As we mentioned in our post about gutter and downspout research, the whole idea of full gutter replacement was a bit of a hiccup in our much larger siding replacement project. As if we didn't have enough going on, the research, purchase, and ultimately, installation of the gutters, were all worked into the overall siding project, rather than setting it aside as its own complete and separate project. Talk about mildly overwhelming!

However overwhelmed, we had found Classic Gutter Systems while watching This Old House and were thrilled at the DIY capable nature of their products. This went a long way to ease our mind, so we cautiously proceeded with the project with our eyes on the prize, replacing our old aluminum modern-style gutters with historically accurate half round copper gutters. But whether our eyes were on the prize or not, the venture wasn't free of obstacles or difficulties along the way (a little foreshadowing there).

While my focus was on the upper gutter situation, as that particular gutter was the one responsible for constantly clogging and causing all of our kitchen angst, we were replacing both the upper 10' length of gutter, as well as the lower 10' length of gutter at the back of the sun porch.

I actually made my first gutter misstep at the ordering phase of the project. How's that for getting off on the wrong foot? It's always a bit difficult to visualize sizes of items on your house when you're estimating based on measurements and photos of the products on other people's houses. Such was the case when we determined that a 4" downspout would be necessary on all of our gutters. While it would absolutely remove the water we needed it handle for our upper gutter, 4" is massive, and we really only needed 2" downspout for the lower gutter. Not realizing this, we went ahead and ordered a whole bunch of 4". Oh well, what am I gonna do, not the end of the world, and we're better prepared for epic flooding now.

And though we ordered a smaller gutter for the lower roof, the larger gutter we ordered for the upper roof looked, well, gargantuan. We had our doubts about how it would work and if it was possibly overkill. In order to alleviate some of Wendy's fears on look, I channelled my inner Wallenda Brothers high-wire self and carried one of the massive pieces of downspout up and onto the upper roof for spousal review and (hopefully) approval.

Lucky for me, it got the good old Wendy wink and seal of approval and we proceeded with the project.

After removal of the old K style gutter we knew we'd have a day or two where we needed to install a fascia board, caulk, prep, paint, and then install the gutter. We had been lucky with rain, or the total lack thereof, in this project, so we crossed our fingers once again and popped the old gutter off of the house. As it turns out, the existing gutter wasn't installed very well (go figure).

Only about three of the eight or so nails had any hold on the house, and several slid out as if they were being held in by scotch tape. The board behind the old gutter was rotten beyond recognition, and it literally crumbled in my hands as I attempted to pry it off of the house. As disgusting as it was, removing something so awful from our house was a true moment of homeowner triumph.

The install of the Azek fascia board and gutter hangers went without significant issue. I was able to locate the roof rafter tails where I was both able to nail the fascia board, and more importantly, drive massive 6" screws to secure the gutter hangers.

The hangers we went with are the brass half round lower support without decoration. They're classic, strong, and appropriate for our minimally embellished home.

We hung five brass hangers on the house, and the only level of difficulty came due to a lean in the fascia board. I ultimately overcame this by cutting a few shim triangles the hangers mounted through, correcting the lean of the fascia board, and making for a problem easily solved. Much later we'd realize how dumb only five hangers looked and ultimately added a sixth to balance things out.

We were humming right along and feeling good, but there are two very important details when dealing with gutter installation.

1. You must make sure your gutter is slightly sloped towards the downspout.

2. You must take extra precautions when working on a roof. (Ahem, I'm foreshadowing once again here.)

On item #1 it's important to remember that the water must be able to go towards the downspout, and a gutter is plumbing of sorts, so the laws of physics and hydrodynamics still apply (weird). But unlike plumbing, where you need a 1/4" fall per one foot length of pipe (we're talking drain-waste-vent), you simply want to make sure a gutter is pitched in some capacity to ensure the water heads towards the nearest exit. I've actually even heard that many gutter installers will hang short lengths of gutter completely level, using the idea that water wants to go level as well, and a level gutter is a gutter that drains. Personally, that's a little too extreme for me, but the idea is to simply make sure your gutter isn't pitched away from the downspout. That's bad news in any school of thought.

After an extensive amount of checking for level and pitch, I had all of my hangers on the house and proceeded to cut the gutter to length. Since copper is a very soft metal, and I wanted a really clean and crisp cut, I ended up cutting the gutter (and downspout) on my miter saw. The only difference in making this cut versus wood was the slow speed with which I dropped the spinning blade down through the material. I also highly recommend wearing long sleeves if you do this, in addition to the prerequisite safety glasses. Metal shards do tend to fly when using this approach.

I crimped on the end cap, secured it with a screw, popped the gutter into place, and called our upper gutter hanging a success. The whole thing installs simply and easily. Once you set the gutter into the hangers you drill small holes in the gutter using the hangers as a guide. These small holes then allow you to fit supplied screws and nuts on the gutter, securing the whole thing in place.

Now about item #2, taking extra precautions when working on a roof. While I did great on item #1, item #2 left something to be desired. I was working long and hard on these arduous gutter and siding project days, often beginning at 9:00am and working until 10:00pm. Though I felt I was taking the necessary precautions at most points, you only need one momentary lapse in judgement to have it all come crashing down. In my case, it was at the tail end of a very long day of gutter installation when it all, actually did, come crashing down.

I was utterly exhausted from the full day of working in the hot sun and had stretched my effort into the darkness of night. When I reached my quitting time I had accomplished so much and had a fully installed gutter to show for it. I was collecting my tools, materials, and garbage and removing it from the roof. After gathering everything up I broke down my ladders and brought my tired and aching body back down to terra firma. That's about when I realized that I had left an end cap and one of my tools up on the lower roof. Exhausted, I was tempted to just ignore it and turn in for the night, but the little voice in my head said "You'll feel better if you just take care of it tonight." Well, I should have said "Be damned, little voice, I've got some sleeping to do." But I didn't. Instead, not wanting to be bothered by getting everything set back up, I set up one of my shorter ladders and decided to just boost myself up onto our lower roof...about eight feet off of the ground.

I thought to myself, "I'll just quickly skootch my butt up on the roof, grab the tools, then pop myself back down. I'll be showered and in bed in no time."

Well, this turned out to be a very bad idea, as I was going directly against the warning label on the ladder. You know, the one where it says "Don't stand on or above this step." I was both standing on AND above that step.

As I scaled the ladder I reached the warning label and ignored it like a kid ignoring their parent's instruction to eat their vegetables. I then turned, sat on the edge of the roof, and boosted myself in an attempt to do my skootching onto the roof. But when I boosted to skootch, I boosted too hard and didn't skootch enough. My feet sabotaged me and inadvertently kicked the ladder out from under weight...and my butt wasn't firmly planted on the roof. For a moment I thought I'd be okay, but then I realized my weight and momentum was carrying me forward and *away* form the roof.

What probably only took a second, perhaps two, felt like it went on for 10 or 15. In a last ditch attempt to keep myself from plummeting to the brick covered yard below, I pumped my legs like I was riding a swing. But it was no use, no matter how I swung my legs or contorted my body, I was going down.

To this day, I distinctly remember seeing the ladder falling and bouncing below me on the ground, and thinking to myself, "Oh crap, I'm going to be headed there in a second." I remained pretty calm in my head, but my body pitched forward and those damned laws of physics, like gravity, turned my potential energy into kinetic, and my body into nothing more than a simple projectile, hurtling towards the hard brick ground.

Wendy was in the kitchen washing up some dishes and heard the commotion of the ladder falling a split second before I made my rapid decent to Earth. As she turned her head she caught a glimpse of my out of control body as I fell and simultaneously tangled myself up in the wreckage of the ladder. Talk about making a bad situation even worse.

People say that things move in slow motion when accidents occur, and this was absolutely the case here. But many people say they see their lives flash before their eyes. I didn't. Sure, this wasn't a near death experience, but it was a scary event. However, my life didn't flash before my eyes. But I do remember the two thoughts that flooded my mind during my very brief fall. They were:

1. Oh man, this might really, really hurt. Why did I pump my feet, if I had just jumped off I probably would have been find, but now I'm falling horizontal.


2. Wendy is going to be sooooo pissed at me because if I really get hurt I won't be able to finish the siding project before the painters come.

No joke, those were my two thoughts.

As I fell and made impact with the ladder and the ground, I braced my falling body with my hands, which really did a number on my wrists. I ended up spraining both wrists at impact, and I gave myself one of the worst Charley horses I've ever had in my life when I landed on the fallen aluminum ladder. But a little swelling, a lot of bruising, and the ability to continue on my DIY projects like I hadn't missed a beat isn't too bad after an eight foot fall off of the roof and onto a brick patio.

Wendy rushed to my aide, made sure I was okay, the proceeded to get rather upset with me.

To this day, now eight years after that brief "brush with death," I'm always far more careful when working on any roof. It doesn't mean that I haven't or won't have another accident, but it's at least reducing the overall risk.

Have you ever tried your hand at roof or gutter work? Or maybe you've had an unfortunate fall off a ladder or roof? If you're reading today, I assume you've lived to tell the story...but we'd love to hear your story in our comments.

Comments 8


Josh Shaffer
9/13/2013 at 1:05 PM
Imagining your fall while reading this made me laugh. :-)
This is precisely why I felt it important to share this story.
9/13/2013 at 4:52 PM
Loved this! But it could have been so much worse.... I'm always afraid *my* story of "what went through my head when" might involve a miter saw and my fingers.... shudder. Glad you survived!
Don't get me started on my irrational fear of cutting off my fingers. It's a serious paranoia of mine.
9/13/2013 at 7:24 PM
Is it inappropriate that I laughed at the image of your flailing legs? Sorry 'bout that.
I also had to look up 'charley horse' (good old Wiki even had the Australian translation LOL). Still we can all laugh when its not a bad injury thankfully. cheers
I wish Wendy has actually seen my flailing legs and known what was soon to come. I'm lucky it wasn't a bad outcome, it makes the visual so much easier to laugh at.
9/16/2013 at 7:33 AM
My dad was helping our neighbour with his roof, lost his footing on a 4 foot step ladder, and shattered one wrist, broke the other, and ended up with 15 stitches in his head. His shattered wrist had 6" pins in it for 4 months to piece it back together.

I've never been afraid of being on roofs. It's being on the ladders to GET to the roof that terrifies me. Your story and my dads only serve to cement my opinion :)
It's amazing what sort of damage short falls can do. I've injured myself far worse falling just a few feet than I did falling off the roof. I'll chalk that up to beginners luck.
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