With so many options for gutter leaf protection, it can be difficult to decide which one to use. To make things less confusing, I’m going to explain the different types of gutter leaf protection systems available to you.
Leaf protection systems or (leaf guard) fall into four main categories: gutter hoods, foam and other filler type products, wire mesh and expanded metal screen.
I wish there was a permanent solution to gutter cleaning problems however there is no such thing as maintenance free gutters. Gutter leaf protection is a good investment because it helps to keep your rain gutters clean and flowing freely.
There are around 40 different variations of gutter protection that I am aware of. There is no perfect system and they all do a good job at preventing large debris from entering the gutter system, they all create a new set of problems.
Below are my personal opinions and experiences with these products.
The solid cover gutter leaf protection system works by the principal of surface tension. They have a solid top and a curved front surface that leads the water downward and into the gutter.
Aluminum gutter covers or (gutter hoods) work well at preventing leaves and twigs from entering the gutter. However it is the very small leaves, seed pods and even dirt that finds its way into the gutters.
Eventually, this debris will need to be cleaned out. The problem is, once the cover has been installed, it is very difficult to see inside the gutter and much more difficult to clean it out.
Another issue associated with this type of gutter guard is that it makes a good home for insects like bees, wasps, and yellow jackets, since the opening of the nose allows for easy access and the cover keeps their nests dry.
You will have to periodically clean the nose of these gutter covers so that water will properly adhere to them, otherwise water will run off the top instead of curving around and into the gutter.
In order for the covers to work properly, the gutters must be installed lower on the facia than they normally would. This is so the cover can maintain the normal pitch of the roof. Otherwise leaves and debris will collect behind the gutter and cause a dam that will allow water to back up under the shingles resulting in structural damage. Most of these gutter hoods have a wholesale cost that is more than I charge per foot to install new seamless aluminum gutters.
Gutter filtering foam is a type of gutter leaf protection made from a porous material that fits inside the gutter, effectively preventing leaves and debris from entering. This gutter filtering foam is an ideal do it yourself product because it’s very easy to install but it does require maintenance.
Gutter filtering foam is fairly effective for about the first five years or so but eventually the debris will pile up over the filter and decompose, working its way into the filter and cause a complete obstruction. Again, these foam filters are more than twice as expensive as the heavy duty screens that I install.
These products are sold under names like: GutterStuff, GutterFilter, Leaf Defier and Flo-Free.
There are several types of wire mesh gutter leaf protection. The problem here is the fine wire mesh they use is finer than a tea strainer. It will not take long before the debris will cake over the mesh and cause a waterfall over the front of the gutter. These screens are great at preventing debris from entering the gutters but within a few years, they will not even let water pass through.
The plastic gutter leaf protection screen is a do it yourself product sold in most home improvement stores. This is a very light weight screen with no strength to support even a small amount of debris. I have removed these screens many times from inside the gutters they were supposed to protect. Once a few small twigs land on this screen, it will collapse on itself and create a blockage in your gutters. I would never install this.
A downspout strainer will keep your downspouts from becoming clogged. The problem, is they will become a magnet for every piece of debris in the gutter and in a short period of time, they will be covered with this debris and completly close off the downspout.
Just as with the downspout strainer, never install a leaf screen directly over a downspout opening. This is even worse than a downspout strainer. If you do, the debris will completely close off the downspout in a short period of time and cause the gutters to overflow.
Expanded metal gutter leaf protection screens (shown below), are the least expensive and most effective form of leaf protection I have found. Made from expanded galvanized steel, with a black powder coated finish which makes them very inconspicuous.
The preferred method of installation is to slip the back edge of the screen under the starter course of shingles, then hook the front edge of the screen to the front lip of the gutter and secure with zip screws.
These gutter screens allow for easy inspection and cleaning without removal. Just spray water from a garden hose right through the screen, flushing the debris down the downspout and onto the ground. These screens will keep out leaves, branches, pine cones and toys that will quickly clog your gutters.
I will not claim that these screens will keep out all debris, that's why I use larger outlets and always slope the gutter toward the downspout using a level. This allows the small amount of debris in the gutter to be flushed out when it rains. There is no perfect solution to the debris that will collect in the gutter, that is why it is so important that the gutters be easily accessable when needed.
Just because you have installed gutter leaf protection screens, don't think you never have to inspect or clean the gutters again. You still need to inspect your gutters on a regular basis and wash out the debris that makes it through the screens. You may also need to remove any debris that gets tangled up in the screens. It is especially important to check behind the inside corner splash guards for leaves and debris that may be trapped behind them.
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