If you have a roof, you probably need gutters. The standard vinyl or metal troughs are functional (at least for a while), but not beautiful. They require maintenance, as leaves and debris collect in them and clog them up. They also can be damaged by sliding snow and ice dams. Alternatives to this home maintenance burden do exist.

Beautiful Options

Choose copper gutters if you're fine with the gutter concept but not the utilitarian look of the standard gutter. Copper gutters and their fancy leaderheads (near the top of your downspout) add lovely detail to the exterior of your home. Copper gutter systems can be purchased ready made or custom built at your home.

Chains and Cups

Japanese rain chains, or kusari doi, are a gorgeous replacement for a downspout. These chains or cups guide the water from your gutters to a rain barrel or rock drain. They're available in styles that actually are fancy chains, or a series of cups shaped like flowers, bells, fish and dozens of other decorative designs.

Guards, Hoods and Helmets

Even if you decide to use conventional gutters, you can make maintenance easier by putting a lid on them. Several manufacturers sell gutter covers designed to let rain water into the gutters, but force leaves and debris elsewhere. They can be simple, such as a special sheet of nylon foam fitted into your gutter, which is still pretty ugly. They can be a durable screen, which looks a little more appealing. The most attractive are fancy metal covers specially designed to guide the rainwater into a narrow slit where debris can't follow.

No Gutters at All

Consider a rain dispersal system. These gutterless alternatives replace gutters and downspouts. They work by breaking rainwater up into tiny droplets and guiding these to fall away from the house in a gentle shower. Two companies, Rainhandler and Rainbreakerz, use different designs to accomplish this. One uses a perforated plate running along below your roof where the gutter used to be. The other uses a set of louvers in the same location to accomplish the dispersal. They also claim that debris won't collect in these nor will ice dams form in the winter.

Consider the Cost

As you will soon discover when you begin exploring alternatives to standard gutters, every option but the usual is more costly. Keep this in mind when deciding whether or not to get fancy on the edges of your roof.