Archive for February, 2009

My gutters clog. Should I remove them?

February 23rd, 2009 No comments

Believe it or not, I have fielded this question many times over the years. It’s tempting and seems like it would be a cheaper alternative to continuously cleaning your gutters.  It’s true that removing gutters would eliminate a seasonal chore from your to-do list; however, gutters play a critical role on homes, and it will cause other headaches that are much more problematic and expensive to resolve.

When installed and working properly, gutters are the primary mechanism for moving water off a roof and away from a building’s foundation. This may not seem like a big deal, but moderate to heavy rainfall can produce hundreds of gallons of water around the perimeter of a home in a very short period of time. Not having gutters installed would mean that the water would simply stream off the roof, and it would seep into the ground at the point of entry. If your home has a basement or a crawl space, the water will find naturally occurring cracks in the foundation and enter the structure. If you have window wells, water can build up in the wells and seep through the window openings or broken seals around the window frames. In extremely heavy rains, as the ground becomes saturated, excess water will pool around the foundation until the ground can absorb it. The presence of this much moisture around a foundation can also lead to mold and mildew problems, which is costly to remediate, potentially hazardous to your home and health, and can negatively affect your home’s resale value.

The #1 cause of flooding basements and foundation damage is clogged gutters, so you can imagine that by not having gutters, you are creating a problem that is potentially much more damaging and expensive than cleaning your gutters on a regular basis or installing gutter guards, which can help remedy the problem once-and-for-all.

If you have been contemplating removing your gutters, don’t do it! If your gutters are damaged or are not performing as they should, have them replaced. If you don’t have gutters, and you live in most regions of the country where it rains on a regular basis, we strongly encourage you to add new gutters to avoid the problems mentioned in this blog. Make sure to consult with reputable installer to determine whether they should install 5″ or 6″ gutters. The larger the opening, the more water can flow through them, and the cost difference between the two sizes is negligible.

This is also the perfect time to install gutter guards; however, don’t assume your gutter installer will offer the best long-term solution or price. Take the opportunity to educate yourself about the different gutter guard options and talk with several dealers before making your final selection.

Is there such thing as a maintenance-free gutter guard?

February 11th, 2009 No comments

The short answer is maybe, but not likely. The reality is that most gutter guard systems will require maintenance at some point, and certain systems will require more maintenance than others. 

Take a look around your yard. How many trees do you have? What types of trees are they? What kinds of leaves and seeds do they drop in the spring, summer and fall? How close do the trees sit to your home? Once you answer these questions, then you can begin to figure out how often a gutter guard system will need maintenance and how you’ll get this accomplished. 

If you have trees surrounding your home, odds are that you’ll have to maintain your gutters and gutter guards more frequently. In addition to addressing how the trees affect your gutters, this is also a good time consider pruning tree branches away from your gutters and roof. By letting tree limbs dangle over your roof, you’ll be more likely to sustain roof damage from storms and your shingles may age prematurely from algae and moss build-up that results from too much moisture and shade. If you have fewer trees, or they don’t obstruct the gutters, then it may be less of an issue. The amount of air flow around your gutters can also play a role. If you have consistent winds, these can help remove debris that falls onto your roof and gutter guards. If there is little breeze, then it’s more likely you’ll have to occasionally sweep the gutter guard and roof surfaces.

The key is to find a gutter guard system that will cause you the least amount of ongoing maintenance. If you have pine or fir trees that drop needles, Oak, Maple, Ash and Locust trees that produce seeds and small leaves, then you’ll want to consider investing in a micro screen system.

Most gutter guard manufacturers offer warranties for their products against clogging. Clogging is generally defined as debris getting into your gutters, preventing water from flowing into the downspouts. Gutter guard dealers worth their salt will back-up the manufacturer warranties and be willing to visit your house to clean the gutter guards and gutters for you when they clog. The micro-screen gutter guards have the advantage of not allowing debris to enter the gutters, so you’re less likely to need to have these cleaned after they have been installed. However, warranties do not address build up on the top-side of the gutters, and this is something that you may want to discuss with the dealer before they install them. As a practical matter, some debris will stick to the gutter guard surface — especially when wet. In most cases, when debris dries, the wind will carry it away. Exceptions may be in valleys where large amounts of debris can collect. Depending on your tolerance and the height of the gutters off the ground, you may be able to sweep this debris off with a broom attached to a telescoping handle. You can also spray the gutter guard surface with a hose or leaf blower to remove loose debris and residue. The higher your gutters, the more likely that the wind will self-clean the surface for you. If your home is tucked away under a bunch of trees and you have a limited amount of wind at the surface level, then you may want to contract with your installer or a handyman to inspect and clean the gutter guard and roof surfaces as needed.

What may be maintenance-free for your neighbor may not apply to you, so be sure to find out how your installer handles these situations to ensure that you know what you’re getting into before you sign the contract to have your gutter guards installed.

To Gutter Guard or Not, That is the Question

February 2nd, 2009 No comments

Virtually all homeowners (and many commercial property owners) will be faced with the dilemma of whether or not to add gutter guards to their gutters. Unless you live in a neighborhood devoid of mature trees, you’ve likely pondered this question. That’s probably why you’re reading this blog! 

Ten or 15 years ago when there were few gutter guard products on the market, homeowners options were limited to a handful of porous gutter screens and solid (reverse curve) gutter covers. The screens were available at hardware stores and the solid gutter covers — whether incorporated into the gutter as a single piece or an add-on to an existing gutter — were available from just a handful of manufacturers, most of whom required dealers to install the gutter guards. 

It’s fairly well documented that the store bought screens don’t work, yet this was the most popular system available because the screens were inexpensive and relatively easy to install by do-it-yourselfers. While the gutter screens help for a short period of time, they quickly collect seed pods, leaves and debris and become a breeding ground for gutter muck and tree saplings that will sprout through the gutter screen openings. [If you want your gutters to look like the rooftop of Carrabba’s Italian Grill, then this look may work for you, but the intent of gutter guards is to keep stuff out of your gutters not become an incubation place for tree saplings and mosquitoes.] In order to clean the gutters, homeowners have to remove the screens, scoop the debris from the gutters and reinstall the screens. If you have the patience for all this, you’ll likely destroy or mangle many gutter guard sections when removing and reinstalling them, so the hassle-factor outweighs the convenience and performance. Even with a relatively modest upfront cost and several hours of your time to clean and install the screens, it doesn’t make much sense to go this route. In the end, you’ll be frustrated and looking for another solution to solve your problems.

In 1997, I started a company that sold and distributed a solid vinyl gutter guard on the Web. This product is now readily available at Home Depot and Lowe’s. It is a great alternative to store-bought screens because it is solid vinyl so leaves and debris cannot easily penetrate the guards, and it deflects most debris that lands on the roof. In fact, at the time, we believed that the solid vinyl gutter guard was every bit as effective as the pricier dealer-installed options, and is easier to deal with if you have to replace a section or eventually clean the gutters. This product features a relatively narrow opening below the curved nose with a series of slots that run horizontally along each section. This allows most water to get into the gutters, but it can be problematic in yards where trees shed small leaves, seed pods, pine needles, and “dirty” debris can easily clog the openings. While the openings can be power washed or cleaned manually, the combination of the small openings and the narrow slots may require regular maintenance if you have trees that produce and shed small debris. By contrast, if the leaves and debris from your trees are relatively large, then the solid gutter cover is an affordable solution that may meet your needs. Just keep in mind, if you go this route, invest in 1/2 inch stainless steel sheet metal screws so that you can secure the front edge of the gutter guards to the gutter lip. This will prevent the gutter guards from blowing off in high winds. It’s also important to cap the exposed gutter ends; otherwise, birds, squirrels, and other critters will build nests inside your gutters that will not only cause clogs but other problems, too.

The next option is dealer-installed gutter guards. Most of the gutter guards on the market are solid aluminum or vinyl and utilize a reverse curve technology. Originally patented in the early 1900s, there are several variations of these products on the market available from many manufacturers. Reverse curve systems are found under the brand names of LeafGuard, Gutter Helmet, GutterTopper and more. Each product has its own features that purport to make their system better than the next. They all use the core physical principle of “surface adhesion” that means water will be attracted to the gutter guards surface and will follow the path of the system into the gutter. Unfortunately, this also means that any debris that gets stuck to the guards can also enter the gutters. The openings of these systems tend to be wider than the solid gutter cover mentioned above, so you’re actually at greater risk of getting more debris in your gutters than the less expensive system, but the opening is less likely to clog. It’s also common in shady and wooded areas to see residue build-up on the surface and nose of these systems that will require occasional cleaning. Since the products are professionally installed, most dealers claim that they will clean your gutters if they clog. Knowing that their products are subject to clogging, dealers set aside dedicated time to clean gutters. If you live in an area with a limited number of trees, or the trees are farther away from your house, then this may not be an issue, and your decision to purchase one gutter guard over another may be driven by features and/or price. Another factor to keep in mind is that most of these products secure to your roof as well as the gutters. The advantage of this is that the guards maintain the same slope as your roof, but the disadvantage is that when you replace your shingles, you will have to remove these systems and reinstall them once the new roof shingles have been installed. You’ll want to factor this into your budget as a future outlay or, if you’re looking to put on a new roof in the near future, wait to install the gutter guards until after your new roof has been installed. 

The latest in gutter guard technology is the advent of the “micro-screen” gutter protection system, which came onto the scene around 2003. Essentially a hybrid between the classic solid surface system and the store-bought gutter screens, these systems use a sturdy stainless steel weave that doesn’t allow any material to penetrate the gutter guards. Even shingle grit (like a grain of sand), which naturally separates from asphalt shingles and falls into gutters, is too big to get through the screen. Two of the products — LeafFilter and Mastershield — were invented by the same person, and a third micro-screen gutter guard system is manufactured by GutterGlove. What’s the difference between these products? As best we can tell, not much. LeafFilter was the original product and, to some degree, we think it is the best because it’s the only variation that secures soley to the gutter. This will provide the best long-term fit because when you replace your shingles, the roofers will not interfere with the gutter system since it is self-contained. The disadvantage is that the LeafFilter’s slope may be a little less than Mastershield and GutterGlove since both of those products attach under the roof shingles; however, the slope tends to changes from one end of the gutter to the other, so the overall impact of the slope differential is relatively minor. 

Are micro-screen gutter guards subject to clogging either in the gutters or on the screen? 

Holes in the screens used on the micro-screen gutter guards are so small, generally only a human hair can get through them. It’s true that debris can collect on the micro-screen products as easily as it collects on the solid surface products, yet with thousands of tiny openings on the topside of the gutter, it’s more likely that water will penetrate the screen than the solid gutter cover. And with no openings into the gutter, it’s virtually impossible for all but the most microscopic debris to enter the gutters. If your trees shed high quantities of leaves, small debris, pine and fir needles, then a micro-screen is your best solution since they’re the only products proven not to clog. These products also tend to have the most comprehensive warranties.

There are other gutter protection systems on the market beside solid gutter covers and micro-screens. Since we have not tested them or seen them in the field, we’ll reserve judgement about whether or not these products work well over an extended period of time. 

There are many sound reasons to add gutter guards to your home. Clogged gutters are the #1 cause of leaking basements, drainage and foundation problems. If not addressed, leaks can cause flooding, foundation and interior damage, mold and mildew. While some homeowners insist on cleaning their gutters when they clog, this can be costly and impractical, especially when freshly cleaned gutters can clog within hours and overflowing gutters can cause problems in between cleanings. 

According to U.S. government issued statistics, 150,000 people are injured as a result of falling off of ladders and more than 150 people are killed annually. Whether you break a leg or wrist or sustain more serious injury, the cost of time off from work and a stay in the hospital far outweighs the investment in gutter guards that will ultimately provide you with more free time and enhance the resale value of your home. I recently met a man who fell off a ladder when cleaning his gutters. The day I met with him, his jaw was wired shut and he had two steel rods protruding out of his arm that connected to a third rod that was helping to fuse the bone in his arm together. While he is lucky to be alive, he told me that his hospital and doctors bills exceeded $500,000!

Today, you have many options from which to choose. The quantity and types of trees in your yard, your roof’s slope, roof type (shingle, tile, metal, etc.), and the types of trees and proximity to your home will determine the application that is best for you. Price will undoubtedly play a factor, too. With so many products on the market, we encourage you do your homework by comparing the reverse curve and micro-screen systems, ask to view the manufacturers’ warranties, and then select the solution that is best for you.