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Which is the Best Gutter Metal? Aluminum vs. Steel vs. Copper vs. Zinc vs. Galvalume®

Do your customers know which metal to choose for their gutter system? As an expert, they may depend on you for advice. Read on to learn about the common metals used for gutters.

Rick Zand May 11, 2023

Which is the best gutter metal for your customers? Let’s face it, customers aren’t always sure what they want. They may not know the best metal for their style of home, region, or climate. While aluminum gutters are the go-to for many homeowners, others may decide they want steel without knowing the difference between stainless and Galvalume. In any case, they may ask for your professional opinion.

As a gutter contractor, you already know the importance of rain gutters: They guide water runoff away from the home or building to protect its foundation, prevent staining or water damage to exterior walls, and preserve the landscape. Your customer may think of gutters as a way to keep water from pouring off the roof, or as a decorative highlight to the roofline. Chances are, they haven’t given gutter metals much thought at all.

As a leader in portable rollformers for over 30 years, our people at New Tech Machinery (NTM) are experts in the metal roofing, wall panel, and gutter-forming industries. Our machine specialists work with business owners daily to help them find solutions for starting or expanding operations like yours.

In this article, we will examine different gutter metals in detail so that you can help your customers make an informed decision about which gutter metal is right for them.

We will compare common metals used for gutters, looking at capacity, durability, lifespan, appearance, and cost. First, I want to give a shout out to DMR Gutters who has a ton of helpful gutter information on its website. David Rich at DMR bought his first and only gutter machine from NTM many years ago, not long after they first came out. Also, DMR offers one of the only gutter installation programs in the country.

Installing a metal gutter with a drill.
Worker Attaching Aluminum Rain Gutter to Fascia of House.

Types of Gutter Metals

There are five common metals used for gutters:

  • Aluminum
  • Steel
  • Copper
  • Zinc
  • Galvalume®

Aluminum Gutters

Aluminum gutters are the most popular for residences. Aluminum is light, inexpensive, and doesn’t rust. These gutters stay sturdy in rainy climates as they can handle heavy downpours and severe runoff from steeply pitched or wide roofs. As aluminum can expand or contract due to temperature shifts, it’s a good idea to install expansion joints as a preventative measure. Overall, however, the expansion and contraction are minimal, even compared to steel.

Aluminum gutters can bend under pressure and may not hold up as well in regions with heavy snowfall. However, they’re generally offered in two thicknesses: .027”, and .032”. Durability is related to gauge, so while it will cost a little more, it may be worth it to go with a thicker option. That way, the gutter is more resistant to damage from wind, branches, debris, and snow loads. Most companies offer a 20-year warranty on aluminum gutters, and unless they have been installed incorrectly or get damaged from an unusual event, like a fallen tree, they shouldn’t need replacing.

Aluminum gutters come in assorted colors and can be painted. Whether the customer wants it to accent the roofline or simply blend in, aluminum offers many options and gutters last 20+ years, while downspouts last even longer.

Pros and Cons of Aluminum Gutters

Pros

  • Can handle heavy rain
  • Comes in a variety of colors
  • Doesn’t rust
  • Lasts 20+ years
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Can dent or bend under pressure
  • .027 gauge not as durable in regions with heavy snowfall

A man in a cap installing an aluminum gutter beneath metal roofing.

Galvanized Steel Gutters

Galvanized Steel gutters resist rust due to the zinc coating produced by galvanization, although the coating eventually wears off. While steel gutters are durable and can withstand snow, ice, heavy rain, and wind, continuous wet conditions will eventually cause rust. The best way to avoid rust is to keep the steel gutters clean and remove any standing water, which requires a good amount of maintenance to keep them clear and dry.

Also, while steel is durable, it can crack in geographic regions that fluctuate between extreme temperatures. Steel gutters are just a little more expensive than aluminum and last as long, about 20 years, but the trade-offs will not put it at an advantage over aluminum, which is thicker and requires less maintenance.

One thing to keep in mind about all steel gutters is that they are difficult to install and require welding or bolting and sealant. As a result, they tend to have more issues due to improper installation, which is common. Plus, the labor for installation will likely erase any savings from material costs. Given that and the corrosion issue, there are better options to offer your customers, like painted aluminum.

Pros and Cons of Galvanized Steel Gutters

Pros

  • More durable than aluminum
  • Less expensive than zinc or copper
  • Can be painted
  • Lasts 20+ years

Cons

  • Require frequent inspection for standing water and debris
  • Will show rust
  • Heavy and difficult to install

*NTM does not recommend running bare galvanized metal through its gutter machines, as it leaves a residue on the rollers that can adversely affect the machine’s functionality.

Stainless Steel Gutters

Stainless steel gutters offer the durability of galvanized steel but without the tendency to rust. They hold up to the elements and resist corrosion, although their shiny appearance may not blend in well with most structures. They tend to reflect light, giving the home or building a strange appearance.

The strength of the steel prevents these gutters from bending or denting, and they can even withstand hurricanes and severe storms, but no more so than .032″ aluminum. They also hold up to extreme temperatures without cracking, expanding or contracting, and are much more resistant to rust than other steel gutters. Visually, they keep their shiny appearance over many years, which may not be preferable to the patina of copper or zinc.

Stainless steel gutters are expensive, about the same price as copper, without offering some of the benefits of copper or aluminum. Because of this, it’s not used much and suppliers generally don’t keep it in stock.

Pros and Cons of Stainless Steel Gutters

Pros

  • Durable
  • Rust resistant
  • Holds up to extreme temperatures
  • Easy to maintain
  • Lasts 50+ years

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Harder to process and install
  • Heavy and harder to install
  • Not as available
  • Shiny appearance does not usually look good on a home or building

*NTM gutter machines are not designed to run stainless steel.

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Galvalume Gutters

Bethlehem Steel was the first to produce Galvalume in the 1970s. Now, it’s commonly used in metal roofing due to its strength and durability. Galvalume is steel coated by 45% zinc and 55% aluminum. Galvalume gutters, while not common, may be gaining popularity in certain areas. They are durable and won’t sag, even over time. They hold up to high temperatures, heavy rain, and severe storms. Additionally, their coating makes them resistant to corrosion.

Galvalume gutters generally last longer than galvanized steel gutters. Galvanized steel is dipped in zinc, but over time the zinc coating deteriorates. Galvalume, on the other hand, is four times more resistant than galvanized steel and maintains its shiny appearance, much like stainless steel.  Also, it holds up to wind and freeze.

While Galvalume will outlast galvanized steel, it’s not suited to coastal areas as saltwater will degrade the coating. Also, Galvalume may not react well with other metals, including concrete, treated wood, copper, lead, bricks, or iron. The runoff from these metals in rain can cause the metal to corrode.

Otherwise, Galvalume won’t dent like aluminum, and can be coated in paint or metallic finishes.

Pros and Cons of Galvalume Gutters

Pros

  • Durable
  • Can be painted
  • Resistant to corrosion
  • Long lasting

Cons

  • Not suited to sea climates
  • Does not interact well with other metals
  • Heavy and difficult to install

A k-style gutter running out of a gutter machine.
Worker Measuring An Aluminum Rain Gutter Feeding Through Seamless Shaping Machine.

Zinc Gutters

You may never run into occasion to produce zinc gutters, as zinc is costly and offers no real advantages over steel. Still, zinc gutters are popular in Europe and may be gaining some traction in the U.S. For that reason, they are worth mentioning. Like stainless steel, zinc will last 50 years, or more. Also, zinc won’t crack, rust, or fade with time, although the color will change from gray to a patina, giving it a rustic appearance that increases its resistance to the elements. Other than regular cleanings, zinc gutters require little maintenance or repair.

While zinc is extremely durable and its patina protects it from corrosion, it’s not ideal in sea climates or in combination with cedar shingles as they produce damaging acid runoff. Otherwise, zinc is a great option for quality and durability. While more expensive than aluminum, its longer lifespan may prove worth the difference in price.

Some may prefer the natural color and patina that forms over time. However, zinc gutters come in many colors or can be painted.

Pros and Cons of Zinc Gutters

Pros

  • Durable
  • Won’t rust or corrode
  • Comes in a variety of colors or can be painted
  • Develops an attractive patina
  • Easy to maintain
  • Lasts 50+ years

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Not suited to sea climates or runoff from cedar roofs
  • Heavy and difficult to install

*NTM gutter machines are not designed to run zinc.

Copper Gutters

Its high price alone makes copper the elite metal of the industry, which is why you’ll find copper gutters mostly on expensive homes. While initially shiny and sleek, copper will eventually oxidize, giving it a golden-brown or greenish appearance. Copper gutters fit almost any home design with their elegant, classic look and blend well with wood, brick, stone, stucco, or terracotta.

In addition to their durability, copper gutters won’t rust or erode. They don’t buckle, bend or crack from extreme temperatures. Unlike zinc, salty air and cedar shingles aren’t a threat. Also, oxidation adds an extra layer of protection against the elements. Copper gutters have a lifespan of 100 years, far longer than any other gutter metal. Lastly, copper has a high recycle value.

Also worth noting, copper is typically 16 ounces, which although thinner than aluminum gutters is equal in strength. However, for the money, your customer is better off with a 20 oz copper which is notably stronger than even .032 gauge aluminum. If they’re willing to pay the extra for copper, they may as well get the sturdier 20 oz.

As mentioned, copper gutters are expensive. Some people find the tradeoff worthwhile, as copper offers many aesthetic and practical benefits. Keep in mind, copper gutters are heavy and difficult to install. Labor will be another cost factor for your customer to consider.

A man using a scrubbing brick to clean a copper or zinc gutter with patina.

Pros and Cons of Copper Gutters

Pros

  • Durable
  • Won’t rust or erode
  • Develops an attractive patina
  • Easy to maintain
  • Lasts 100 years

Cons

  • Most expensive option
  • Heavy and harder to install

Final thoughts

Once they’ve understood the importance of rain gutters, you can help your customer figure out which metal best suits their region, climate, style of home, and budget, as well as other factors to consider, like purchasing for a rental property vs. a residence. They must also decide on a gutter profile and whether to go seamless or traditional. While seamless gutters cost a little more, they last longer, avoid leakage, and require less maintenance. The best advice we can give is to be as transparent as possible and go over all the costs, including labor, as well as the pros and cons of the metals. That way, there will be less possibility of unwelcomed surprises later on.

Aluminum and copper will probably remain top choices, depending on budget. Some customers may have read that steel is sturdier, but that’s not necessarily the case. Steel has to be produced at a thinner gauge than aluminum, and steel can be damaged by outside forces, the same way as aluminum. Galvalume may be gaining in popularity but has its drawbacks as it’s heavy and difficult to install.

NTM manufactures the MACH II™ 5”, 6”, and 5”/6” Combo seamless gutter machines for K-style gutters. As a premium producer of portable seamless gutter machines, NTM provides full service and training. Our mission is to help you through the process of deciding which NTM machine is right for your business. Contact our machine specialists to discuss the next step in purchasing a new gutter machine.

Click here to contact us at NTM!