AFTER HE developed a taste for California wines, my father regretted the space under the porch being filled with pea gravel, for he is convinced would have would have made a fine wine cellar. There are 20 tons of pea gravel around the house and my father has no intention of moving any of it, even for his covey of chablis, pinot noire and zinfandel. We must have our dreams and our small regrets or why drink.
The pea gravel, all of it shoveled by sweating children some years ago, covers a system of drain tiles to rival the sewers of Paris. One leg of the tile network reaches up through the gravel and is cemented to the downspouts on the house. When it rains, you do not hear the familiar splish splosh of water racing down the spouts and into the yard because the water is carried deep through the tiles, around the house and out a pipe into the ravine that runs the length of the lot and into a stream.
In the rain you can stand watching this emission, knowing where the water is coming from and proud that you built it so with your hands.
There is only one problem with the system and that is the downspouts are connected to gutters that are shaded by many large, healthy oak trees. In spring the gutters are full of leaves and acorns that begin to smell when they rot and you never get to them before they smell. You have to dig that rot out of there for the system to function properly.
I noticed the other day a friend in Arlington had a garden trowel sticking up from the inside of his gutters. He also had a number of maple saplings growing in them. He says he's using the trowel to aerate the soil and help the maples grow better.
Some experts say you should have a metal cage covering the downspout holes in the gutters to keep plants and animals from clogging them, or even screen over the gutters. But our gutters worked fine without these things and they are hard enough to clean without anything else in the way.
Worse can befall a gutter. It can begin to sag, fall off the house or simply rust through. "We're still backed up from the last heavy snow storm," said Ron Baca at Bethesda Sheet Metal Co. Many gutters fared poorly under the weight of all the snow. "So many came down," Baca said, "we're having a hard time getting them back up."
You may check around the house to see if the gutters are all snugly against the fascia. You can test the downspouts with water from a garden hose. To see if the gutters are slanting properly, pour in a bucket of water.
If the gutters are sagging, you may be able to tighten them again by driving the spikes firmly back in the wood (if they are spike and ferrule gutters) or replacing broken hangers. Holes that are not too large can be fixed with fiberglass patching kits sold in hardware stores or by filling them with epoxy (gutter cement) or tar. You can solder a piece of galvanized sheet metal over a hole in a galvanized gutter.Remember to epoxy or tar around the edges of the patch and test it later with water.
If your gutters are not worth trying to save and you don't mind replacing them with aluminum ones, you can do this yourself with a few tools, a little skill and a friend. It might be best to check a few books out of the library first. "Home Maintenance," by William Weiss (Scribners), is a good choice with illustrations and step-by-step instructions. Some stores, such as Hechinger, sell do-it-yourself manuals on various subjects, including roof and gutter repair.
These days aluminum gutters are selling for around $7 for a 10-foot length, but Washington area lumber stores quoted prices ranging from $5.50 to $7.65. Some stores carry only 10-foot lengths, some 8-foot and others have several different lengths. Downspouts run $4.50 to $5.50 for 10-foot pieces.
If the old gutter is still complete when you take it down (if you still have to take it down), you can use this to measure the new gutter. Take a list of all the pieces on the old gutter when you buy the new material. The new gutter must be assembled on the ground and installed in one piece.
You may find a gutter system with pieces that fit together. Otherwise you will need a fine-tooth hack saw to cut pieces to the correct length. These are assembled by overlapping two pieces, drilling holes and connecting them with blind rivets. Gutter cement is applied at all the joints to make a watertight seal.
End caps are placed over each end of the gutter and sealed. If you do not buy gutter with a pre-fitted outlet tube, you will need one of those as well, for which you must cut a hole in the gutter with a pair of tin-snips and then rivet.
The gutter should slant 1/4-inch every four feet toward the downspout (from the middle to either side if the gutter is more than 40 feet long). Drive two nails into the fascia at either end and draw a string tight where the top of the gutter should be (under the roof line). If you are using spikes and ferrules to support the gutter, drill the holes while the gutter is still on the ground. Supports should be spaced about 30 inches apart.
Hanging the gutter is a job for two persons, one at either end. Three would be even better: two to hold it and one to put in the supports. Line the top of the gutter with your string so it hangs true.
The downspouts are assembled also with rivets, always the narrow ends on top fitting into the wide ends on the bottom. The downspouts are secured to the side of the house with metal wrap-around bands. Nail them snugly to the siding with large-headed roofing nails. Be sure the spout is vertical and test it for leaks with water. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption