Best of two worlds

Aluminum, steel, copper, zinc. For most gutter installers, that’s the short of list available metals for the products they install.
Now add three more to the list. York Manufacturing of Sanford, Me., has introduced a new gutter coil and flashing material made of a copper/aluminum composite. Heyco Metals of Reading, Pa., has debuted a copper product metallurgically bonded with a stainless steel core. And Follansbee Steel of Follansbee, W.Va., offers a stainless steel gutter with an electrochemically clad coating of tin and zinc.

Each of these hybrid materials is designed to meet a specific need in the market. Some are formulated to close the price gap between aluminum and copper, while others represent attempts to improve performance.

For example, when president Craig Wetmore of York Manufacturing went to trade shows, he heard a constant refrain. “Many homeowners would tell contractors they’d love to have copper but the price is just too expensive,” he recalls. So his company recently introduced Soleil (pronounced so-lay) with the slogan “Copper Made Possible.”

Using industrial Everlam technology, an aluminum skeleton is bonded to a copper foil with an adhesive that allows expansion and contraction of the two metals. Thus Soleil works like an aluminum gutter with a lifelong copper veneer. “Its patina is identical to 100-percent copper products,” Wetmore relates, “but because the skeleton is aluminum, your customers can have the look of copper at less than half the price.”

York has manufactured flashing products since 1935 and first introduced Soleil as a material for flashing wooden gutters, roof valleys and drip edges, windows, dormers, chimneys, cupolas and decks. A company brochure confirms Soleil gutter coil is slated to debut soon.

One installer who decided not to wait is Dan Wilson, owner of The Roofa, a roofing company in Westbrook, Me. Within days after he had flashed a customer’s home with Soleil, two neighbors called. One wanted his wooden gutters redone. Though York was not selling gutters at the time, Wilson says, “I bought a roll of the Soleil material so I could form it into gutters.”

Today Wilson reports, “Soleil is a great option for my customers who don’t care for the look of aluminum. They know it’s a cost upgrade, but they’re convinced it’s worth it — especially once it’s installed. The biggest benefit is the looks.”

The idea of a copper veneer is easy for homeowners to grasp and sells itself. “I show them an aluminum gutter and then show them the copper/aluminum composite,” says Wilson, who has installed aluminum gutters for most of the 32 years The Roofa has been in business. But in the future, he believes, “I think Soleil will become prominent and I could see it becoming half of my business.”

One reason for Wilson’s optimism is the variety of applications for which the product is suited. “The older the house, the better it looks,” he affirms, “and it complements everything from Capes to Victorians to red cedar, all of which are popular styles in my area.”
According to Wetmore, the aluminum/copper composite “is easier for installers to work with than full-weight copper. You don’t solder the product. So installation is the same as aluminum and steel. And you can use the sealant of your choice.”

Wetmore advises installers to understand the difference between his company’s aluminum/copper composite and other gutter products which are coated with copper-flecked paint. Only the former, he points out, will patina the same way as 100-percent copper.

The York hybrid won’t last as long as a 100-percent copper gutter, Wetmore admits. “But real copper will outlast the homeowner, so that it’s overkill to use 100-percent copper in most projects,” he adds. On the other hand, he readily concedes, historic buildings and those intended for generational use — a church, for example — could benefit from using authentic copper.

But for homeowners who don’t plan on living in their homes for a hundred years, Soleil might be a good fit. “It’s a similar concept to synthetic slate,” Wetmore says. “People want the look, but without the higher cost and installation time. So you can market the product not just for use in high-end custom homes, but to middle-class homeowners who want a great look.”

Strength and beauty
Heyco Metals’ CopperPlus product is also designed to afford customers the look of copper. But the company is approaching the market from a different angle. While York makes residential flashing and will be introducing gutter coil, Heyco is a manufacturer of architectural strip metal. Commercial and residential applications for its products include roofing, mansards, fascia and flashing, as well as gutters and downspouts for roof drainage.

Moreover, CopperPlus is produced by a different manufacturing process. The stainless steel core and copper cladding are not bonded by adhesives but, rather, are metallurgically joined by a roll-bonding process that employs solid-state welding technology. A clean and permanent bond is achieved at the atomic level — under a pressure of 2 million pounds per square inch — without adhesives or brazing alloys. Many U.S. coins are minted through a similar process.

Finally, while Heyco claims that the light weight and easy forming of CopperPlus will save money on material and installation costs, the company chiefly promotes the advantage of added strength. For all its good looks, copper is a soft metal prone to deformation. But with the addition of a stainless steel core, CopperPlus still offers the aesthetics of solid copper but is significantly stronger, even at thinner gauges. The hybrid material resists corrosion and the lower thermal conductivity of the stainless steel core facilitates soldering.

“Compared to solid copper, the product offers the advantages of lower weight, reduced thermal expansion, faster soldering capability, complete formability and the strength of stainless steel,” explains Heyco architectural products manager Richard Petty. “Copper is a soft metal that may be corrosion-resistant, but not erosion-resistant. Pure copper gutters often have holes in the elbows after decades of use. With CopperPlus, the stainless steel underneath the copper ensures the integrity of the gutters, giving them a longer life span than solid copper gutters.”

Gutter installers who perform commercial projects, Petty continues, should be interested to know Heyco “can make a much larger gutter with a 25-percent thinner metal” by using CopperPlus. “In fact, it’s also stronger than steel at the same gauge.” Thus installers can offer their commercial clients the look of copper, boost the drainage capacity of the gutter system, and save money on installation costs. Lighter weight means easier handling, faster installation, less labor and less fatigue.

Nevertheless, Petty allows his company’s copper/stainless hybrid has one drawback compared to pure copper. “If you make a mistake which generates scrap, the value of the scrap is only worth 10 percent of the price of copper,” he points out. On the other hand, he adds, “The lower scrap value of CopperPlus is a theft deterrent.”

Then, too, any need for replacing a CopperPlus gutter is less expensive than replacing a solid copper gutter — and less likely. On commercial buildings, Petty notes, downspouts within reach of pedestrians are subject to abuse and vandalism, potentially a real problem with soft copper. In this case, the added strength of the copper/stainless hybrid is a real advantage.

“Most people see the value in a stronger product for less money,” Petty concludes. “It appeals to homeowners who plan to stay in their homes long-term and to commercial building owners who want durability and low maintenance. It’s worth it for them to invest in stronger materials if they plan to retain ownership for a long time. And architects and contractors want a product with high corrosion-resistance and with higher strength properties than are offered by solid copper.”

Worth its salt
A niche that Follansbee Steel has addressed with a hybrid product is the market for harsh climates such as coastal areas where corrosive salt spray abounds. The company’s TCS II product is its second generation of terne-coated stainless steel — thus TCS II. Stainless steel is given an electrochemically bonded coating of tin and zinc.

So far, after five years at an oceanside test site, the alloy shows no signs of rust. University researchers have exposed TCS II to more than 26,000 hours’ exposure to a 5-percent salt spray with no evidence of corrosion. No other roofing material has survived 5,000 hours and most other leading materials succumb to corrosion in less than 2,000 hours. The hybrid is not broken down by heat or ultraviolet light, does not require repainting and develops a soft-looking protective patina.

Though TCS II has been used architecturally in standing seam roofs, barrel roofs, vertical panels — and even specially constructed sections in flat or spherical shapes — its adaptation for use in gutter systems is relatively new. Gutter installer Rich Duda, president of D.Q.G., Inc., in Watermill, N.Y., recently installed TCS II after an architect specified the product as an environmentally-friendly alternative to lead-coated copper.

Because Duda serves New York’s Long Island, a region where high-end residential projects are common, he has extensive experience in working with copper, lead-coated copper and zinc gutters. Two of his crews, in fact, are dedicated to specialty gutter material installation.

In comparing the Follansbee product to other materials, he notes that TCS II is specially made to withstand harsh saltwater winds. Yet the same metallurgical properties that confer high corrosion resistance must also be taken into account when the material is installed.

“Like stainless steel, it’s hard to cut, shrink, or stretch,” reports Duda. “It took a little more patience to solder it.” Since TCS II is “too dense to run through a machine,” he continues, “then you’ll need to order the lengths ahead of time.” And installation time might be lengthened, he points out, since “stainless steel is heavier than some metals.”

For Duda, a logical gutter market for the TCS II hybrid could be customers who want the look of lead-coated copper but without the environmental impacts of lead runoff. On the other hand, he adds, homeowners who want copper and can afford it may simply opt for pure copper, choosing “the real thing” over a lead-coat alternative.

The encouraging lessons of TCS II —  and of York Manufacturing’s Soleil and Heyco Metal’s CopperPlus — are that gutter applications are getting noticed. Not long ago, “a gutter was a gutter” in the minds of most people. Now technology is being used to find ways of building better gutters. Why this response from manufacturers? The market is maturing as consumers realize that gutters aren’t interchangeable and that quality adds value. Installers who have knowledge of available products and are prepared to sell such quality can stand to profit.

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