Still an unknown material to some in North America, architectural zinc is an “everyday” metal in most European countries. And while most zinc projects that get published here tend to showcase the more glamorous roof and façade applications, many are surprised to learn the gutter applications generate a major portion of the demand for zinc in Europe. One reason is the technological improvements European producers have made to prefabricated zinc gutter systems.
European roof drainage systems may not get a fair share of the limelight, but that may soon change thanks to the performance and aesthetic advances now getting recognized. European gutters have made great strides during the last two decades, thanks to German engineering.
Thanks to a national distribution network, the RHEINZINK gutter system is more readily available than ever before. Many local roofing supply houses also offer zinc sheet and prefabricated European gutters for their customers. Like other commodity products such as cars, clothes, chocolate, etc., European-made doesn’t always translate into “hard to get.”
Ultimate performance and system design
Natural gray aesthetics and durability are selling points for zinc, however, it’s the system design and ease of installation that help close the deal for contractors using the RHEINZINK gutter system. Offering a combination of functionality, beauty and classic German engineering, the RHEINZINK system is produced using a heavier gauge material (0.7 mm) compared to the 16-ounce material (0.549 mm) most domestic copper fabricators use. Ultimately, it’s the performance and full system design concept that makes the European gutter system special.
The shape of efficiency
Thanks to the geometry of the half-round gutter design, the dependence on slope to move water is greatly reduced compared to the popular K-style or “flat-bottom” gutter design alternatives.
Of course it is good practice to slope the gutter to drain to improve flow, however it’s not as critical for the half-round design. Even a minimal pitch toward the outlet is effective for moving water while also providing a more desirable aesthetic (level gutters look better than gutters with more slope). Watertight gutter connections are made by soft soldering. The half-round shape is also the most efficient use of material for a given volume.
Funnels for increased flow
Quickly channeling water off the roof and away from the building is the primary goal of any gutter system. The weak link in most gutter installations is the connection between the gutter and the downspout. Here the turbulent water flow can get choked-off during a heavy downpour. Traditional drop-in outlets create two problems: 1. the hole must be smaller than the downspout; and 2. the outlet installation produces a dam which causes some water to always remain in the gutter trough.
The European solution is a larger hole in the gutter that sheds water to the downspout. The engineered gutter accessory that satisfies these requirements is a funnel or what the Germans call a “gutter plug-in.” Essentially it is a friction fit “collection-box funnel” that is easier to install than a traditional drop-in outlet. The result is 30 percent increased drainage flow for about the same installed cost.
Gutter brackets, expansion
Another fundamental distinction of the European gutter design is the method of gutter support. The European system is supported from below with brackets rather than “hung” from above.
Cradling a gutter from below is structurally preferred rather than hanging a gutter from the outside edge. Gutter brackets also help provide a clear and uninterrupted waterway for cleaning and maintenance. Also, European brackets are not mechanically attached to the gutter allowing the system to expand and contract as temperatures change.
Accessorize your system
Prefabricated seamless corners are a contractor favorite because they eliminate potential leaks and offer a substantial time saving and a clean and professional installation. Snap-on end caps, downspout adapters and two varieties of downspout hangers provide additional off-the shelf items available.
Finally, if you are collecting rainwater, the European system has a rainwater diverter that allows a hose to connect your rain barrel or cistern.
Follow the gutter leaders
The system approach is the key to European zinc gutter systems. Improved water flow, ease of installation, stronger bracket alternatives and designer aesthetics make European zinc gutter systems a “high-performance” gutter value. For many contractors, the proof is gained from the initial installation experience. It’s easy. It’s beautiful. And it works!