Let’s face it, who really enjoys cleaning their gutters? Hauling heavy ladders around, mucking out leaves, pine needles and mud, perching precariously from roof edges — there are definitely better ways to spend a Saturday afternoon. But if you don’t keep up with it, the result can be clogged and ineffective gutters and downspouts, overflowing rainwater and even an increased chance of ice damming.

With that in mind, a number of manufacturers have invented a variety of products that seek to eliminate that particular maintenance headache. Generically known as gutter guards, leaf guards or gutter screens, as well as by a number of specific brand names, they all share a common goal — to allow water to enter your gutters while at the same time blocking all the debris that the water carries with it.

While there are a variety of styles and designs, gutter guards take one of two basic forms — perforated styles and surface tension styles. Perforated styles are basically just pieces of perforated or woven metal that sits on the top of your gutter. The principal is simple — water flows through the holes in the guard, but debris is too big to get in. They work fine for most leaves and also catch a large portion of needles, but they do allow smaller dirt to filter through. When enough leaves or needles build up on top of the screen, it becomes ineffective and needs to be cleaned.

Surface tension styles are higher tech and generally seem to work better that the simpler perforated or slotted styles. The typical surface-tension gutter guard fits over the top of your gutter and almost completely encloses it. The guard is formed so that one or more curved waterfall-like lips run the length of the gutter and roll slightly backward, toward the house. There are slots or holes between the curved lips or between the lip and the face of the gutter.

The principle here is that as water flows across the top of the gutter guard, surface tension makes the water cling to the surface with sufficient tenacity that it will flow over the backward-curved lip and into the gutter. Debris on the other hand can’t make the same bend over the lip and into the gutter, and instead is propelled off the top of the gutter guard and down to the ground.


There are lots of gutter guard styles and materials out there to chose from and while each one touts itself as being the ideal solution, the truth is that individual results will vary depending on the style and pitch of your roof, the amount of rain and snow you get and the type and quantity of debris that typically reaches your roof. So, when it’s time to go shopping, here are some questions to ask:

Who does the installation? Some products can be purchased and installed by any homeowner or contractor, while others can only be installed by factory-authorized dealers.

What is the installed cost? Some gutter guards are quite inexpensive, while others can be just the opposite. You want to know exactly what the installed cost will be — which includes the cost of hiring someone to install them if you buy them and don’t want to do the work yourself. Once you have that cost, compare it what it would cost to have a professional gutter company come out once of twice a year and clean your gutters for you.

Will it work with your existing gutters? Not all gutter guard styles are compatible with all gutters, so be sure you check on this before making a purchase.

Will it work with your existing roof and roofing? Some gutter guards will not work will with very steep or very flat roofs, or with some types of roofing materials. Again, be sure of the compatibility with your existing roof pitch and type of roofing before you buy.

What are the maintenance requirements? Few things are truly maintenance free. Find out what additional maintenance will be required, and if the company claims their product is completely maintenance-free, ask for a money-back guarantee in writing should that prove not to be the case.

What about ice and snow? If you live in an area that is subject to snow and ice buildup, be sure to check whether the gutter guard can be damaged by that or whether it contributes to ice buildup and ice damming.

How about warranties and references? If you are having a contractor do the work, be sure to ask for license and insurance information, references and a written warranty.

For more information, some companies to contact include: Gutter Helmet, www.gutterhelmet.com, 1-800-543-4202; GutterWorks, www.gutterworks.com, 1-888-376-6871;  K-Guard, www.kguard.com, 1-800-435-4356; Rainhandler, www.rainhandler.com, 1-800-942-3004; and WaterFall, www.water-fall.cc, 1-888-326-2638.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paul2887@hughes.net.

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