Dutch Gutters

Dutch gutters are a common if not a universal feature of our modern homes.   The clean lines of wide fascia boards, uncluttered by tacked-on rain gutters contributes to the bold and simple look.   An elegant solution in theory; somewhat less elegant in practice.  

Dutch gutters provide rain gutters integrated into the roof system without any additional components.  While the detail can be created in a variety of ways, in essence the gutter is created by the addition of a deep fascia board that is set a few inches higher than the plane of the pitched roof, creating a trough which is simply lined with roofing material for water proofing.  Holes are located at intervals in the trough for downspouts.   

The appeal was clear.  It looked neat, and in the days of cheap lumber, the cost was low.   The problems are equally clear.  The gutter lining is made of roofing materials which will eventually fail, allowing water to seep into wood material, which will rot and invite termite damage.   The scheme is further flawed by the fact that the gutters can not be leveled to assure positive drain action.  In many homes, this has become more of a concern due to sagging cantilevered overhangs that create low spots that never drain, expediting the failure of the trough lining, hastening leaks and eventually rotten eaves and fascia boards.    

Keeping dutch gutters in good health is not complex, it just requires diligence.  Gutters and downspouts must be kept clear, and roof maintenance and replacement must be done when it is needed and without delay.  Deferred maintenance results in expensive damage.  If there are non-draining low spots, some inventive filling of the low spots with roofing materials might help to maximize the life of the gutters and roof.     

But as one roof expert described, it’s not that dutch gutters are necessarily going to be the  first part of the roof system to fail,  but will probably be the first area to show evidence that the roof as a whole is failing. 

Words of advice:  if you’re having a pre-purchase house inspection , be sure the inspector uses a rot probe to carefully check under the eaves for soft spots.  Ditto for inspections prior to applying a new roof.   The roofer is likely to be focused on other things, so check for rot yourself.  It’s a lot simpler and cheaper to replace rotten gutters while the roof is off.

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A A healthy dutch gutter as seen with the roofing material removed.  

B Roof planks that look fine from under the eaves can be rotten on top.  These boards, removed from a leaking gutter area showed barely a sign of trouble from the underside, but from the top once the roof was removed, rot and evidence of termite infestation are clear.  

C Removal of rotten planks and D replacement with new planks is an easy task for a carpenter—while the roof is off. 

E Plies of tar paper and asphalt are laid into the dutch gutter, and built up just like the rest of the new roof.  

F The finished gutter with the cap sheet material as the top surface, entirely integrated into the roof surface.