Coping with eavestroughs

Of all the homebuilding hardware used on Canadian houses, nothing annoys me more than standard, aluminum eavestroughs.

Of all the homebuilding hardware used on Canadian houses, nothing annoys me more than standard, aluminum eavestroughs.

How can you say anything good about something that’s so flimsy, overflows and leaks regularly, even when installed correctly? The world needs a wider, stronger system of eavestroughs, but while we wait for that to happen, there are things you can do to coax reasonable performance from standard eavestroughs.

If you’re handy and particularly annoyed with eavestroughs that overflow during downpours, consider adding another downspout. Downspouts are often a limiting factor when it comes to drainage capacity during heavy rains, so adding a second unit can offer relief. And the job is easier than it looks.

The aluminum that’s used to make most eavestrough is thin enough and soft enough that you can cut through it with multiple passes from a heavy-duty utility knife. Simply trace the outline of the downspout fitting you need to set into the bottom of the trough, then make multiple passes with your knife until you go through the metal. Run a bead of polyurethane caulking around the rim of the downspout fitting, set the fitting into the hole you just cut, then secure it with a couple of pop rivets — a mainstay of eavestrough assembly and repair.

Pop rivets are expanding fasteners that are perfect for joining the thin metal that eavestroughs are made of. Drill a hole sized to accept the shank of the rivet you’re using (a 1/8-inch diameter drill bit is the typical size for eavestrough), put a rivet in the installation gun, slip the rivet into the hole, then squeeze the gun handle until you hear a ‘pop’. This indicates that the rivet has swollen to full size and the joint is now locked. The whole operation takes seconds and it’s useful for adding new sections of eavestrough as well as completing repairs.

The marginal water handling capacity of standard eavestroughs is one reason why keeping them clean is so important. And even though this may well be one of the world’s least glamorous chores, it’s the kind of thing that causes big problems when you ignore the work. And overflowing water isn’t the only ramification of dirty troughs.

When eavestroughs fill with branches, leaves and needles, the increased weight eventually damages the trough itself and the edge of your roof. When the trough fills up high enough it can also cause water to wick up underneath shingles and behind aluminum fascia, causing rot that need never occur.

I’ve tried various gutter cleaning methods over the years, and the approach I’ve settled on is fast and effective. The slope of my roof is shallow enough to walk on safely while brandishing a pressure washer wand to blast out the gunk. I can clean nearly 200 feet of gutter in about 20 minutes this way. If you’ve had dry weather for a while, a workshop vac is a good alternative for pulling out the build-up of granules given off by aging asphalt roof shingles.

Later this summer I’ll be installing an eavestrough alternative where a main roof ends over a porch. The alternative is a system of aluminum louvres I first bought and installed on other buildings more than 10 years ago. It’s called Rainhandler (; 877-266-4949), and it turns ordinary roof runoff back into droplets as it flows off the eaves. There’s nothing to clean with these louvres, they don’t fill up with ice in the winter, and they distribute rainwater evenly over the roof below, eliminating the unnecessary shingle wear that happens when downspouts end over top of a secondary roof underneath.

Canadian eavestroughs cause more than their fair share of problems, though that’s no excuse to let them get away with it. A little extra care and attention to detail will keep them working reasonably well until the real thing comes along.

Steve Maxwell is Canada’s award-winning home improvement expert, and technical editor of Canadian Home Workshop magazine. Sign up for his free homeowner newsletter at

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