Like a beautiful painting needs the right frame to complement it, so a home should have gutters that suit it. But it’s not just looks that matter. The material and shape of the gutter affects the performance too. How does an installer help a customer choose between copper, aluminum, steel or zinc? Would half-round or K-style be best?
Mel Mabon, owner of Mabon’s Tailored Rain Gutters in Vista, Calif., relies on many years of professional experience to help a customer make choices. Learning the trade from his father-in-law, he got into the family gutter business and started his own company when his mentor passed away in 1983.
Working with custom homebuilders as well as individual homeowners in the northern half of San Diego County, Mabon serves about a 40-mile radius from his home base. He and his three employees operate two half-round gutter machines and one K-style machine, all from Liberty Seamless Enterprises. “And though the bulk of our business is new construction,” he adds, “we also get work from larger remodeling jobs that involve additions.”
Though an architect sometimes dictates the gutters Mabon installs, there are several factors he takes into consideration before making recommendations to customers who need it: for example, climate. “In the last four years, our area has gotten a lot more rain — much more than the typical a half-inch we were used to getting,” he says. “Some customers are concerned with capacity and K-style gutters will naturally hold more water because of their box-like shape.”
But lately, aesthetics have had a stronger influence on his customer’s choices. “There has been more demand for half-round in the last five years than ever before,” Mabon reports. “I find that trends usually begin on the East Coast and head West, so many installers are probably finding an increase in demand for half-round gutters.”
But geography might be influencing that trend in some places more than others. “Southern California has many Mediterranean and Spanish-style homes and half-round gutters suit those styles. In fact, right now we’re working on a French style house with a lot of stonework and the copper half-round gutters really complement the stone and the flat tile roof.”
The look is so trendy that some developments in which Mabon works have mandated half-round gutters, following suit of commercial buildings in the area. Increased popularity nationwide could be a driving force for manufacturers to produce machines capable of churning out half-round gutters in a wider variety of profiles and metals.
“In the past, copper and galvanized steel were the only two options for half-round gutters,” Mabon relates. Though he does not run steel gutters anymore, he is able to produce copper or aluminum half-round gutters — a great option for customers who do not want to spend the extra money on copper. With an assortment of colors to choose from, Mabon is able to give them the look of copper without the high price tag, all in a seamless application.
Showing sample gutters and making suggestions are effective selling tools to his customers, but Mabon admits budget is often a major factor in determining which metal and style customers choose. But upkeep is another motive. One of the reasons he does not sell steel gutters is the maintenance they require. “Steel is the most durable, but it needs paint every 5-10 years in comparison to aluminum which has a baked-on enamel.”
But just because a customer has the budget for copper, does not mean it’s the wisest choice. “If they live near the ocean, the copper will patina within a week,” says Mabon. “So if they want the look of copper, it would be better to choose aluminum in a rustic brown color.”
Whether he installs copper or aluminum gutters, Mabon finishes the job by complementing them with smooth round downspouts. “Aluminum is corrugated which is not attractive on million dollar homes. We’ve always installed smooth downspouts,” he says. “In the past, we had to use steel and install a gasket to separate the metals. Now with my machine, I’m able to have round aluminum downspouts and achieve that smooth look.”
Between the two most common profiles for half-round gutters, Mabon prefers the look of conventional half-round gutters “where the bead comes to the outside and curls up into it.” However, he admits most installers prefer it to curl to the inside, “So I have to modify everything, including the hangers to make it work. That’s why we can call ourselves ‘tailored.’”
Overall, “It’s tougher to install half-round versus K-style because it lays flat on the fascia,” says Mabon. “It also takes a bit of time to get used to the machine that makes half-round gutters.” But the time and extra effort are worth it because installers can charge a premium for the service, adding up to extra profits.
Another aspect to consider when recommending a gutter profile is the slope of the roof. “Each house has different widths and depths.” He advises, “Keep in mind that you’ll see more of the back of the gutter on a half-round versus an ogee gutter which has a back that lays flat.”
Being a trusted source has earned Mabon relationships with customers that have lasted for decades. “In short, we’re reliable, provide good service and do quality work — whatever it takes to make the customer happy. We also strive to hire employees who understand the quality of work that we want, and who are self-motivated to want their work to look good.”
In the end, giving the right recommendations takes common sense and a bit of experience. “Every day is different because each house is different,” he explains. “They all require different installation challenges. I like to tell my customers, ‘Your house is a picture and we’re just putting a frame around it.’”