All About Yankee Gutters

What are Yankee gutters?

Many historic homes with older slate roofs have Yankee gutters. These gutters, which date back to the 18th century, are also called pole, flush, standing, and Philadelphia gutters.

The beauty of Yankee gutters is aesthetic and functional:

  • They are wooden troughs lined with copper or steel (or stainless steel) coated with an alloy of tin and lead or zinc called terne.
  • They are hung on the plane of the roof, built into the cornice, and are invisible along the roofline.
  • Their shape and installation direct water away from the house.

Because of their ornamental, classic look, these built-in gutters are an excellent choice for historic homes—including those with slate roofs. This is because they are hidden from view under the decorative roofline, allowing the traditional look of the slate roof really pop. Although most contemporary construction doesn’t use a Yankee style of gutter, new buildings designed in period styles from long-ago eras, such as Federal or Georgian, or additions to older buildings that already have Yankee gutters, may use this drainage system.

yankee gutters

Yankee gutter construction

Traditionally, the body of the system is made from a combination of wood and metal—wood for the shell and metal sheets to line the interior. The gutters’ sloped bottom helps expedite the flow of water through the gutter. In the 19th century, copper became the favored option for the metal lining, but steel is now used for new construction.

The channel on U- or V-shaped Yankee gutters is typically wider than on their modern counterparts (up to 12”) and are less likely to become clogged or obstructed because of the way the multi-tiered drainage system is designed. The gutters, which are soldered to the roof, drain through downspouts that run through the roof deck and eaves.

Maintaining your Yankee gutters

Regular inspection of your Yankee gutters will prolong the system’s life and protect the wood box from damage from mildew and moisture.

  • The terne-coated steel that lines many “Yankees” needs to be checked periodically for corrosion, and recoated approximately every eight years.
    • New Yankee gutters may be lined with terne-coated stainless steel, which doesn’t require this maintenance.
  • The wood portions of the gutter should be checked for structural soundness as well. If paint is peeling off the facing, the masonry around the gutter system is damaged, or sections of wood are darkened or moist to the touch, have a roofing professional investigate further and take remedial steps.

Repair or replace? What to do with Yankee gutters needing some TLC

Repair

Yankee gutters may require frequent repair. If you discover small areas of metal corrosion, it is possible to recoat and repair the gutter lining. We recommend using a rubber membrane to reline the gutter, which creates a waterproof seal. A liquid rubber membrane can be used to cover areas of light erosion. Larger gaps will require a special tape to be applied first to reinforce the area before coating it with rubber.

NOTE: Do not let a roofing contractor apply roofing tar to repair holes or weak spots in a Yankee gutter’s metal lining or wood body. This is a short-term fix that will end up causing further metal corrosion over time—and cost you must more in gutter replacement later.

Replace

More extensive damage may require a full gutter replacement. This is an big project that includes rebuilding the eaves and soffits, and replacing several rows of roof shingles. A Yankee gutter replacement should only be done by a roofing contractor with experience and knowledge about this type of gutter construction. And, when the Yankee is installed on a slate roof, additional expertise regarding slate roof installation is required to ensure the gutter replacement and restoration project is performed properly and retains the home’s original look.

Let Slate Roof Professionals Assess Your Yankee Gutters

At Slate Roof Professionals of Northern New Jersey, our skilled carpentry team are prepared to repair or rebuild your Yankee gutters as needed. The repair job may require re-sloping or in more severe cases, completely replacing the Yankee gutters. Rest assured, the historical integrity of your home will be fully retained, while your drainage system is repaired or replaced to protect your home from improper drainage. Our team can also install custom home improvements that enhance your home’s style and of course, its beautiful slate roof.

Contact us for a full inspection and evaluation of your existing Yankee gutters or to discuss our elegant roofing options.