Seamless Gutters: Rolling Metal Into Money
By Sock Woodruff
Back in 1929 Cole Porter wrote a song called “What Is This Thing Called Love” for the Broadway musical Wake Up and Dream. Many people have recorded it, including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Wynton Marsalis.
Making a giant leap from consideration of the sublime to the eminently practical, let’s ask, “What is this thing called seamless gutter?” and see if it could be a stepping-stone to the realization of your dream of independence and self-employment with a company of your own.
Rain gutters have been a part of building design for centuries. They are positioned below the eaves of the roof. For this reason they are sometimes called eave troughs. When rain runs down your roof it will fall to the ground, possibly dripping on the exterior walls, perhaps splattering mud, maybe leaking into your basement, and very likely eroding your yard.
All of this can be fixed with a rain gutter or eave trough. It collects the water as it runs off the roof, directs it down through a downspout, and dumps it onto splash blocks on the ground that direct the water away from your house.
Virtually every home needs rain gutters. They were originally made of wood. Later they were constructed of galvanized steel or copper, usually in a half-round or U-style gutter. For some time now the most popular material has been aluminum and the most popular shape the K-Style gutter.
If you have experience in the construction business, or if you have good manual skills, you can probably learn how to make and install residential gutter systems.
Sections of gutter and downspouts were once made from sheet metal and assembled as a gutter system to a house. The ends of sections were joined together with snap-in-place connectors. However, every such seam was potentially a leak point.
About 100 years ago a technology called roll forming was developed. It allowed thin sheets of metal to be formed into complex shapes. Almost 60 years ago people began applying roll forming to the manufacture of rain gutters. After the development of the seamless gutter machine it was possible to make a section of gutter of whatever length was needed, thereby eliminating the seams or joints between the ends of sections. The seamless rain gutter was born.
Gutter material is sold in coils. For example, aluminum stock is available in various thicknesses from 0.019 inch to 0.032 inch and is painted on one side. A coil will typically weigh in the range of 300 to 400 pounds or more. It is mounted on the portable gutter machine, which is 8- to 10-feet long and is normally installed inside a truck, van, or trailer and brought to the worksite.
The drive system of the gutter machine pulls the flat material through a series of stages. At each stage rollers and guides inside the machine shape, bend, and fold the material. Out the end comes a fully formed gutter at about 30 feet per minute. At that speed you can produce the seamless gutter you need for an average job in 4 minutes.
Although the material is fairly thin, the finished gutter is quite strong because of its shape. Think about what happens to paper when you turn it into a straw. Many parents have helped their school-age children build model bridges out of paper soda straws.
There are several markets that a seamless gutter contractor can serve—one is new construction, another is remodeling. Established contractors in the remodeling business average about 2.5 gutter jobs per day. With one crew, working 48 weeks per year (no weekends) that’s as many as 600 jobs per year.
Now, a contractor can buy his gutter, downspouts, and elbows from somebody else, and just do the installation, or he/she can buy their own seamless gutter machine and make his/her own seamless gutter. The cost per foot to make seamless gutter with your own machine is significantly less than the cost of buying equivalent material from a supplier.
Industry data indicates that the average American house requires about 120 feet of rain gutter. The trend is toward larger homes which require even more. In an article authored by Mark Ward, Sr., he quotes a financial projection done by a sales specialist for one of the gutter machine companies. He concludes that the savings in your material cost for “make-your-own” vs. “buy from a supplier” gutter would pay for the cost of a new $6,800 machine in 30 to 37 working days.
As a contractor you can probably sell galvanized seamless gutter to your customers for about $5 to $10 per linear foot. Aluminum gutter will probably sell for between $5 and $9 per linear foot. At a median value for aluminum gutter of $7/foot x 120 feet/job x 2.5 jobs per day—that equals $2,100 per day potential gross income for one crew.
Starting any business is a complicated process and involves many factors. You have to sell your product, deliver a quality product on time, and successfully hire and supervise other people. Also, the construction business involves both seasonal and cyclic variation—you aren’t going to be able to have your crew fully occupied 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year. But if you learn the trade, work hard at selling your product, and deliver a quality product, this is a business in which you can develop and prosper. You can truly “roll metal into money” with your own seamless gutter business. Give it some consideration in your search for your tomorrow.
Sock Woodruff is founder and partner of GutterSupply.com