2015, June 22 | Monday 2:21 am

by Peter Samuel

Roof gutters and downspouts serve no purpose in this climate, we get so many wild downpours that overwhelm or bypass the feeble metal channels at the edges of gable roofs. They are a pointless frill that collect leaves and other debris in the summer, and gets distorted and dragged down by snow and ice in the winter. And their maintenance is a source of falls and injuries.

Yet the Frederick Historic Preservation Guidelines declare dogmatically: “Gutters and downspouts are essential drainage devices for keeping water from the house and maintaining its longevity.” (Treatment Guidelines for Gutters and Downspouts” page 92, see reproduction nearby)


That’s plain wrong if the gutters and downspouts are often overwhelmed by the volume of rainwater and accompanied by wind that drives the rain all about. House longevity, to be sure, requires keeping  water away from the foundations. This can best be achieved by thoughtful design at ground level and below ground – foundation drains, sealing of basement walls and sump pumps below ground level, and properly sloped pavement at the ground level to minimize ground infiltration of rainwater close to the house. That’s needed regardless of roof gutter or no gutter.

The Frederick Guidelines continue: “Round profile galvanized gutters and downspouts are most appropriate for historic buildings, but copper… and those with factory finishes are also approved.”

No K-styleKstyl3d

City staff have frequently written that the ‘K-style’ gutter used in most new construction is “inappropriate” in the historic district because it postdates the ‘period of historic significance’ fifty years back or 1965.

But that’s wrong too.

The K-style goes back to the 1920s and 1930s and the National Park Service says it “became a standard in the 1940s,” about 75 years ago. (US National Park Service “Roofing for Historic Buildings: Gutters and Downspouts”  Technical Preservation Services,) http://www.nps.gov/tps/education/roofingexhibit/gutters.htm

HalfRd3DMore costly

K-style gutters are a third to half the price of the HPC-preferred half-round and can be made seamless since the truck-borne rolling dyes allow gutter extending the exact length on the job. No laps or joints to rust or collect debris.

Personally I prefer the cleaner look of half-round since I dislike the crown molding detail on the K-style face – a fussy Victorian  detail, I think.

But there is no valid historic argument for imposing half-round on everyone in the historic district. K-style gutter’s take on crown molding arguably goes better architecturally with Victorians and a lot of classical revivals than the more austere half-round that the HPC demands.

Then who even notices the difference? Or even the lack of any roof gutter?

The example of Schifferstadt

Wikipedia calls Schifferstadt “the finest example of German colonial architecture in the United States.”Schifferstadt2

I’ve always thought its windows are mean in size. As a result it’s unnecessarily dark and poky inside.  Despite that shortcoming it’s a treasure of beautiful bold stonework, has a grandly scaled gable roof, and many other rare features.

It’s undoubtedly the most important historic building in Frederick.

However the first and major stone portion Schifferstadt wouldn’t be approved for construction under today’s Historic Preservation guidelines.

It has no roof gutters or downspouts.

It isn’t unusual in that regard. Gutters were rare on georgian or colonial buildings. And when they were deployed their purpose was not drainage but to catch rainwater for storage in a basement cistern. This was most likely more common in places without good well water.

Most of the houses of Colonial Williamsburg have no gutters or downspouts (see nearby.)

ColonialWilliamsbgCONCLUSION: As in other instances the Frederick Historic District Design Guidelines reflect neither a serious understanding of preservation nor of history. The Guideline on gutters represents nothing more than  a personal preference that an in-group of busybodies imposes on fellow citizens.

It is fun to speculate what John Brunner would have responded to City bureaucrats if they’d told him in 1758 that they were withholding his building permit for Schifferstadt because his plans didn’t show the required roof gutters.


Early houses in Maryland and Virginia had no gutters.  see pictures


Colonial Williamsburg’s gable buildings are gutterless.


Gutterless houses preferred in PA by expert


Michigan’s Heritage Hill historic preservation allows many gutter types and gutterless:



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