If you’ve noticed a lot of debris in your gutters, chances are you don’t have gutter guards already installed on your home. Gutter guards are a strip of metal, mesh, or screen that prevents debris from entering and clogging your gutters. One of the questions we get asked the most is: Do gutter leaf guards really work to keep gutters clear so that rainwater is diverted and drains away from the home and roofing system?
The answer isn’t as simple as you might think. Whether gutter leaf guards work or not often depends on how well they are installed and maintained. While gutter guards won’t completely keep your gutters clear of debris, they do a great job of reducing regular gutter cleaning.
When gutters (and downspouts) become clogged with leaves, twigs, and needles, the debris prevents the gutters from draining effectively. During a heavy rain event, water can begin to pool on the roof, submerging the roof sheathing below. That can result in some expensive roof repairs or a roof replacement.
Clogged gutters can cause other areas to break down and rot, including fascia boards, rafter tails, and soffits. The most significant risk lies with the fascia boards, which hold the gutters in place. If the gutters become too heavy and the fascia boards have weakened due to water damage, the gutters can actually fall off.
Clogged gutters can also lead to water damage to the framing of the home and the ground below. Controlling the flow and rate of the rainwater is vital to successfully using gutter guards. We’ll discuss gutter guards in further detail so you can make the right choice for your home and situation.
How Do Gutter Guards Work?
Gutter guards connect to the top opening of the gutter with either a hinge, clip, or friction. Gutter guards come in several designs (discussed below) engineered to deflect or filter the water before entering the gutter.
Some gutter guards filter the water through a screen or mesh, while others attempt to control the flow using gravity. Other types of gutter guards cover the entire top of the gutter. These essentially prevent anything but water from entering the gutters, deflecting leaves and other debris to the ground.
The newest gutter guard design, known as micro-mesh, filters out small debris and deflects larger debris. Many of these micro-mesh gutter guards are installed with compression, as opposed to mechanical fasteners.
Gutter guards can greatly reduce the causes of gutter clogs, like leaves, twigs, and needles. However, most will require regular maintenance to remove the debris they catch. All gutter guard designs work to some extent, but they eventually require cleaning and inspection.
Here’s a closer look at some common gutter guard designs:
Screen Gutter Guards
Another common question many roofers get is: Do gutter screens work? Many are very simple in construction but perform very well.
Screen-type gutter guards are often made from galvanized steel, aluminum, or vinyl. They are usually screwed or clipped to the back and front edges of the gutter opening and hinged for easy cleaning.
- Moderately easy to install
- Can be installed on an existing gutter system
- Inexpensive to purchase
- Available with either metal or vinyl screen
- More discreet
- Screen design may still allow narrow debris, like pine needles, to pass through, preventing water from draining
- May become dislodged during heavy winds or storms
- Requires regular cleaning
Mesh Gutter Guards
Mesh gutter guards provide a similar filtering function to screen-type gutter guards, but mesh gutter guards have a more fine filtering mechanism. Some contain micro-mesh, which contains more dense fibers.
These effectively filter small debris, like shingle granules and insects.
- Generally considered the best design for efficiency and maintenance
- Does not clog easily, leading to fewer cleanings
- Material is UV resistant and will not degrade over time
- Easy to install and clean
- Hidden from view
- Relatively expensive compared to screen gutter guards
- More difficult for a Do-it-yourselfer to install, requires professional installation
- Harder to modify and conform to various gutter shapes
Foam Gutter Guards
Foam-type gutter guards are often in the shape of a wedge, designed to maximize filtration while keeping the flow rate high. Foam gutter guards are great for first-timers because they are inexpensive, reliable, and easy to install.
- Inexpensive to purchase
- DIY friendly
- Hidden from view
- Relatively short useful life compared to mesh or screen gutter guards
- Requires frequent cleaning
- Degrades quickly in sunlight
Brush Gutter Guards
Brush gutter guards resemble a long tube brush installed inside the gutter. Brush gutter guards are moderately inexpensive and very easy to install and maintain.
- Easy to install
- Inexpensive to purchase
- Available in both durable metal or vinyl bristles
- Hidden from view
- Brush design may still allow narrow debris, like pine needles, to pass through
- Requires regular cleaning
- Clogs more quickly compared to other types of gutter guards, requiring more frequent cleanings
Reverse Curve Gutter Guards
Reverse curve gutter guards are the most complex design in terms of installation. They work just like water slowly being poured from a cup. If the cup is held at just the correct angle, the water will flow down the outside before falling to the ground. Something similar occurs with reverse curve gutter guards.
- Once installed correctly, it requires minimal maintenance
- Prevents any large debris from entering the gutters without causing a clog
- Lowers the risk of ice dams forming if you live in a cold climate
- Expensive to purchase and install
- Not hidden from view
- Not a DIY project
- Either works perfectly or not at all
Are Gutter Guards a Good Idea?
Adding gutter guards to your home can be an effective way to manage your gutters and keep them in good condition. However, please note that gutter guards are not an end-all solution.
Gutter guards are designed to catch leaves and other debris, but you still have to clean them out regularly to keep the gutter guards functioning correctly.
Gutter guards can help prevent the clogs that cause pooling water inside the gutters. In the summer, pooling water is one reason mosquitos and other insects flourish. Reducing pooling water also means reducing the mosquito population.
Why Do You Need Gutter Guards?
Before gutter guards were available, a homeowner had to climb a ladder or pay someone to use a gutter shovel to scoop the gunk and remove the debris clogging their gutters. Homes with deciduous trees nearby often suffered the most, as gutters could become plugged in a single day in the fall.
It was back-breaking work, leading to accidents. Cleaning gutters from above is often the fastest method, but it also forces the homeowner to work below their feet, which can be very fatiguing.
Thankfully, gutter guards are designed to reduce much of the physical labor involved. But you still have to clean the gutters periodically.
Some of the debris found in gutters is actually decomposed plants (like seeds) and granules from the shingles. Gutter guards either filter out much of this material or deflect it safely toward the ground.
The debris can become tinder on a scorching roof if left to accumulate. Any spark or airborne ash from a nearby fire can ignite the debris, creating a fire hazard. To learn more about how your dirty roof can be a fire hazard, read the University of California’s wildfire management guide.
For many homeowners, gutter guards are a blessing, especially for multi-story homes that are difficult to reach. Gutter guards are designed to prevent the problem from occurring rather than making gutters easy to clean.
Most gutter guards still require periodic inspection, but some gutter guards, like reverse curve gutter guards, low maintenance.
Here are a few of the benefits of installing gutter guards:
- Protects the home from water damage
- Helps avoid mold
- Reduces pests
- Reduces potential fire hazards
- Conserves time and energy spent cleaning the gutters and downspouts
- Saves money and hassle
- Avoids frequent gutter cleaning and repairs
- Improves curb appeal and value
What Are the Limitations of Gutter Guards?
Despite their many benefits, gutter guards have a few limitations and are not a cure-all for clogged gutters.
For example, if deciduous trees hang over your roof, gutter guards can only help so much. The leaves will be channeled elsewhere once the gutter system is full or overwhelmed.
Here are some other things to consider regarding gutter guards:
Maintenance and Cleaning
Gutter guards prevent debris from clogging your gutters and downspouts. They do this by either filtering away debris large enough to cause a clog or deflecting the debris away from the gutter. Both methods can be labor intensive, as one requires frequent cleaning, and the other can cause erosion to the landscaping below.
Severe clogging problems multiply during the spring and fall months. Moss and algae can grow in a poorly draining gutter system in the spring, blocking the path of water. In the fall, twigs, leaves, and pine needles have the same effect, effectively preventing the water from reaching the downspouts.
Incompatibility With Gutters and Metal Roofs
Some continuous gutter designs don’t work well with standard gutter guards because they have an unusual shape. Most gutter guards are designed for “K” style gutters. Trough (also known as half-round) style and box style gutters have a more traditional shape and may allow debris to pass due to the ill-fitting gutter guard.
How to Choose and Install Gutter Guards
Here are a few things to consider when choosing which gutter guard works best for your home.
If your budget ultimately dictates which gutter guard type you choose, “K” style gutter guards will be your best option. These are designed for maximum functionality at a minimal cost. However, “K” style gutter guards aren’t unique, so they do little to add curb appeal to your home.
If how your gutter guards look is a concern, choose one of the hidden styles, like mesh or foam. Reverse curve gutter guards are tall enough to have a profile, so they are typically visible after installation.
Choose your gutter guards based on need first and appearance second. If your gutters get an excessive amount of debris, reverse gravity curve gutter guards may be your best option, as they rarely require cleaning.
Which Is Better: DIY Installation Or Hiring a Professional?
Hiring a gutter guard specialist to install your gutter guards is the best option if you can do so. The service is not expensive, yet it may save you time and effort. It might also prevent you from having an accident. If you want to try installing your gutter guards, the following is listed in order from the easiest to most difficult for a Do-it-yourselfer.
Brush-style gutter guards are the easiest to install. Simply lay them in the gutters per the directions. Just lift the brush out and shake it into a trash bag to clean.
Foam-style gutter guards may require slight modification to the length, so keep a utility knife handy. Foam-style gutter guards don’t usually require as frequent cleaning as the brush version. When you do clean them, however, the process can be tedious.
Mesh gutter guards come in a few varieties, so select the installation method you prefer. Most have a clip-in or fastener system attached to the top of the gutter opening. The non-mounted version is easier to clean but might be more expensive because the mesh is more delicate.
Screen-style gutter guards are usually mounted on the back and front edges of the gutter. Some use built-in clips, while others require a fastener, like a pop rivet. The clip versions are easier to clean because you can easily detach, clean, and re-attach them.
As mentioned earlier, reverse curve-style gutter guards are not recommended for DIYers. These gutter guards require precision installation or may fail to work.
Do Gutter Leaf Guards Really Work?
Gutter guards can be an effective way to reduce the cleaning of your gutters and downspouts. Adding gutter guards can help manage a small debris problem while avoiding costly water damage.
If your days of scooping gunk out of gutters are behind you, contact our gutter guard professionals. Our team has the tools, experience, and training to clean your gutters and install the perfect gutter guards for your home.
We offer comprehensive roofing system services and can install gutters, siding, and roofs on homes in most areas of the continental U. S., including New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, California, Texas, Washington, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and more. Contact us for a free estimate.
Is there a downside to gutter guards?
Yes, there are two. The first is the initial expense of purchasing the gutter guards, then the effort to install them. Regular cleaning and inspection are required to keep the gutter guards functioning properly.
Can gutters get clogged with gutter guards?
Yes. Some gutter guards are better at deflecting leaves and pine needles than others. Screen-style gutter guards are notorious for allowing upside-down pine needles to get stuck in the screen, eventually clogging the gutter.
Do gutter covers cause ice dams?
They can if the gutter guards are the screen type. Screen-style gutter guards can be crushed under wet, heavy snow. This can cause the gutter guards to collapse into the gutter, blocking it. Then additional ice can form an ice dam. The National Weather Service provides an excellent illustration of this.