KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN VINYL GUTTERS AND ALUMINUM GUTTERS
Vinyl vs aluminum rain gutters is the great debate in guttering. Both types are lightweight material and easier to work with than steel or copper. Vinyl is considered the low-cost but less durable material while aluminum gets points for color choices, seamless gutter runs and the eco-sustainability of metal gutters vs PVC plastic gutters.
In terms of climate, vinyl is susceptible to becoming brittle and possibly cracking with severe temperature changes. Very high temperatures can cause the material to warp. Aluminum handles extreme temperatures well but is more at risk of damage from hail causing dings and dents and failing under the weight of winter ice buildup.
Those are the main differences between vinyl and aluminum gutter systems. Here’s a closer look at the types of gutters as we answer the question – what is better vinyl or aluminum gutters?
WHAT ARE VINYL GUTTERS?
Vinyl is plastic, of course. Most vinyl gutters are PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, a common material for pipes and other building materials. A limited range of colors – white, tan, brown, green and a few others – are offered by most suppliers. The vinyl itself is colored, rather than painted or coated, so scratches aren’t easily visible.
The majority of homeowner-installed gutters are vinyl.
Most vinyl gutters have a lifetime warranty, but in reality, the gutters usually need replacement because they are stained or sagging or the fascia behind them must be replaced due to rot – not problems covered under the warranty.
At the end of their useful life, in 12 to 18 or 20 years, most vinyl guttering is dumped in a landfill.
WHAT ARE ALUMINUM GUTTERS?
Aluminum is a lightweight metal that won’t corrode. When the metal is bare, as when a painted gutter is deeply scratched, the metal develops a patina that protects against corrosion. The scratches will show, but they can be covered with touch-up paint. In terms of corrosion, both aluminum and vinyl gutters are a great choice in coastal areas where salt spray would wreak havoc on steel gutters. They cost less than other corrosion-free gutters including stainless steel gutters and copper gutters.
Depending on the supplier or gutter company, the variety of colors to choose from will range from about 8 to more than 20 colors.
Most recycling facilities are happy to take aluminum, so conscientious homeowners and contractors have an ecofriendly opportunity to dispose of the material in 15 to 20 years, sometimes longer, when the gutters need replacing.
There are two ways to look at the cost of gutters.
The upfront cost of vinyl gutters is about 15% to 20% less than aluminum when professionally installed, and up to 70% less if you do it yourself. So, vinyl is attractive as a low cost type of gutters. But one of its disadvantages is that it is less durable.
Aluminum gutters last longer in most climate conditions. So, you’ll replace them less often. Over 50 years, the total cost of aluminum gutters might be lower.
Here are the raw numbers:
Vinyl gutter cost starts at about $2.15 per linear foot for DIY installation. Professionally installed vinyl ranges from about $4.25 to $8.25 per linear foot. A typical 2,400 square foot home has 175-200 feet of gutters and downspouts based on home design. That translates to $375 – $1,650 based on who hangs the gutters.
Aluminum gutter cost is $4.90 to $9.85 per linear foot for pro-installed gutters, or $855 – $1,970 for a typical home. Installing your own aluminum guttering starts at around $3 per linear foot, but because long runs of aluminum gutters can twist and bend when a single person handles it, do-it-yourself is less common.
Cost factors beside the material used include:
The shape of the home – Homes with more than 4 corners require more cutting and fitting, and cost rises
Steepness of the roof slope – If the home is one story, roof slope is irrelevant, other than you should choose a wider gutter, since the water comes down the roof more quickly and can overflow a 4-inch gutter. On two-story homes, working on a steep slope while installing upper-story gutters takes more time and equipment, so cost is higher.
Gutter color – In both vinyl and aluminum gutters, some deeper colors are considered premium colors and cost a little more.
Let’s begin with vinyl. As noted, it is the preferred material for DIY homeowners.
Vinyl gutter systems include gutter runs, downspouts, brackets, corners and fasteners. They can be purchased locally or online. The materials are cut and glued together at home using PVC glue. Brackets are fastened to the home’s fascia, and the guttering is hung on the brackets.
Most aluminum gutters are installed by gutter specialty companies. A truck and crew arrive at your home with rolls of gutter material in the color of your choice.
Each gutter run is measured, and the seamless aluminum gutter is extruded, shaped and cut to the exact length using what’s called a gutter machine. Brackets are installed and used to hang the gutters on.
Yes, aluminum gutters and parts are also available at home improvement stores and online. Runs from 8’ to 16’ are manufactured. If you plan to install it yourself, we highly recommend having a second pair of hands to help keep the gutter from twisting or bending during the job.
Neither of these gutter types requires a lot of maintenance.
For either, regularly remove leaves and other debris from the gutters, especially if you have overhanging trees. You can install gutter guards too, which might reduce maintenance. Use a hose, brush and mild detergent to clean the outside of the gutters as needed
Aluminum gutters can be repainted more easily. Touch up scratches and use a quality exterior latex to repaint them. Vinyl doesn’t accept paint as easily, so you might have to choose a pricier paint formulated to adhere to vinyl.
Common repair issues for vinyl involve seams and fittings coming apart and needing to be re-glued. When anything vinyl cracks, it must be replaced.
With seamless aluminum gutters, there are fewer pieces to come apart, and because pieces are often screwed together, separation of parts is less likely. You can repair minor dents in aluminum by hammering them out, though restoring the gutter to its original shape is difficult.
Seams in either type of gutter should be caulked with an exterior silicone to seal them and prevent leaks.
VINYL GUTTERS VS ALUMINUM – THE CONCLUSION
If you’re going to hire a contractor to install your gutters, our opinion is that the benefits of seamless aluminum gutters are worth the extra cost, which averages around $.90 (90 cents) per linear foot. You won’t have seams in the middle of the run, so leaking won’t be a concern. Gutter leaks of that kind are a major source of water getting into a home’s foundation/basement.
If you are committed to doing the work yourself, we like vinyl for a couple of reasons. First, the rigid gutter lengths are easier to handle by one person. Secondly, glued joints and seams are more watertight than joints that are screwed together and caulked. Next, vinyl gutter material is easier to cut than aluminum – you get a cleaner cut with less chance of cutting yourself in the process. Finally, you’ll save up to $4 per linear foot on the project.