Monday, 6 July 2015

Gutter Guards. Do They Work?

Cleaning leaves from gutters is an annual mess for any homeowner with deciduous trees. If you're lucky enough to have evergreen trees, cleaning needles from your gutters is an ongoing process--all year long. And even if you're not in a high-leaf/high-needle zone, your gutters will still slowly gunk up with particles from composite shingles, twigs, and dirt.

That's why inventors have tried to devise solutions that let water in but keep leaves out. New styles pop up regularly. And, man! Wouldn't it be awesome if they worked?

The downside of gutter protection

  • They are never maintenance free. Gutter guards still need cleaning.
  • Gutter guard installation can be expensive. It can cost anywhere from hundreds to several thousand dollars. 

Should you get gutter guards? Probably not. Some types should definitely be avoided. Others may simply not be worth the cost and effort. Let's take a look at a few of the most common types that we've been seeing out there.

Plastic Mesh

The simplest DIY and cheapest option: plastic mesh that comes in rolls. It sits inside gutters. It's cheap ($0.12/ft) and is pretty easy to install.

Unfortunately, it's practically useless. Plastic mesh will not keep your gutters clean, and will actually make the cleaning process more difficult. Debris will still get into the gutter, and the screen itself will need cleaning. Not to mention, this type of screen doesn't even stay in place well.  We just rip this stuff out when we find it. Avoid!

Gutter Filler / Filter

These products consist of shaped open-cell spongey material that fit inside the gutter leaving the bottom open for water flow beneath the filler. It's a pretty simple DIY project and on the cheaper end ($1.74/ft at Home Depot).

This foam will keep more debris out of your gutter, but maintenance is still an issue. The foam will require regular cleaning as debris piles up on top. And cleaning the tops of these filters becomes labour intensive as debris gets matted and clings to the surface. 

Metal Screen

The is a wide range of metal gutter screen. Metal screen sits on top of existing gutters. It is rigid, and once it is installed, it will stay in place because it is permanently affixed. Some versions employ micro-screen. This style CAN keep your gutters and downspouts from getting clogged. And this is good. But, these screens aren't cheap. ($7/ft or more!)

But are they effective? Well, yes and no.

As metal gutter screens generally have smaller holes (especially those with micro-screen), it is less likely that debris will make it's way into your gutter (though certainly not impossible: see picture below). But, with the smaller holes, you also increase the likelihood that the water itself won't get into the gutter either. This can happen in couple of ways: either the surface gets clogged up with debris. Or, if you happen to have a steep roof or valleys (where downward-sloping sections of roof meet and water runoff is heavy), the screen won't be able to handle that much water.

But will metal screens reduce the amount of cleaning needed? Maybe.

Metal screens will still need regular cleaning. The difference is that the debris will sit on top of the metal screen, rather than in the gutter itself. But, if you do end up needing to open up these screens to clean the gutters, you will have the added challenge of removing the screen.

Final Verdict

These are just a few of  the types of gutter protection out there.  Our official position is: some types of gutter protection MAY help keep your gutters cleaner. But your expectations have to be realistic and maintenance WILL ALWAYS be necessary. Perfect gutter protection, one that is completely maintenance free, does not exist.

In the end, regular gutter maintenance is often the best and most economical way to keep your gutters functioning. In fact, there is nothing more reliable than a real person cleaning the gutters, removing roof debris and evaluating the conditions of your gutter system routinely. Ultimately, there's no way you can avoid cleaning your eaves - regardless of whether you have gutter protection or no.