Size matters (especially when it comes to gutters)

This entry was posted in Featured Magazine, GO-Summer 2013, Gutter Opportunities, Gutters and tagged 5-inch, 6-inch, 7-inch, commercial gutters, gutter size. Bookmark the permalink.

Two installers share their thoughts on 5-, 6- and 7-inch gutters  /

By Mark Ward Sr.

They say that football (or whatever your favorite sport) is a “game of inches.” The same might be said about the gutter business.

Gutter machines can be expensive, yet many contractors invest in both 5-inch and 6-inch models. Why not just stick with one gutter size or the other? As it turns out, though, a single inch makes a surprising amount of difference.

Material costs for 6-inch seamless gutters are almost double those for 5-inch gutters, points out owner Julian Kortyta of Carolina Construction in Elk Grove, Ill. He calculates that one pound of gutter coil yields 2.25 feet of 5-inch gutter, yet only 1.6 feet of 6-inch gutter. Labor costs to install 6-inch gutters are also “slightly” higher, he adds, since his crews need more time to manually miter the larger corners.

Yet 6-inch gutters, as compared to 5-inch troughs, move fully 40 percent more water, notes president Ryan Grambart of Minneapolis-based CopperSmith Gutter Company. Because higher capacity is the best solution for some projects, he believes gutter contractors benefit from having both 6-inch and 5-inch gutters in their arsenal of services.

Interestingly, Kortyta and Grambart illustrate very different — and yet equally valid — approaches to optimizing gutter size for residential projects. “We see 6-inch gutters as an up-sell opportunity,” explains Kortyta. By contrast, advises Grambart, “Five-inch gutters are fine for most homes, so that our focus is less on the size of the gutter and more on the downspouts.”

An opportunity to up-sell

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Carolina Construction photo

As owner of Carolina Construction, Kortyta heads a company that covers northern Illinois from the city of Chicago to the Wisconsin border. Seven years since its founding, the business has grown to four crews, including two that install gutters and two that perform roofing and siding projects.

“Most of our jobs are for existing homes, though lately we’ve increased the amount of work we do in new construction,” he reports.

Carolina Construction owns three Ironman gutter machines, two that turn out 5-inch seamless gutters and one for 6-inch projects. The company installs aluminum and copper gutters, obtaining many of its materials from GutterSupply.com.

With more than 20 years of experience in the gutter business, Kortyta has his numbers down pat. Given that one pound of coil produces 2.25 feet of 5-inch gutter but only 1.6 feet of 6-inch gutter, he prices residential jobs accordingly. Carolina Construction generally installs 5-inch gutters at about $3.50 per linear foot and 6-inch gutters at $6 or more. The differential includes the added labor of mitering 6-inch corners. And since the larger troughs hold more water and get heavier, his crews space hangers every 16 inches — two inches closer than the spacing for 5-inch gutters.

“Even so,” Kortyta continues, “we get a higher profit margin on 6-inch gutter jobs.” The reason is that Carolina Construction makes its customer a value proposition rather than a low-ball offer. “In our sales,” he explains, “we educate homeowners on what a 5-inch gutter can do and what a 6-inch gutter can do.”

Over the past generation, Kortyta observes, homes have been increasingly designed with elevations that feature more steeply pitched roofs and more surface area. “That increases water velocity and volume, so that a 5-inch gutter trough doesn’t catch it all. But a 6-inch trough does the job,” he states. When Carolina Construction customers decide to replace their gutters, most have reached the point where a solution is more important than just securing the lowest price.

That fact makes 6-inch gutters an up-sell item for Carolina Construction and a means to increase its profit margins. “In the future,” predicts Kortyta, “I believe more and more customers will go to 6-inch gutters, simply because they do a better job of draining water away from today’s homes.”

Going with what works

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CopperSmith Gutter Company

Ryan Grambart of CopperSmith Gutter Company agrees that “six-inch gutters are a good value since the extra money the customer pays buys a lot more water capacity.” But rather than see 6-inch gutters as an up-sell item over 5-inch troughs, he approaches the question as his customers would. “They want ‘what works’ versus ‘overkill,’” he explains.

CopperSmith serves the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area, and for larger projects has traveled throughout the Midwest. Its three crews install 5-inch and 6-inch aluminum, steel and copper gutters. The company owns two New Tech gutter machines and a KWM unit, and obtains supplies from Minnesota-based EDCO Products. While most customers are homeowners, CopperSmith also performs work for the new construction and custom home markets.

“For standard residential homes, 5-inch gutters are fine,” advises Grambart. “The size of the gutter is less important than the size of the downspouts, whether the trough is kept clean and whether the gutter has any leaf protection it may need to cope with the tree cover.” For that reason, CopperSmith often installs 3×4 downspouts rather than 2×3 units. Further, Grambart’s company is a market-exclusive dealer for the Gutter Cap leaf protection solution.

At least in the Minnesota market that CopperSmith serves, Grambart cites a solid reason to avoid “overkill” in gutter size. Because 6-inch gutters hold 40 percent more water than 5-inch systems, the potential for water to pool in the gutter increases. In turn, more water in the trough boosts the chances for winter ice dams to form that can damage the roof and walls of a home.  

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CopperSmith Gutter Company photo

Yet there are times when Grambart recommends 6-inch gutters. “If the fascia board on a home is fairly large, a 5-inch gutter would seem too small by comparison,” he explains. “And if we’re installing copper gutters, it takes a 6-inch half-round trough to hold as much water as a 5-inch K-style trough.” Then, too, a 6-inch gutter may be needed if the slope of the roof is not conducive to good drainage.

Finally, the footprint of a particular home may prevent CopperSmith crews from installing as many downspouts as they would prefer. “It’s important to keep water away from entrances, sidewalks, patios and the like, places where excess water could lead to dangerous ice slicks,” Grambart continues. If the number or placement of such features cuts down available spaces for downspouts, then a larger gutter trough may be warranted. “In those cases,” he says, “a trough that moves more water can help us avoid placing downspouts in problem areas.”

When a residential job requires 6-inch gutters, Grambart generally boosts his price about 15 to 20 percent over the cost of a 5-inch system. But other than the cases just described, most 6-inch gutters installed by CopperSmith are for commercial customers.

Ultimately, Grambart and his team base decisions about gutter size on their many years of experience. “We take what we’ve learned from other companies and then build on that,” he relates. “For example, we start with the standard of spacing hangers two feet apart and then adjust that spacing as needed for a particular job.”

Grambart’s experience has also taught him that the material of a gutter — aluminum, steel or copper — is a factor in choosing the right size. Imagine trying to “supersize” an aluminum gutter from 5 inches to 7 inches. “Aluminum would be too flimsy for a 7-inch gutter,” he says. The very notion, however, illustrates his point. “The bigger your gutter and the more water it holds, the stronger your gutter needs to be,” he states.

For that reason, Grambart’s company — despite its CopperSmith name — is moving increasingly toward steel gutters for residential projects. “Gutter machines for running steel are getting better,” he reports, “and there have been some real innovations in paint coatings, both on the outside and the inside of the trough. You can now get 50-year warranties on steel gutters. I think aluminum is on the way out. Even at the same thickness, steel is much stronger.”

The seven-inch solution
Both Kortyta and Grambart put 7-inch gutters in an entirely different category than 5-inch and 6-inch systems. Offering a 7-inch option is tantamount to entering the commercial gutter market. Thus, the decision between 5-inch and 6-inch gutters is a performance and price decision; but by contrast, going to 7-inch gutters is a business decision.

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Carolina Construction photo

Nevertheless, 7-inch gutters can be compared to smaller systems by the numbers.

Kortyta’s Carolina Construction has occasionally installed 7-inch gutters on flat-roofed homes and buildings. He calculates that while 6-inch gutters are double the per-foot material costs of 5-inch gutters, 7-inch systems are triple. And the installed cost is far more.

“We have to buy 7-inch gutters in sections of 20 to 35 feet,” he explains, “and can’t run them ourselves to the lengths we need. Those sections are heavy, which increases labor time and then our crews have to join all the seams.” Thus, while Carolina Construction charges about $3.50 per linear foot to install 5-inch gutters and $6 or more for 6-inch, the price for 7-inch gutters starts at about $22.

CopperSmith Gutter Company has likewise installed 7-inch gutters on occasion for specialized projects. Compared to 5-inch gutters, Grambart charges about 15 to 20 percent more for 6-inch gutters—and double for 7-inch systems. “The cost is 100 percent more,” he reports, “because 7-inch gutters must be custom-ordered from a supplier or custom-fabricated in our shop. After that, our crews have to spend extra time on the seams.”

A single inch may not seem like much. But between 5-inch, 6-inch and 7-inch gutters, size really matters.

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