Historic Cut and Drop

Yesterday, I had seamless gutters made for the Mansfield House. Ray from Advanced Seamless Gutters of Milford, Connecticut, stopped by and cut me two 42′ lengths of K-style extrusion, and also dropped off the leader sections and other accessories I’d spec’d out:

Capping the end of a freshly shaped gutter.

Ray, with a freshly pressed seamless gutter.

My new gutter system is just one component of a bulk water control strategy I’m developing for the house that should prove far more effective than what had been done here previously. And my approach not only respects historically significant exterior details, but also attempts to work in concert with them, wherever appropriate, as you’ll see in a few examples below.

Van parked out front.

The Advanced Seamless Gutters van at the end of my proto-driveway.

The new gutters will have a leader at each end, whereas the previous system had one per gutter. Not only was having a single leader inadequate, given the gutters’ lengths, but it also rendered the rear gutter less effective at removing water from the rear lean-to roof, which represents a very large percentage of the total square area of the roof system of a typical saltbox style home:

Mansfield House rear lean-to roof with much snow accumulation.

The Mansfield House rear lean-to roof, with much snow accumulated from a recent storm.

The lean-to roof catches and sheds far more water than the front roof, and that water needs to be dispatched rather quickly. It’s my contention, in fact, that much of the water damage incurred at the rear of the house in the recent past had been due, in part, to an undersized or poorly maintained rear gutter system.

Another detail related to the rear roof is the fact that, since the property is quite narrow, and slopes significantly from rear to front, all of the rain water collected from the lean-to roof needs to be carried to the front of the property and properly diffused there. The existing single leader in the rear does indeed drain to an underground pipe, but it’s not at all clear to me where this pipe goes. So I’ll need to find out. I’ll also need to similarly route water away from the new rear leader:

Downspout leading to a drain in a concrete step.

The single existing rear downspout connects to a drain, which in turn connects to a PVC pipe below. But where that pipe presently goes is not obvious.

One of the challenges of hanging a continuous gutter here will be aligning and fitting it to the rear eave in an optimal manner. As you can see from this photo, the rear eave has a rather interesting “shape”:

Mansfield House rear eave.

The Mansfield House rear eave line is pretty much distorted in all three dimensions!

Meanwhile, the front presents its own challenges. The main cornice is moderate in projection and reasonably straight. However, at the gable ends, the rake is defined by an open rake board, or barge board, which is nailed to the roof planks and extends from the peak down to the eave line. These barge boards extend well beyond the cornice, suggesting they might interfere with a modern hanging gutter:

The barge board at the Mansfield House's north gable protrudes well beyond the main cornice. The same situation exists at the south gable.

But considered from an historic perspective, barge boards were an early weatherization solution for the house. They provided something of a drip path for water at the gable end of the roof, and protected the exposed roof planks and roof/gable siding intersection from driving rains. Ideally, they should continue to function in this manner, while complementing any modern gutter system:

North gable of the Mansfield House, showing barge boards and rake transition.

A view of the north gable of the Mansfield House, showing the rear barge board of the main roof (right), and that of the lean-to roof (left). The "break" where the main roof transitions to the lean-to (center of photo) is also mildly problematic in terms of water control. The solution there, of course, is to flash above it so as to divert water onto the lean-to roof, rather than allowing it to spill over the end.

The most reasonable approach to unifying old and new, in this case, would seem to be to flash the upper edges of each gable barge board pair with a continuous drip edge, folded and mitered at the peak, and have the cornice end of the front barge board terminate above, and just within, the gutter end cap. The lower end of the front drip edge might need to be shaped so as to divert drips right into the gutter. It might also require (preservation gods forbid) shortening the barge board a bit by trimming its lower end, or perhaps positioning it just slightly farther up the rake.

Royal brown elbows.

Royal brown elbows on stone wall.

It’s obvious from the previous photo that the barge boards are quite weathered, and should probably be removed, straightened, treated, refinished, and re-hung, as a prerequisite to getting any permanent and historically-sensitive rain water control system in place. So most likely, they’ll be coming down before the front gutter goes up.

Gutters blocked and tied-down.

My new seamless gutters sufficiently blocked and bungied-down (at both ends and two intermediate points) for the time being. If a stiff breeze arrives, we should be fine. If falling branches or metal thieves arrive, I'm probably hosed. But what happens, happens...right? :-)


My good friend John Nicholas of Efficient Energy Savers suggested (see comment below) using infrared imaging to trace the path of water through the below-grade leader. An excellent idea! And one I’ll try,  as soon as temperatures here get above freezing.

About John Poole

My interests include historic homes, architectural preservation and restoration, improving the energy performance of old houses, and traditional timber frames.
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6 Responses to Historic Cut and Drop

  1. ha! … rather interesting “shape”

    John you know I am in the process of doing gutters on the Building Moxie House… this actually started many months ago and required significant legwork. I chose half round as to attempt to stay somewhat true to the house … this decision however likely presented the most problems. Without access to an unfinished roof, modern half round components required me to “pad” angled fascia – get this, a full 2 1/4″ … I unfortunately did not make this discussion until after doing a test fit on my two longest gutters. I am working with a guy, but have done the largest majority of the work myself – all slowed by the holidays and some unagreeable weather. hope to be back on it, next week. I too have phantom leaders and my property pitches front to back — so I try not to think about it too much. All that said. I thought I was a big boy with 30′ seamless runs. I mean – 42′! you made the right call with doubling the outlets and I know you are taking steps to prepare for the ice and snow in your area…

    great project. thanks for sharing this John. and I am glad to be able to pop over.

    • John Poole says:

      Hi jb,

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I really like the half-round profile, BTW, and had considered it, but to me it strongly suggests victorian period, so thought maybe it’d look out of place here. Of course, there really is no appropriate style gutter for a house as old as this; even wooden gutters were a relatively late add-on, historically. So for me, K style seemed as good as any, in the end.

      Your gutter adventures sound pretty awesome, and I hope to read more about it on Building Moxie and see some photos of the final results. Adding blocking to the fascia (one every 24″ on your straight runs, I’m assuming) sounds a bit exasperating, as it must amount to a lot of work you didn’t anticipate initially. But I bet it’s going to look great when done! Looking forward to hearing/seeing more.

      ~ John

      • John Poole says:

        On second thought, the gutter profile known as “K-style” is essentially a cyma recta, a classical terminating molding for a cornice. So maybe K-style is, after all, the most appropriate gutter profile for an 18th century American home. ;-)

  2. Hey John, Great Article!

    The underground pipe from the back leads to where you do not know! Try creating a temperature difference! Dump some hot water down the pipe. Maybe a lot and see where it goes with an IR camera!

    Good Luck!

  3. John Poole says:

    I’m not sure what you’re complaining about, Alexandra. The house is plenty ‘abitable. For warmth, you just need to make sure you’re sitting directly atop the nearest hot air register. And for user-friendly bathroom, why there’s that nice stream just a bit down the road with plenty of rocks for washing your clothes on. I agree the Homer bucket food storage on the front step in winter is a bit inconvenient, but that’s just one of the trade-offs, I suppose! :-)

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