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What is a Scupper?

By Eric W. Herman
Updated May 16, 2024
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A scupper is best known as a maritime term that refers to an opening cut through the bulwarks of a ship that allows water on the deck of the ship to flow overboard. Virtually all ships, as well as boats large enough to have decks above the waterline, are made with some form of scupper. These often include flap or ball designs that enable water to flow off of the decks, but not back into the ship should the scupper opening dip below the waterline in high seas or rough waters.

The word scupper also refers to a fitting or opening in the parapet or gravel stop of a level roof that allows rainfall or snow melt to drain off of the roof. This can help prevent leakage or structural damage to the building below. Sometimes scuppers are connected directly to rain gutters and downspouts. In other cases, they extend beyond the surface of the outer wall, creating a flow of water away from the building.

Generally, a scupper can be any opening that allows water or other fluids captured in a containment vessel on one level to flow outward to a lower container or body of water. In many settings, they are part of designs known as water-in-transit systems. This phrase refers to a system where water flows from one level to another for either decorative or functional purposes.

Many scupper designs include some form of conductor head — the structure where water or some other type of fluid is collected — and a weir or spout — the passage through or over which the fluid flows and is transmitted to a lower level. Scuppers can be massive structures, such as the overflow channels used in reservoirs and dams to prevent flooding, or extremely minute, such as chemical reservoir systems used in pharmaceutical manufacturing. Also, scuppers are commonly used on bridges and highways to prevent structural damage and to conduct standing water away from busy thoroughfares.

Scuppers of various types are also used in decorative applications, such as swimming pools, fountains, decorative troughs, and reflecting ponds where water moves in transit from one level to another. The size, shape, and materials of these scuppers are often designed to combine with the appearance and sound of moving water to create specific architectural and design effects. Scuppers can be made from any number of materials, including stainless steel, plastic, polymers, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), bronze, copper, sheet metal, marble, and other types of stone.

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Discussion Comments
By runner101 — On Jul 20, 2011

@aLFredo - I can't imagine a scupper sculpture either as I had only known about, seen boat scuppers.

They are very simple designs, as described in the article the ones I have seen are circular with a vent for draining or a flap. Nothing worthy of a sculpture! But then again I didn't know scuppers were used for decorative purposes in swimming pulls either!

I didn't know there were more scuppers out there until my roof was replaced and they discussed my roof scuppers, they suggested I replace my old scuppers with new metal scuppers the next time I needed to replace my roof so that I would have better drainage.

By aLFredo — On Jul 19, 2011

@Saraq90 - I laughed a little when you said ornate scupper. The scuppers I deal with on a regular basis are in no way ornate! So no I have not seen a scupper sculpture, but I would like to see that!

I work with houses so I see roof scuppers and wall scuppers. They are simple metal products that are used for draining that we must install with care to ensure proper draining.

I had heard scupper was also a boat term so I thought I'd check it out! Now that we have scuppers for sculptures, scuppers for houses, I wonder what boat scuppers look like...

By Saraq90 — On Jul 19, 2011

Scuppers may be my new favorite word. It just rolls off the tongue! We have a beautiful and interesting sculpture in our downtown area between two tall buildings behind an ornate gate and now I am wondering if it doesn't hold a purpose beyond being ornate.

A scupper by definition can be a draining mechanism. I will have to look closer at the scupper detail to see if it is just ornate scuppers that they have put together to simply make a scupper sculpture with water constantly flowing over it.

Either way I think it is a beautiful addition to our downtown area, because it acts like a fountain and looks like a waterfall it adds a little nature to the city-fied streets! Has anyone else seen this in their downtown areas?

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