Micro Screen vs. Solid Surface Gutter Guards: A Comparison – Part One

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  • Laurie Higgins

    I have a question rather than a comment. I have an old (1860) bank barn with a wavy roof. When it was re-roofed a few years ago, the roofer installed half-round gutters. Because of the wave, some of the gutters had to be placed almost a foot below the edge of the roof.

    Because of some water missing the gutters, the roofer came back and installed flashing between the roof edge and the gutters. This helped mostly. However the clip-on screens blow off and the gutters get clogged and that gutter is awfully high up and in a corner that’s hard to get to.

    During really heavy rains, the lower level of my barn floods. It comes in mainly through one corner – the corner that is the most difficult to get to to clean out the gutter or replace the screens.

    We’re looking into gutter guards or screens per your blog.

    I’m assuming at this point that I should be most concerned with water flow.

    Also is there any other solution to the gutter placement other than way below the roof edge? Would it work to do two levels of gutter – one at the roof edge that meets up with and flows into another gutter that’s sloped correctly to the downspout? That would make a shallow zig-zag.

  • Laurie:

    Thanks for your question. That’s a mouthful, but it sounds like you have a couple of issues that need to be addressed. The first and most important is gutter placement as it relates to the edge of the roof surface, and the second it finding a gutter guard that will stay in place while shedding leaves and debris.

    It would be helpful if you could email a photograph or two so I could see your particular application to put it into perspective. It may also influence what I’m about to say.

    Right off the bat, having gutters as much as a foot below the eaves will render the gutters virtually useless. Typically, gutters should be an inch to a couple of inches below the roof surface edge. This allows the water to flow in and larger debris to clear the gutters. While the contractor added flashing to steer the water into the gutters, this may not be a good long-term solution.

    I’d be inclined to contact a commercial roofer who has experience with larger structures and more complicated roofing and gutter systems. Your point about a tiered system may be the answer. The key is that you want the gutters to be as close to the roof edge as possible, so if this means that you have multiple sections of gutter at various heights along the run, this will be better than only a portion of your gutter working effectively. The gutters also have to be sized properly for the roof surface area of the structure.

    Did you know that a 6″ gutter handles 40% more water than a 5″ gutter?

    There are capacity issues to consider with any gutter system, so while the half-round system may be architecturally appealing, it may not be the most practical solution for your situation. Most flooding problems are caused by water that pools around a home’s foundation. Generally, this is attributable from having no gutters, clogged gutters & downspouts, or downspouts that are not moving water far enough away from a foundation. In your case, it could be the combination of these factors plus gutter placement, the size and/or style of gutters.

    You need to take care of the gutter issue before you address the gutter guard issue. Once you understand your options with gutters and placement, let’s reconvene to discuss gutter guard solutions that will help eliminate leaves and debris build-up in your gutters.

    Please let me know what other questions or comments you have, and send along some photos to info@gutterguardsdirect.com if you have a chance.

    Take care,

    Johnathan

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  • Tom Tusing

    Johnathan,
    I’ve installed gutter gaurd for years Including Leaf Filter The Product is good for a while but being PlasticIt tends to warp.I’ve been installing it correctly leaving screws loose so it can move during weather changes that is also a problem the screw is to be caulked in so when the body moves so does the screen and that inturn leaves the screen to be humped and no longer flat and the you have water run off and the tiger stripes begin and just think what happens to a plastic chair that you leave out for a couple summers it just becomes brittle. Just a little information thats been tried and tested for a few years

  • Dave

    I was impressed with the review on the micro screen systems. Everything I have read seems to say that the gutter protection industry is heading in this direction. The solid cover systems such as the Gutter Helmet and Leaf Guard have consistently had bad reviews no matter who is doing the comparisons.

    I’m surprised about the the Leaf Filter rating as they have about the same reputation as the Solid Cover Products. The screen mesh simply will not stay in the plastic frame and the frame isn’t durable enough according to some.

    I think the Gutterglove rating is the most consistent. Every rating I see shows them to be more durable and performs better in heavy rains. The Consumer Report evaluation shows they actually were the highest rated of the Gutter Guards.

    I think you are right on with the Leaf Solution evaluation. The three dips or fold have a tendency to trap the debris which will make it more maintenance intensive.

    I’m curious what you think of the new Gutterglove products. The Heated Gutter Guard (Ice Breaker) and the Gutterglove Ultra. Have you had a chance to review those products?

  • Fred

    Johnathan –
    I have been doing a lot of research on gutter protection. I am very interested in the micro-mesh screens that you and Consumer Reports both have tested. Like most consumers, I want the best product for my home, but don’t want to spend an arm and a leg doing so.

    Forgive my curiosity. I have a number of questions I hope you can address by the end of the month so I can pull the trigger on a purchase. In my opinion, anyone can review gutters covers, and write an opinion – but can you share with us the base line information such as where these guards were installed (town and state)? All on the same house? Same gutter run? Under the same trees? Most importantly – what was the pitch on the roof?

    You reviewed three products that use patents held by Alex Higginbotham (sp?), who I was told invented the micro-mesh screen technology: Gutter Glove, LeafFilter and Leaf Solution. But, like Consumer Reports, you left out his newest creation, MasterShield. Why? Do you not like it? Has it not been around long enough to review?

    Why is it so important to know how much water the guards can handle? Shouldn’t the goal be that the guard can handle as much or more water as the gutter itself?

    You also gave each cover the shingle grit test. If the micro mesh screen is 50 microns, no grit should get it since the majority of shingle grit is well over 100 microns in size. Just look at your photos for proof. But the item coming off a roof that will cause a gutter cover to fail — it’s the oil leaching from the roof product itself. Can you please let us know which systems clean themselves the best?

    As far as Gutter Glove — does this added weight really help? Is it too rigid to install? I would guess Leaf Filter’s plastic allows “give” so the cover is able to flow with the gutter and the non-perfect roof line, yes? Which is better? What about Leaf Solution? Do any of these products put the warranty of my asphalt shingle roof in jeopardy? What about other roofing materials like tile, metal, etc?

    Finally, thank you for your time and effort helping those of us make a decision about gutter covers. I personally appreciate it.

  • Fred:

    You certainly have done your research, so let me help you out with a little more detail.

    How much does it cost?
    Everybody’s budget is going to be different, but micro mesh gutter guards should be priced competitively with solid surface or “surface tension” gutter covers, which is how Consumer Reports classifies them. Gutter guard prices are generally determined by the dealers selling them, and their costs to provide the service are going to vary, so it’s hard to say what your price will be, but, after discounts, you should expect to pay anywhere from $13-$19 per foot for the best micro mesh gutter guards. Consumer Reports apparently paid the prices indicated in its report, so there may be instances and parts of the country where the price can exceed $20 a foot installed. Don’t be afraid to negotiate with the sales rep sitting across the table from you. Most dealers would rather strike a deal than walk away empty handed, so if you like everything about the product but the price, counter with a reasonable offer and see what happens.

    Who invented what?
    Alex Higginbotham is the inventor or products commercially known as LeafFilter and Mastershield. LeafFilter was the original micromesh screen on the market in 2003, and Mastershield came out about 3 years later. GutterGlove was invented by Robert Lenney of California, and Leaf Solution was invented by Evelyn Robins of Virginia. Higginbotham and Lenney have patents, and Robins has filed a patent for the equipment that manufactures LeafSolution rather than the gutter guard itself.

    Higginbotham was a gutter installer in Richmond, VA, who came up with a better solution. His first product was LeafFilter, which he licensed to a company in Michigan to produce and distribute. His second product was Mastershield, which is produced and manufactured by a company in New Jersey. Conceptually, the products are the same. LeafFilter incorporates an extruded PVC base into a stainless steel “micro” screen, which means that it has more than 8,000 holes per square inch. Mastershield uses a similar micro mesh screen laid over an aluminum roll-formed base. The aluminum base is light-grade aluminum coil, which is the same material used in the manufacture of gutters and flashing. The metal has holes punched in its base, which is how the water flows into your gutters. There are several physical differences in the products, but the chief reason that Higginbotham developed Mastershield was that it was easier and more cost-effective to manufacture, and it’s easier to install since it slides under the shingles instead of residing in the gutter.

    The guys who developed GutterGlove used to sell LeafFilter. Gutter Glove’s physical appearance is not unlike Leaf Filter in that it uses a channel system with a micro mesh screen that lays on top of vertical ribs. Screens on GutterGlove and LeafFilter are caulked into place. GutterGlove does this at the factory and LeafFilter relies on its dealers to do it on the job site. GutterGlove is extruded out of thick aluminum and LeafFilter is extruded out of heavy PVC. GutterGlove slides under the shingles and LeafFilter installs within the gutters and requires hidden hangers to support its base. It is recommended that both products are cut with circular saws with the appropriate type of blades, so neither is particularly easy to work with, but PVC bends easier than solid aluminum. Warranties are virtually identical and performance is similar.

    LeafSolution is similar to Mastershield, yet it uses an expanded aluminum base, which creates a diamond pattern in the metal. LeafSolution uses a series of 3 dips to slow the water flow while Mastershield has multiple bumps or waves to create the same effect. Mastershield and LeafSolution are among the lighter-weight products on the market because there isn’t much support in the base of either product. As a result, they may be subject to more damage from falling tree limbs and branches than LeafFilter or GutterGlove. You can easily cut them with tin snips.

    All the products mentioned attach to the gutter lip with sheet metal screws.

    The Tests
    The gutter guard performance tests were conducted on the same residential structure in Franklin, Tennessee (just south of Nashville). The gutter guards were put in the same spot at the bottom of a downspout. The roof angle was a 4/12 pitch. More info about the tests is included within the original post. My primary focus was on shingle granules and small debris rather than larger leaves and debris. If shingle granules cannot penetrate the screen, then nothing larger will penetrate it. Shingle granules can be a real pain and can contribute to gutters clogging, so I wanted to make sure that these products would eliminate or vastly reduce any obstacles that can get into the gutters. It can also be telling that if the surface retains the granules, what will it do with larger debris? While most debris should blow or wash off the micro mesh gutter guards, there were definitely situations with the micro mesh and solid gutter covers where the shingle granules did not wash or blow away. Regardless of product, if there were holes, dips or slots, granules penetrated and stayed in them and nullified some of the products’ advertised benefits.

    The next issue was water flow. The guards were positioned in an identical spot below a downspout that carried water from an upper roof surface, so during certain rains, the flow was quite strong. There was an upper limit to what the products could handle, but I cannot quantify that for you since there was not an easy way to measure the water flow. I can tell you that during the tests in 2009, we had one-day reported rainfalls of 4″-8″ in our area, and most of that rainfall was concentrated in a 1-2 hour window. We indicated in the prior tests that the products were subjected to varying amounts of rainfall, but we have found the overall performance of micro mesh gutter screens to be similar.

    There is a limit to how much rainfall a gutter guard can handle, but you hope it will be a non-issue because most gutter guards should handle most water most of the time. Water becomes an issue when the gutters or screens clog with debris, which can happen quickly or over time depending on the type of gutter cover that is installed on a home. Solid gutter covers are more prone to having water flow over them because there is less open area for the water to flow into the gutter, and they’re more likely to allow debris to get inside the gutters. If the water flow is strong enough, some water will roll around the nose into the gutter and some water will roll off the top onto the ground below. However, there are other factors such as tree sap, pollen, and air pollution that can impact how much water flows into a gutter.

    We didn’t test Mastershield because it wasn’t readily available to us at the time. The same could be true for Consumer Reports. Frankly, I was surprised at how few mid-grade to upper-end gutter guards they actually tested. My guess is that they will broaden future reports with more products.

    You raise an interesting question about oil leaching off asphalt shingles. This occurs with the finest screen, but it seems to be concentrated in areas of the roof with the greatest water flow, where you are more likely to swap out fine screen for a coarser mesh. For instance, it can occur when a downspout dumps water onto an asphalt shingle roof where a large volume of water moves across the shingles before it lands on the guards. I have seen this in action, and I have seen it stick to the screen in my tests. When the oil-tar residue is wet, you can easily wipe it off; however, it will not self-clean. If it hardens, there’s not an easy way to remove it from the screen. It can happen in cold or hot weather. It’s not an issue along a typical span of gutter, which makes up the bulk of an installation, and I don’t believe it’s a reason to rule out purchasing micro mesh gutter screens because it potentially affects a small total of the overall installation area.

    To avoid the oil leaching problem, you can request a screen with larger holes (most dealers offer it) so more water and oily residue will pass thru the screen at the base of a valley or below a downspout. You can also extend the downspouts into the gutter instead of letting them dump onto the roof surface. Extending downspouts into the gutter will help you avoid this issue, it will allow you divert the flow of water off the roof surface, and it will extend the life of your shingles.

    Gutter guards that are installed under the shingles should not have any impact on your roof warranty. I believe this could be more of an issue with systems like GutterHelmet that are mounted to the top-side of your shingles. Years ago those systems used to be nailed into the shingles, and I’m sure the shingle manufacturers didn’t approve of that practice. I would be surprised if gutter guard manufacturers haven’t altered their installation methods in order to comply with shingle manufacturers’ guidelines, but you may want to check with your shingle manufacturer to make sure that you’re okay to proceed.

    I hope this helps. If you have any other questions, please let me know.

  • SHARON FOWLER

    We installed the fiber gutter guards 5 years ago. This fall we had so much run over
    so crawled up there to see why. the 4 ft. sections were so full of debris that they would not accept any water. So that means the stairwell to the basement had water running
    down. I really thought these guards were going to work but am stuck now with $700 worth of fiber that is useless
    Sharon Fowler