Cleaning, repairing or replacing — the choice is yours to make

Fall in the Pacific Northwest pulls our attention to home. The crisp weather reminds us to think about dialing in the comfort of our shelter, whether it’s finishing the garage, adding a covered patio or improving our rain gutters.

Really? Yes. Consider your rain gutters.

Replacing or repairing this system may not be high on your list of Fall home improvement projects, but an effective rain drainage system can be parlayed into an efficient and money saving operation, where function will follow form.

You may imagine that a gutter by any other name is just a gutter, but this is not true. The general deciduousness of our temperate rainforest conspires to clog unprotected gutters and render them useless. Worse, these leaves and twigs and other plant matter can actually damage gutter systems and, ultimately, our homes and their values.

For this reason, you may want to consider allocating some home improvement funds to rain gutter systems designed with a hood that allows the water to enter, but nothing else. The alternative is cleaning or having your gutters cleaned regularly, and while prophylactic systems will cost more, folks in the know say they're worth some consideration.

Roy Bletco, general manager of LeafGuard in Tigard, said his company's products are a little more expensive than conventional gutters, but the difference lies in the overall design. “Conventional gutters are typically not designed  for anything other than to catch and evaporate rainwater,” Bletco said, “but our gutters are designed to keep debris out and are also slightly sloped for drainage.

"I think the biggest difference is in how we attach our gutters.” Bletco is talking about the conventional spike-and-ferrule method of attachment, which employs a long nail (spike) inside an aluminum sleeve. The spike is driven into the fascia board on the house. This, according to Bletco, is the problem. “The spike-and-ferrule allows water to seep into the anchor point,” he said. “This eventually damages the fascia or rafter tails. So when you see gutters separated from structures, that’s really water damage you’re looking at."

LeafGuard's product is a one-piece system, attached with brackets and screws above the water line. “That’s the biggest benefit you get with our system,” Bletco noted.

Rules, permit fees

Like any home improvement project, most cities have requirements and codes — as well as fees — for rain gutter additions, improvements or replacements. Richard Mead, senior building inspector for the City of Forest Grove, said there are no permit requirements for residential rain gutter projects here.

However, there are rules and permit fees for the downspout and storm piping assemblies, as well as options.

“There is an option to disperse your storm water directly onto your property, but it is important not to let that water affect your neighbor’s property,” Mead said. “We generally try to persuade people to do the storm piping.”

Mead said the fee schedule for downspout and storm piping runs around $13.50 per connector and about $40 for every 100 feet of piping. Depending on your property and its proximity to city storm drains, this could affect your bottom line, while the option to let the water spill onto your property can cause erosion as well as irritable neighbors.

So, consider the third option: Rainwater harvesting. Most common in Europe, homeowners can choose from a simple barrel to a complex filtration system, altering water consumption and improving property value. Heather Kinkade of the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association — headquartered in Phoenix, Ariz. — says industry awareness is growing.

“Rainwater harvesting products have slowly been making their way to the U.S. for about 10 years now,” Kinkade said, and "quite a bit faster in the last three years.”

Kinkade said the money required to get into rainwater harvesting can be nominal (maybe $300) to a few thousand dollars.

“Companies offer a range of products, from pumps to tanks to first-flush systems,” Kinkade said. “Some companies sell complete systems and others are specialized in the products they offer. You can design a simple gravity-fed system or a large multi-faceted commercial system that mixes multiple alternative waters.”

Kinkade explains that harvested rainwater can be applied for any use — it just depends on the level of purification you need for that use.

“Of course potable levels require a higher level of purification than washing a car or washing clothes,” Kinkade said.

Rainwater as art

Beyond the mechanics of rainwater harvesting, caring for your home and its environs during the rainy season doesn't have to be all function. Consider ways to turn your rain gutters into an irrigation system for a vertical garden.

This is a relatively inexpensive way to transform an otherwise bland wall into a beautiful vertical plane of foliage. To build a vertical garden, first build a framework on the wall, add a layer of plastic sheeting and then attach a fabric mesh or mat. This is the surface upon which the plants will live.

To irrigate the garden, convert the rain gutter that spans the wall to a dispersed drainage system that will soak the fabric mat and deliver nutrients to your plants.

With proper maintenance and fertilization, a vertical garden can add beauty to your property and possibly even vegetables to your table.

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