Cleaning gutters is a messy chore, but if gutters become impacted with debris, they can’t do their job. Additionally, if you have a clogged gutter, water cascades over the top, posing a threat to windows and siding, flooding the basement or crawlspace, and sometimes undermining the foundation.
If you’re weary of cleaning gutters, gutter guards can minimize the work you need to do. Gutter guards and leaf-catching systems prevent leaves and debris from making their way into gutters, while allowing rainwater to drain away. Many types are available, from simple wire screens to expensive extruded gutter lids with high-tech designs. Because the assortment is so broad, choosing the right gutter guards can be confusing. The following will help you make an informed choice.
Types of gutter guards
Most products fall into these generic types:
• Perforated or woven covers made of aluminum or PVC. These products, typically marketed in home centers and online as do-it-yourself products, snap onto gutters or tuck under shingles and serve as big strainers to prevent leaves from getting into gutters. Sold in straight lengths or rolls, they are relatively inexpensive — you can buy a 20-foot roll of plastic gutter guard for about $5, or get rigid lengths for $1 to $2 per lineal foot. They are far less durable and effective than more expensive guards because a considerable amount of debris can still pass through them.
• Micro-mesh screens or filters. Also like long strainers, but with much finer mesh, these allow water to flow into gutters but reject leaves and debris more effectively than perforated covers, however they’re a bit more pricey. Expect them to cost about $20 per lineal foot, installed. The fine mesh can become clogged if your roof material or trees give off granules or tar, or if your roof develops mold or moss.
• Solid-top gutter covers. At the more expensive and complicated end of the spectrum, you’ll find solid gutter covers. Most of these tuck under the shingles and have a nosing that curves into the gutter, so that debris falls away from the gutter’s lip while water is drawn into the trough. The exact design of the system determines its effectiveness, so a demonstration is almost imperative. Icicle buildup can be a problem in cold climates with many models. Expect to pay from $20 to $30 per lineal foot, installed. (Nearly all must be professionally installed.)
• Foam inserts and brushes. These inventive products are basically inserts that fit inside the gutter troughs but are made of a material that allows water to flow through them. When it comes to easy do-it-yourself installation, these products excel. You just stuff them into the gutters and, where necessary, snip the end pieces to fit. They’re excellent at rejecting leaves and controlling runoff. A drawback is that they can become permeated with debris over time, which may be visible from the ground. When this happens, you pull them out and shake them off. Prices run from about $4 to $6 per lineal foot, not including installation.
Questions to ask
The effectiveness of a particular gutter guard system will depend upon the material and slope of the roof, the climate, the type of leaves and debris that fall on the roof, your budget and more. Here are some important questions to ask when considering a particular product:
• How much does it cost? Prices can range from 30 cents to $30 per lineal foot, depending upon the material and installation requirements. When you’re quoted a price, be clear about whether or not installation is included.
• Can it be installed on an existing roof? Though most covers can be retrofitted to almost any roof, a few must be installed at the same time as the roof.
• How does it work? Study the system and ask to see a demonstration if possible. Some are great at blocking debris but also deflect a lot of water. Others allow too much debris.
• Will gutters ever need to be cleaned? If the answer is “no,” be wary. Eventually, debris will accumulate in nearly all gutters. If it doesn’t, the chances are pretty good that the gutter guards are going to spill off a lot of water, too. Find out how hard it will be to remove a guard in order to clean a gutter. With some screwed-down systems, removing the guards can make the original task of cleaning the gutters look easy.
• Do they have local references? Gutter guard companies servicing your area should be able to refer you to two or three satisfied customers you can call to verify the workmanship of the installers and the performance of the gutter guards.