Not all homes need a gutter system. Gutter systems may not be needed in an arid climates and areas not subject to periods of heavy rains.
The rest of us need a good system to collect the storm water that lands on our roofs and directs the collected water away from the house. We need such a system in order to help reduce water and moisture damage to our homes. The wetter the climate the more we need a properly functioning gutter system. Water that collects next to the foundation of a house will tend to find its way into some part of the structure and that can cause water and moisture damage.
Modern homes are designed to conserve or "trap" energy. That's good. But in the process, such homes can also trap moisture and that can cause big problems and costly damage. For example, if the soil around the foundation is soaked from roof drainage water, we can assume that at least some of that moisture will find its way into the basement, crawl space or the concrete floor. Some of this moisture will then be absorbed by the air in the home. If this occurs in the winter time, we can assume that the warmed air in the home will absorb a great deal of moisture (warm air can absorb more moisture than cold air). If this moisture saturated air finds itself into some spaces with cold surfaces - and it will, then some of this moisture will condense against these cold surfaces. This can happen at windows, attic plywood and inside exterior walls, etc.
Condensation at windows may just be bothersome, but in attics and walls it can cause fungal wood-rot and that can be very expensive to repair. A good gutter system helps to control the amount of water and moisture that gets into a structure. And that, in combination with various types of venting system, can prevent the damage from trapped moisture.
The Roof - It takes a well designed roof to drain all of the storm water into the gutters or roof drains.
The Gutter - The gutter (or roof drain in some flat roof) needs to be designed to capture all the roof drainage and direct the water into the downspouts.
The Downspouts - These are the pipes that carry the water from the gutters to the drain system.
The Drain System - This is the in-ground set of pipes the leads the water away from the structure and into a storm drain or on site system.
All roofs and gutter system will need some maintenance, but with proper planing it is possible to reduce that chore to a minimum. Here is how:
I have looked at all sorts of "magic" gutter systems and have found very little magic in any of them. But I have now found a system that keeps almost all dirt from clogging gutters, downspouts and drain systems. LeafFilter is designed to prevent needles, roofing granules, leaves and other debris from clogging gutter systems. Its stainless steel filter is rugged and makes the removal of debris from the roof easier. LeafFilter isn't magic, its just a darn good gutter protection system.
And so I am very pleased to have LeafFilter NW as a sponsor of The Sound Home Resource Center! - George
And every 6 months or so, go out during a heavy rain and look at your home from all 4 sides. What you want to see is very little. You want to see that all of the water landing on the roof disappears into your gutter system.
I like the idea of rain barrels. Well designed rain barrels can capture roof drainage water. This water can be used for various needs and may save water. Depending upon the composition and condition of the roof and gutter system, such water maybe quite clean.
But most of the rain barrels I see tend to have a large intake port and a small overflow drain. This means that when the rain barrel is full, the overflow is dumped onto the ground next to the foundation and this defeats the purpose of your gutter system.