The Difference Between a Gutter and a Downspout

In any industry, there are items that people not within that industry may mix up terminology for.

When this occurs, the person whose industry is in the middle of this verbal confusion will most often become quickly perplexed.

An example of this may be say if you were a firefighter and you bumped into someone that, for whatever reason, referred to a ‘fire hydrant’ as a ‘hose’.

There is a good chance the firefighter might be left scratching their head as clearly a ‘fire hydrant’ is a ‘fire hydrant’ and a ‘hose’ is a ‘hose’.

As funny as it may seem, throughout the few decades of my involvement in the home improvement industry, I have consistently run into this scenario with folks in conversation with me describing the two most major components of their home’s gutter system.

The two major components of your home’s gutter system are your ‘gutters’ and your ‘downspouts’.

For some unknown reason, quite often people seem to refer to their ‘downspouts’ as ‘gutters’ when talking about their gutter system.

For a long time, this really was as confusing to me as having someone refer to a ‘fire hydrant’ as a ‘hose’ to a firefighter, as a ‘gutter’ and ‘downspout’ could not be more different.

Over time, as I began to notice this pattern, I have worked my very best to clarify what someone was describing as their ‘gutter’ while speaking with me about their gutter system and this puzzling reference is made.

To break it down:


– Run horizontally (parallel to the ground)

– Are used to catch water off the roof and funnel it to different places around the roofline


– Run vertically (perpendicular to the ground)

– Are used to catch the water from the gutters, take it down the side of the home, and direct it in some manner of fashion either into the ground or into an “elbow”, etc. carrying/spreading it away from the house

I have no idea why the reverse never seems to happen – people calling a ‘gutter’ a ‘downspout’.

It is always people calling a ‘downspout’ a ‘gutter’.

This most often occurs when discussing painting the home and people asking if we are going to take the ‘gutters’ down.

Occasionally when this happens, the person at the crux of the conversation is asking if we are going to take the actual ‘gutters’ down.

Most often, however, they are inquiring about the ‘downspouts’ being taken down prior to painting and not the ‘gutters’, but they will keep referring to the ‘downspouts’ as gutters unless the true context is drawn out.

If you are at all familiar with gutter systems, you can imagine how problematic this might be if the true meaning of what the person is asking is not established.

While taking down a downspout and re-hanging it is a relatively easy thing to do, taking down a gutter and then re-hanging it (making it sure it is pitched appropriately and the like) is a monumental endeavor.

Truly taking someone for their word in these types of situations could lead to a nightmare of a scenario, particularly if the contractor took what the client was saying at face value and started getting into the business of taking down their entire gutter system, when all that was necessary for the task at hand was taking down the downspouts.

I’m sure there are numerous cases where these types of situations occur in every industry on a daily basis.

If nothing else, this scenario underscores the popular saying “words matter” probably as well as any example one can come up with.

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