Time for a master carpenter, and be prepared to pay if you expect it done right.

  • That is a metal cornice with an internal gutter. That’s not wood at all. Unless you know how to solder, you’re not going to fix that thing yourself. No PVC or fypon piece of junk is going to come close to matching that. Call L&M Roofing.

  • 2nd what CRIN said. If it needs to be rebuilt, L & M is in the top 5% of roofing companies in DC, probably top 1% actually. They know how to rebuild the box gutter as it was originally constructed. FYI, 95% percent of roofing companies in DC CANT rebuild a box gutter correctly.

  • Yes, unfortunately, even though it is hidden from view, this probably has carpentry, metalwork, and roofing involved, and you don’t want to screw up on either part. It is as complex as it gets, so hire a professional. I would try and get 3 quotes, and then make your decision based on skill and price. I like the sound of the first roofer recommended.

  • I say just take the damn thing down and install some cheap crap. Who cares? It’s just a house and nobody owes anyone anything. The guy who owned the house before didn’t do proper upkeep so why should you? You don’t owe your neighbors anything and they don’t owe you anything. You live in a rowhouse so you’ll eventually experience rude behavior from your neighbors if you haven’t already. You never know who is going to live next to or behind you. I also bet you live in a “transitioning” neighborhood. Why worry about your gutter when shootings and drug deals happen nearby??? Just do the cheap thing becuase the next hipster buyer of your home isn’t going to fret over it. Shoot, they like that rough, urban, gritty look. They’ll even pay more for it.

  • Actually, if you could just put a tarp over the gutter, that would be best.

    Why call attention to yourself with your fancy gutters?

  • Fix the gutter. It is not just pretty decoration. It it an integral part of how well your house sheds water. If it goes your walls go next: mortar will wash out of the bricks faster and water will begin penetrating to the inside.

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