Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
A common question that homeowners often ask is, “Are gutters required by code?”. Gutters serve a purpose: to direct water away from the foundation of your home, but are they a requirement?
Gutters aren’t required by most building codes, but they can still serve a purpose in your house. Depending on where you live and what type of roofing material you have installed on your home, the right kind of gutter system could help protect against water damage.
If you’re not sure if gutter installation is covered by the city or town in which you live, it’s essential to check. Every area can vary as far as rules and regulations go. Also, some states don’t require communities to follow any specific guidelines for gutter installation.
Are There Any Requirements for Gutters on New Builds?
Gutters and downspouts on new buildings must meet the roof slope. If you have a flat roof, your gutters won’t be able to drain properly unless they’re sloped in some way that helps with water flow. If your new home includes gutters, you’ll need to meet some requirements on how they’re installed.
There are some requirements for gutters on new home builds. For example, gutters should drain water to a minimum of 4-6 feet (1.2-1.8 meters), and ideally 10 feet (3 meters) away from the house. Downspouts should also be placed at least 20 (6 meters) but no more than 50 feet (15.2 meters) apart.
Most gutters are installed to help control water drainage. If there isn’t a lot of rain, gutters don’t really need to be cleaned or maintained, but it’s important that they’re flowing properly. When the rain brings about higher volumes of water than your gutter can handle, you might begin finding puddles in your yard or around your foundation. That’ll lead to wood rot or, worse– foundation damage.
Roof Drainage Codes – International Building Code
Section 1502 of the IBC specifies that “Design and installation of roof drainage systems shall comply with Section 1502 of this code.”
There are few mentions of gutters in the IBC, stating that gutters should be made from non-combustible material or a material that has been approved by the building officials.
In certain situations, local authorities may demand gutters even if the IBC and IRC don’t. It’s vital to inquire with your local building inspector’s office about any code modifications in your region that pertain to gutters. Local municipalities may be more stringent than the IBC or IRC.
A lack of gutters and downspouts causes plenty of water damage to the built environment and landscaping since many homeowners fail to connect their downspouts to a proper drainage system. In some areas, it’s required by law that rainwater from roofs needs to be drained away from properties via gutters and downspouts.
Choosing Gutter Installation vs. Alternative Methods
Gutters aren’t the only possible solution for diverting rainfall away from a structure. If you’re looking to set up a rainwater drainage system on your own, you can find numerous guides online about alternative methods and installation procedures.
Metal gutters and downspouts are generally more affordable than plastic or vinyl options, but they may need to be replaced every decade or so, depending on the average sunlight exposure in your area. Installing plastic or aluminum gutters will likely allow them to function for decades without needing replacement.
Gutters can also divert rainfall away from your driveway and sidewalks, though most municipalities and homeowners’ associations (HOAs) require you to direct runoff away from paved areas with landscaped alternatives like rain gardens or bioswales.
What Do Builders Use as an Alternative to Gutters?
Code officials say that in lieu of traditional gutters, one can use other methods to tackle roof drainage. Some builders have resorted to internally draining the roofs via the insertion of pipe chases at the gable tops.
Builders typically use longer overhangs, concrete perimeters, and various sloping methods as alternatives to gutters. Each method ensures that water doesn’t pool near the foundation of the home.
Other builders have gone the extra mile by incorporating curbs around the perimeter of their roofs, which can divert water away from properties via a series of connected splash blocks.
Longer Roof Overhangs
Longer roof overhangs allow rain to fall farther away from the home’s foundation. A minimum of 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) beyond the exterior wall is ideal, allowing water to drop freely after it falls far away enough from the house.
Designers typically construct roofs with pitches that range from 2:12 (2 inches or 5 centimeters of rise for every 12 inches or 30.5 centimeters of run) up to 4:12 (10:30.5 centimeters), increasing their pitch as they get closer to the edge of a building.
Builders may use concrete perimeter foundations instead of gutters if a home lacks a roofline or skirt along its lowest elevation. The addition forms a barrier against natural drainage and ensures precipitation drains away quickly and doesn’t pool near any one area.
Using curbs on flat roofs can be especially effective, as they cause water to disappear from the structure in ever-decreasing angles—a strategy used with the “French Drain” principle.
Builders use concrete perimeters to create a rim along the top of the house that is placed higher than any amount water can travel. This allows water to flow off of them into the gutters. Additionally, even when there’s no rain, these parameters can provide protection from sunlight.
Builders have begun using sloping methods by changing their foundation designs in addition to their roofing techniques. Sloping and grading the landscape around a new home site has long been part of the process.
By changing the traditional design to slope away from your structure rather than towards it, you can increase the amount of surface that water will have for traveling downwards after hitting steeper roof angles.
Gutters are often seen on many homes these days; they act as water drainage for the roofing that is found above both the first and second stories of the house. They do this by collecting water then funneling it down along spouts that direct it away from your foundation, where it can be collected in outdoor sinks put there for just this reason.
Having gutters on your home is definitely not required by code, but it can be the easiest solution to any potential drainage problem.
- Roof Online: Rain Gutters: Useful Facts and Guidelines
- UpCodes: Building Code 2018 of Wyoming Adopts Without Amendments: International Building Code 2018 (IBC 2018): Chapter 15 Roof Assemblies and Rooftop Structures
- Blue River Gutters: What Are the Best Alternatives to Gutters
- Bob Vila: French Drains 101
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