A reader’s gutter is pulling away from the roof. (Reader photo)

Q: I have a problem with the exterior gutters on my home. They are still perfectly good, but they are pulling away from the roof because the fascia boards behind them are rotted and the support nails no longer hold. I’ve called several gutter companies, but all they want to do is replace the gutters for several thousand dollars. They told me that it would cost just as much to replace the fascia boards and put back the old gutters. I also called a few general home handymen and got some initial verbal estimates of a little less than a thousand to replace the fascia boards and reuse the existing gutters, but then never heard back from them. So I’m not sure what the best option is. Do I really need to have the gutters and fascia boards replaced, or is fixing the fascia boards and remounting the existing gutters a viable option?


A: One problem is that although it is theoretically possible to reuse old gutters, doing so without bending them is very tricky. The metal is thin and kinks easily. Imagine the challenges if you were up there on a ladder trying to do the job yourself. No repair person wants to set up a situation in which the customer is likely to get angry if something goes wrong. So if you hire someone who’s willing to try to reuse the gutters, you might want to make it clear that if that turns out to be infeasible, you are prepared to get new ones. Get bids for both options before you begin.

One trick that some people have used to reduce the risk of bending is to put bags of sand on the roof near the edge so that the gutters can be lifted over them and held up on the roof, rather than being dropped to the ground, while the fascia repairs are made.

The pictures you sent show extensive rotting of the fascia boards. That, plus the fact that the nails are pulling loose, might actually increase the chance that your gutters can be reused, said Agustin Sotero, owner of Sotero Building, a contractor in Manassas that focuses on roofing, gutter and siding work (703-926-1573; www.soterobuildinginc.com). “If the fascia board is new, sometimes it’s hard to remove the gutters,” he said. “They bend.” Nails come out easily from rotten wood.

Sotero said his approach would be to look at the house and assess whether your gutters can be reused. Assuming so, he would then give you two estimates — one for reusing the gutters, another for replacing them. But he said the price usually isn’t that much different, and he advises people to put in new gutters.

The cost depends mostly on the size of the house and the depth of the fascia boards. Depending on whether the boards are six, eight or 12 inches wide — the typical sizes — Sotero charges $10 to $20 a linear foot for materials and labor for the fascia work. New gutters cost $7 to $9, depending on their width, which is usually five inches on homes but could also be six inches.

Q: I need expert help in attic insulation and plumbing for a complicated attic situation. The roof of my early-1950s rambler was recently replaced, and to improve attic ventilation, the roofers added a ridge vent and small intake vents near the eaves. However, my water pipes run through the attic because my house is on a slab, and now I worry that the pipes will freeze in the winter. Some of the new intake vents are inches above water pipes. There is a mishmash of loose cellulose and fiberglass insulation. Further complicating attic ventilation is an approximately 10-inch square screened opening in the ceiling of the utility closet that is required for proper furnace combustion. How do I keep the pipes from freezing?

Silver Spring

A: The quick-and-dirty solution would be to tie heat tape to the pipes. It typically kicks on when the temperature drops below 40 degrees, so it would keep the pipes from freezing. However, there is a big downside to this approach: Heat tape is useless when the power goes out — as it often does when temperatures drop below freezing.

Jeff Fletcher, the residential service manager for Mallick Plumbing & Heating in Gaithersburg ( 301-840-5861; mallickplumbing.com), has seen plenty of frozen pipes and situations in which homeowners want to make sure the problem never happens again. “We try to do everything we can to not depend on heat tape,” he said.

The best solution is to make the pipes become part of the heated area of your house. Sometimes that can be done simply by placing the insulation only over the pipes, so that heat escaping through the ceiling keeps the pipes warm and the insulation traps the heat there. But this works only if the pipes are within an inch or so of the ceiling and there is enough space over the pipes for insulation rated at R-38 or above.

When that approach won’t work, Fletcher recommends hiring a contractor to box in the piping and run a heat vent into that. He said the company makes referrals to contractors who do this work. Depending on the length of the pipe run in the attic, this could cost a few hundred dollars or a few thousand. But it’s almost guaranteed to be less than what you would spend if a pipe froze and the melting water spurted into the attic.