Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gutter Protection, Does anything really WORK?


Do those gutters with tops really keep leaves and other debris out of your gutters? Are they maintenance free? If you don't need new gutters, do the screens and toppers that you add to existing gutters work? What should I know before I buy?

There are three main types of gutter protection.

1: Mesh screens. These are basically metal screens that resemble what you see on wrought iron patio furniture. They are slightly flexible and fit on the gutters either by friction or by screws. This is by far the least effective system for protecting your gutters. I've seen a lot of these become loose over time or they are completely missing altogether due to high winds. When you have Maple trees that release those "helicopter" seed pods, the large end with the seed tends to get stuck in the screening and they won't come out unless you pull them out! So much for maintenance free! The will also let small leaves and other debris through which can clog the system.

The home above has the mesh style leaf guards that have come loose and actually trapped leaves inside the gutters! So much for protection!

2: Solid covers. These are the ones that are always advertised as being maintenance free, have no clog guarantees, etc. These are usually the most expensive of all the options. Basically, these are designed to let the leaves flow over the gutters while the water flows into the gutters. Sometimes they require new guttering to be installed, but not always. In theory, it's a good idea, but in practice things don't always work out as advertised. These systems are usually attached under the first row if shingles using nails or screws.

When they do clog, there is no easy way to find the problem since you can't see inside the gutters. Also, since they are so inaccessible, it is a great place for insects, such as wasps, hornets and bees to make their homes. Mosquitoes also love the moist environment caused by a clog. While many of the installers offer free cleaning, you only know there's a problem when it's too late! Why do you buy these again?

3: Foam Fillers. These are relatively new to the gutter protection market. The brand I know and have experience with is Gutter Filter, but there are others. They are an open cell foam insert that install inside your existing gutters. When correctly installed, they prevent leaves and debris (no matter what size) from getting inside the gutters. The foam is very porous and will let water pass through very easily. Sometimes leaves may sit on top of the foam, but eventually they will either wash off or blow off. Some of the inserts sit flat across the top of the gutters, others form a dome and rise above the height of the gutter slightly. I prefer the taller material since it allows less debris to collect.

Here is a picture of what the product looks like when viewed from above the gutter.  Of course, this is just a sample, the real thing will not have any gaps and the end of the gutter.  Also, there IS a screw bracket in this piece of gutter, it is completely hidden by the product.  You'd have a similar appearance if your gutters have the large spikes.

If you were looking face to face with your gutters, this is what you would see. 

Here's the "cutaway" view.  Water is allowed to flow through the product and will flow unobstructed below the filter for quick drainage.

BEWARE!  I saw a lookalike product at a local hardware store this weekend.  It looks similar, but the feel of the foam and density of the product are completely different. 
BOTTOM LINE: do your research and get several opinions! Different homes require different solutions. Just like windows, everybody makes the best product available! Disregard all of the hype, not everyone out there is looking out for your best interests. Check the installers rating with the Better Business Bureau. Remember, when it comes to gutters and leaf protection, there really is no such thing as "maintenance free." Plan on having your gutters inspected once or twice a year until you're comfortable with the performance of your guttering and the installed protection system. I know there's a lot to consider, but I hope this helps!


Heather said...

My gutters currently look like the hanging gardens of Babylon. I really need to find someone brace enough to scale a ladder to clean them.

Bill the Painter said...

You're not supposed to grow things in your gutters! Actually, a couple of mine looked like that a couple of weeks ago. Not really a fun job, but I haven't had my gutters replaced yet. One of these days...

If I can help, let me know.