What We Have Forgotten About Victorian Gutters and Drain Pipes
Victorians were not traditional at all, they were masters of innovation and engineering limited only by the materials available to them. What they had, they adapted and used with inventive flair. They took old skills and evolved them in to new skills with no hang ups about age, a principle never more important today.
Their burning mantra was -:
IF WE MUST MAKE IT. THEN MAKE IT TO LAST AND MAKE IT ELEGANT.
Had the Victorians had access to cast aluminium as we do today, you would never have heard of cast iron gutters. We try to recapture TRADITIONAL HERITAGE, they made tomorrow’s heritage, which we are still copying but with little knowledge of the engineering principles they employed.
Consider Victorian gutters that have been correctly maintained, regularly cleaned and repainted. When they fail, it is because the material has finally corroded, not brought down by snow. Why, because they fitted them lower than we do today, the snow missed their gutters.
Gutter Brackets; Victorians fitted one either side of the joint, plus one in the middle. It is unusual to see this today.
Gutter Outlets; The Victorians knew if you multiply the drain pipe diameter by 100, that it gives you the maximum distance from any point on a gutter system to an outlet.
Most 63mm drainpipes are fitted 10 metres apart, where the maximum should be 6.3 metres. This is the reason why gutters overflow.
When I have asked architects what a hopper head is for, I get answers such as-:
“They are for ornamental effect.”
“So you can get more than one pipe to run in to one drain pipe.”
The above is true, but completely misses out on their true purpose. A hopper head fitted just below a gutter was the Victorian way of enabling their drain pipes in heavy rain to carry 66% more water. How I hear you cry? Water flowing from a gutter down a drain pipe only runs a third full. However, if you put a hopper head in the system with the outlet pipe from the gutter at least 100mm from the base of the hopper head in heavy rain fall the hopper head fills up with water and hey presto it becomes a syphonic system, causing the drain pipe to run full of water.
Drain Pipe shoes
How many times have you heard, “We do not fit drain pipe shoes, we run the pipe straight in to the gulley. It looks so much neater”?
It may well look neater, but it is not at all practical.
Drain pipe shoe are absolutely vital. Consider the points below, if no shoes are fitted at point 2
1) With shoes fitted, If the gulley blocks, there is a flood outside, not running down your building,.causing staining to your stone or brick work. Therefore you know about it straight away.
2) If the gulley blocks and it’s a very cold winter, the water in the drain pipe freezes and splits the drain pipe wide open.
3) If it’s raining and no water is coming out the shoe, it tells you your gutter is blocked.
So much basic information is lost without a shoe, simples!
On long stacks the velocity of water over chutes the drain, so the Victorians fitted anti splash shoes. Problem solved.
A picture of an anti-splash shoe
If you must fit a rainwater system-:
1) Have it made from the best material, Marine Grade Cast Aluminium.
2) Fit the gutters at the correct height.
3) Fit three gutter brackets per length.
4) Ensure that the stacks are not too far apart.
5) Fit hopper heads
6) Never ever miss off drain pipe shoes.
Mr Alex Paterson
Aged enough for experienced wisdom, driven by youthful zest. Not hampered by bureaucracy. A true Victorian Pioneer in innovation