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Community and Q&A

2nd story gutter vs no gutter?

Wunderbar | Posted in General Questions on

Hey all,

Im in Zone 4 (rainy Oregon) rebuilding a second story on an old farmhouse. Planning out my rain management now and curious about what others have done on 2nd story gutters or no gutters. Seems like having gutters up there is best practice but maybe not in certain cases?

I’m in a wooded area with a fair amount of leaves floating around. Top story is a simple 7/12 gable roof with no valleys, metal roof with large overhangs. Both sides of the house have lower bump out roofs so the top story water would all end up on those lower roofs with gutters and then drain far from foundation. 

Option A: Install 2nd story gutters with guards to minimize cleaning them?

Option B: Install one of those rain dispersal systems that turn the roof water back to “rain” which would then end up on the lower roofs and guttered away.

Option C: just a drip edge on the top story? Seems like that would be pretty noisy on the lower metal roof though…


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  1. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #1

    I would go with gutters, since that way you have the most control over where the runoff goes. Gutter guards can be more trouble than they're worth, so the first thing to do is to see how likely your gutters are to get clogged. If you're in a forest with lots of overhanging trees, then the gutter guards might be worth using, but use one of the slat types, the ones with holes or fine screen are more prone to clogging (at least in my experience). If you're out in the clear, with little in the way of trees to drop stuff on your roof, then you're probably better off without gutter guards.


  2. Expert Member
    Michael Maines | | #2

    I do my best to avoid using gutters when there are trees around. I use ground gutters instead, and/or a drip strip of 3-4" stone.

  3. Expert Member


    Having no gutters with lower-roofs worries me more that if there were none. Water infiltration into walls, and at their intersection with roofs, is often much worse with splash-back - and you will get a lot of that if the upper-roofs drain onto the lower ones.

    I would use Option A. Which gutter guard works best is very dependent on whether it is dealing with leaves or needles.

  4. onslow | | #4


    Just from the noise aspect I would push for gutters if you don't face high levels of leaves/needles collecting on the roof. I have mixed results with gutter guards.

    For my own home, I installed a system of ground gutters, all roofs are gutterless. One of my major regrets is having the second floor roof drain onto the kitchen bump-out below. Despite 8+ inches of foam above sheathing and 10" of batt below, the metal roof sounds like what I imagine water torture would be. Steady rainfall is a bit less annoying than the irregular dripping afterward. The melt off between snows is equally loud. The only reason I nixed gutters is icing problems. Heater strips were out of the question.

    While it is possible to get gutters strong enough to support the weight, once the downspout gets corked, the icicles here can get quite large. I still get some icicles from the drip edge, but rarely the ice towers I have seen form around downspout drops. The 40 degree temp swings here seem to enhance icing. We had more than one local warn us about putting on gutters.

    Malcolm's gutterless splash concerns are well taken. My cladding type and overhang lengths mostly protect against the risks of wall damage, but 11" of total yearly precipitation likely has more to do with saving my bacon. My second level wall does get a lot of bounce back.

    First level roofs empty onto stone filled gutters at grade. Attached is a photo of the shallow trench I made in front of one section. I can't find the intermediate step showing the plastic liner that catches the water. Note the 2x laying across to help see the trench profile. A 4" drain pipe pulls the collected water off to a 3' drop. Our grade away from the house is pretty fast, moving water away quickly. You can see the former splash effect on the stucco resulting in the color going from reddish to muddish. It is a hybrid stucco which doesn't hold water like 3 coat. Wood siding or possibly the cementious versions might have a harder time dealing with long term backsplash. Judge your conditions accordingly.

    The second photo is of the offending kitchen bump-out roof. The stone landscaping conceals a similar long trench that directs roof water to the right over another drop to thirsty trees. Note the color of the wall is now clean and free of backsplash. The stone landscaping is required for wildfire protection. The gutters may seem overkill but my basement walls are bone dry.

    The rusting on the roof and fascia is intentional. A common version of metal roofing in our area uses uncoated stock that ages into a mellow rust color. We chose not to use accelerants to extend the roof life. At 50 years projected, it won't be my problem when the time is up.

    I should note that the plastic I used is not the thin black stuff one gets at garden centers of box stores. I shared a roll of 30 or 40 mil with a friend creating similar water control grooves. It is quite stout stuff. I can find out the source if you are curious.

    Of the three types of gutter guards I have used or installed, they all have problems with leaves from some trees. The ash and elm leaves had a tendency to hug the surfaces and stay put. Maple and oak not much, as they are curlier. Locust leaves are the real nightmare. The problem seems to be centered on how the water flows through the slots-holes-louvers, etc. Leaves often will not float across the surfaces like co-operative little canoes. Once surface tension or suction has stopped their forward movement, other water will flow over their tops and possible over the gutter edge. In really heavy down pours on low-medium sloped roofs, the water can just shoot across the guard as the holes don't pass enough. If you do go the cover route, get real opinions from local people not just the printed testimonials. If the dealer is proud of the product they will get you in touch with prior customers.

  5. maine_tyler | | #5

    Is the drip line of the upper roof inset from the lower roof by a good bit? It's not something you could design out?

    Whether the splash back from the upper roof drips hitting the lower roof is a concern probably depends on how close to the wall it is.

    Having lived in areas that always clog gutters (you know what does it wonderfully are the wing style seed pods) i would make sure that when the gutters do clog they still drain off the front edge properly (like a drip edge) and not back towards the fascia.

  6. Expert Member
    Akos | | #6

    I would say drips from the upper roof to the lower roof would be infuriating. For the step in my roof (also metal) I installed gutters with leaf guard. I have a large maple in the yard and the perforated leaf guards work well.

    With no leaf guards, what makes the biggest difference is the size of the downspout. Go for the larger 4x3 downspout or even better get an even larger custom made one. With larger downspout, the leaves can't get stuck, much less likely to clog. Make sure the installers do a good job with the opening from the gutters to the downspout. I've had to go back afterwards to fix a sloppy install that left about a 1.5" hole.

    1. Expert Member
      DCcontrarian | | #7

      This is something I've never understood: it's an iron law of plumbing that drain diameter can never decrease. But it's normal for gutters to have the connection between the gutter and the downspout be the smallest point, guaranteeing that's where clogs happen. I'd much rather have all the debris go down the downspout and then have a cleanout I can clean with both feet on solid ground.

  7. Wunderbar | | #8

    Thank you to all for the excellent responses. So helpful, as always!

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