Home improvements part 2: Guttering

As mentioned in part one, it rains heavily in Austin. I noticed during the first couple of winters that water would pour in sheets off of the front and back roofs, and pound onto the steps up to the decks. It wasn’t long before the paint in the splash zones peeled away. I sanded down, primed, and repainted, and a year later it had been pounded away again.

The problem wasn’t hard to diagnose: the house had no guttering, and the shape of the roof was basically funneling water towards the deck roofs, and hence to the decks themselves–and particularly the steps. So fixing the front deck wasn’t going to be a permanent fix unless I did something about the lack of guttering.

Our house is surrounded by trees, and I’ve seen our neighbor fighting to clean leaves from the guttering attached to the garage. Our house has two stories, and I had no desire to climb 7m ladders on a regular basis, so some sort of leaf-proof guttering was a priority.

The garage gutter had grilles that were supposed to prevent leaves from clogging things up, but squirrels pulled them out in search of acorns. I know for a fact that squirrels wander across our roof, as I hear their footsteps sometimes in the mornings, so that wasn’t going to be a solution.

I eventually settled on LeafGuard gutters. They are made from a continuous piece of extruded recycled aluminium; a truck comes to your house with a big roll of proto-gutter in the back, and it’s cut and shaped to fit your house. The only joins are at the roof corners. The gutters are extra wide, to carry a higher volume of water, and nothing obstructs the trough, so any debris that does get in can be washed out. There’s a lifetime warranty: if they somehow clog up, you call and someone comes and fixes them.

Costco sells LeafGuard, and arranged for a salesman to visit. He demonstrated the system and I got to check out how it dealt with large amounts of water from a garden hose. It turned out that as well as the standard colors, they had a red color available via special order, which would almost exactly match the red trim on the house.

That was the good news. The bad news was that even via Costco, custom fitted gutters are expensive.

I didn’t just want gutters, either. Once spring is over, you have to somehow preserve your garden through the long, brutal Texas summer. Even with xeriscaping, last year’s drought was tough on the front yard. I wanted to collect the rainwater so I could use it for watering.

Lowes and Home Depot had rainbarrels–made of plastic. As well as looking ugly, I was confident that they would perish after a few years. There was no indication that they were even recycled plastic. So it was off to the web once more, where I located Austin Green Water. They sold rain harvesting units made from recycled metal barrels, with proper brass fittings, mesh to keep out mosquitos, and a wooden stand. I ordered two units, each with two 200 liter barrels.

The barrels were delivered and in place by the time the gutters were ready to be fitted, so the guys who installed the gutters made sure the downspouts were directed into the barrels.

So: two new decks, two new sets of leaf-proof squirrel-proof gutters, two sets of rainbarrels, special industrial rubber sealant, many man-days of work, and finally all was well once again. Nature obliged with two last storms to test everything out before summer proper, so we should now have enough rainwater to keep our plants happy until fall.

Now all I need to do is recover from the credit card bill.