Also known as built-in or integral gutters, Yankee gutters are a drainage system used in many homes and public buildings dating back to the 18th century. Rather than the exposed metal gutter systems that are commonly employed with contemporary building projects, these gutters were incorporated into the cornice structure along the roofline and thus were not easily visible from the outside. While this design worked very well with a number of elaborate building designs, the gutter system is not considered the best option for modern buildings.
The earliest examples of Yankee gutters employed a combination of wood and metal to construct the body of the system. Wood was used as an external element to construct the shell for the gutters, while sheets of metal were used to line the interior. The gutters usually made use of a sloped bottom to help expedite the flow of water through the gutter. While various metals were used for the interior lining, copper emerged during the 19th century as a favored option.
While relatively efficient, these gutters often require frequent repairs. Regular inspection of the metal liner is one of the best ways to prolong the life of the gutters, as the metal helps to protect the wood box from mildew and moisture. Signs that there is likely some damage to repair includes paint peeling off the facing of the gutter, darkened sections of the wood that is moist to the touch, or damage to the masonry surrounding the gutter system.
One method of repair that should never be employed with Yankee gutters is the application of roofing tar to any holes or weakened spots in the metal lining or the wood body. While the tar does temporarily prevent further leakage, the fix is only short-term, and will only further corrode the metal over time. The end result can be a repair problem that is far more advanced than the original issue.
The subtle installation of Yankee gutters means that the cost of repairs is often substantially higher than with modern gutter systems. Many historic buildings originally designed with this gutters of this kind are maintained with restored gutters rather than going with a new system. Doing so helps to preserve the original appearance of the building and also offer a point of interest for anyone who wants to learn more about construction methods from centuries past.
Most contemporary construction no longer incorporates a Yankee style of gutter construction. An exception would be new buildings designed in a period style such as Federal or Georgian, or additions to older buildings that utilize Yankee gutters as part of the drainage system.