Home > Gutter Guards 101 > Micro Screen vs. Solid Surface Gutter Guards: A Comparison – Part One

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

 

Over the past several months, I have been putting gutter guards through a basic test to see how much water they can handle and how they handle debris — small debris. The gutter guards were subjected to everything from light rain to torrential downpours. On one occasion, we had a rainstorm that dropped 3″ – 8″ of rainfall in several hours, with approximately 4″ rain in our test area. It’s fair to say that this was a good test environment to observe how these products handled water flow and small debris.

Here’s the scenario: 

* Gutter guards were placed below a downspout that feeds from an upper-roof onto a first floor roof surface with asphalt shingles. This is the sole downspout for a roof section that is approximately 300 square feet. The building on which the guards were tested is 3-stories. The downspout feeds from the 3rd story to a roof on the first story, so the flow rate is quite strong during a heavy rain. 

* I tested four micro-screen gutter guards and three solid surface (reverse curve) gutter guards that were interchanged in the area below the downspout opening. The micro screen gutter guards included LeafFilter, GutterGlove, Leaf Solution, and DiamondBack gutter covers. I compared these to solid surface (reverse curve) gutter guards from LeaFree (note one “f” not two), Elko GuttaPro and the solid vinyl gutter cover (formerly known as Cinch) available at Home Depot and Lowe’s.

* My interest was to learn how much water the gutter guards could handle and if there was a dramatic performance difference between the brands.

* I also wanted to see how they handled shingle granules. Why shingle granules? Primarily because granules are small and naturally separate from shingles. When shingle granules enter the gutters, they can impede the flow of water and any debris that flows into the gutter, ultimately causing clogs. Most homeowners don’t even think about shingle granules (aka “shingle grit”) as being an issue, but it is. 

* For this test, I didn’t care about leaves and larger debris. I’ll do future testing in a more conducive environment.

Here are my observations:

LeafFilter Micro Screen Gutter Guard

LeafFilter Micro Screen Gutter Guard

 

LeafFilter – The granddaddy of micro-screen gutter guards, LeafFilter features a PVC base with surgical grade stainless steel micro-screen insert. LeafFilter fits directly in the gutter as opposed to sliding under or sitting on top of the shingles. The product rests on top of the hidden hangers in the gutters. The concept is that since it is independent of the shingles, it’s not impacted if you decide to change your roof shingles in the future. It has a built-in slope to help coax debris off of its surface. The screen is 50-microns, which translates to approximately 8,100 holes per square inch. This is small enough to keep all debris — including shingle granules — out of your gutters.

LeafFilter handles water very well and, like the other micro screen gutter guards, it will handle considerably more water than solid surface gutter guards. In one of my tests, there was an upper-limit as to how much water it would handle, but the odds of you experiencing that amount of water during a typical storm is very unlikely. Coupled with the fact that the water flow was amplified many times since it was below a downspout carrying water off of 300 sq. ft. surface area — the manufacturer would recommend a more open screen for this area — you’ll be pleased with LeafFilter’s ability to absorb most water in most conditions.

On the design front, shingle granules don’t stand a chance of penetrating your gutters. A bead of caulk holds the screen into place at the top and bottom edge of the screen. This keeps the screen firmly in place and it also can help to act as a barrier to slow water at the bottom edge of the screen. Most shingle granules will wash off or be blown off the screen.  

GutterGlove Micro Screen Gutter Guard

GutterGlove Micro Screen Gutter Guard

 

 

 

GutterGlove – GutterGlove is the sturdiest gutter cover I tested and on the market, I suspect. GutterGlove, like LeafFilter, uses a micro screen of approximately 50 microns. It is made of rigid, heavy gauge aluminum with a stainless steel screen. The screen is attached at the top and bottom edges with a factory-applied bead of caulk. Gutter Glove slides under the first course of shingles. The angle of the gutter guard is dependent on the roof pitch. In our tests, its angle was probably 1-2 degrees steeper pitch than LeafFilter and virtually identical to Leaf Solution. 

While the test conditions for Gutter Glove were not as rigorous — it didn’t rain as hard while testing this product — I have no doubt that it will handle a comparable amount of water to LeafFilter and Leaf Solution gutter covers. What I found interesting, however, was that the screen is recessed approximately 1/8″ below the upper and lower edges of the guard’s frame. This creates a bit of a debris trap for small particles such as shingle granules. During my tests, the granules shifted around the screen, and after one strong thunderstorm, some of the granules and other small debris had washed off the screen, but more debris remained on Gutter Glove than I would have anticipated. While most small debris would have a chance of washing or blowing off LeafFilter, it’s more likely that one would have to hose off or sweep debris off GutterGlove based on its design. With that said, lingering shingle granules and pollen likely will not affect Gutter Glove’s performance over time.

 

Leaf Solution Micro Screen Gutter Guard

Leaf Solution Micro Screen Gutter Guard

 

Leaf Solution – An interesting design, Leaf Solution is made of a lighter grade aluminum — similar to gutters — with a stainless steel micro screen, and it slides under the first course of shingles. Leaf Solution uses a 50-micron screen and, unlike LeafFilter and GutterGlove, the screen and frame are integrated together so that no caulk is required to hold the screen in place. This provides the smoothest transition at the top and bottom edge of the screen. Leaf Solution throws in a few more design features with three “dips” within the screen to help slow water flow across the surface. While it’s an interesting idea, this design feature didn’t appear to offer any additional water handling capabilities in my tests, and it acts more as a debris trap than anything. Because of inconsistencies in the manufacturing process, the dips tend to have a bit more of a gap than the design likely called for, and it became an instant haven for shingle granules and other small debris. While you may not see this from street level, granules will fill the gaps; however, I didn’t see any evidence that this would impact Leaf Solution’s performance. On the other hand, if the gaps were supposed to add rigidity to the guard, it doesn’t work. Leaf Solution is the flimsiest of the micro screen guards tested. My primary concern is that if a falling branch lands on a section, it could easily damage or deform it, and it would have to be replaced.

DiamondBack Micro Screen Gutter Guard

DiamondBack Micro Screen Gutter Guard

 

 

 

DiamondBack Pine Screen – DiamondBack gutter guards are offered in many styles. I have tested a few, but for the purpose of this comparison, I selected the pine needle screen which is made of a stainless steel micro-screen. Not as tightly woven as LeafFilter, GutterGlove and Leaf Solution, it is still more than adequate to keep shingle granules out of your gutters. The fact that the screen is more open, it theoretically can handle more water than the other micro-screen products; however, the screen is wrapped around an open expanded metal frame, and this causes water to spill over the guards during heavy rains. Whereas the other products have closed PVC or aluminum frames, DiamondBack doesn’t offer the same level of protection so water has a tendency to pass through the openings towards the gutter lip.

DiamondBack rests in the gutter and sits on hidden hangers or the older spike and ferrule system. From a design perspective, it’s relatively easy to install. Simply squeeze the back and front of the metal base and lock it into position. The bad news is that this creates an arc in the middle of the screen with both a forward AND backward slope. This is an issue if your shingles do not encroach into the gutters. If the shingles do overlap into the gutters, then the shingles will cover up most of the backwards slope. If not, then this wouldn’t be a good option because debris would get trapped between your roof edge and the guards. The manufacturer does offer an alternative installation method which addresses this issue. Because of its expanded metal frame, DiamondBack is a very solid product, yet it is relatively easy to work with. Another concern is that the metal base has a tendency to rust when chipped or cut, and these rust spots can transfer to the stainless steel screen. I’m not sure how this will impact the product (it has a 20-year warranty) or it’s appearance over time, but it’s worth noting that the manufacturer suggests that installers use spray paint to cover any exposed metal areas during installation!

Results

The water handling capabilities of LeafFilter, GutterGlove and Leaf Solution were virtually identical. The common denominator was that each screen offered a very similar looking 50-micron screen (8,100 holes per square inch). Due to DiamondBack’s open design — all screen with no frame at the top or bottom — caused more water to spill over the gutters during heavy rain. This spillover was in the form of water dripping off the bottom of the gutter, and the amount of water varied based on the intensity of the rainfall.

The other tested factor was how well the gutter guards shed shingle granules. In this case, the nod goes to LeafFilter primarily because the screen sits flat against the base and the lip over which the granules need to roll off offers little resistance. On our gutters, DiamondBack performed similarly to LeafFilter since the shingles covered the back arc of the guard. The shingles provided enough coverage to allow for a forward slope towards the gutter’s edge; however, if you don’t have the benefit of shingles or a metal roof overlapping into the gutter, DiamondBack may prove to trap more debris between the roof edge and gutter than any of the tested products. Gutter Glove’s relatively high framework kept granules from easily rolling off the screen surface. Leaf Solution held the most granules on the screen surface because its three-dip design acts as much as a trap for the granules as it does a speed bump for water.  

Next up, solid surface gutter guards…

  1. Laurie Higgins
    March 16th, 2010 at 06:13 | #1

    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.

  2. March 16th, 2010 at 10:32 | #2

    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

  3. Tom Tusing
    August 24th, 2010 at 19:44 | #3

    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

  4. Dave
    September 1st, 2010 at 19:33 | #4

    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?

  5. Fred
    September 8th, 2010 at 05:32 | #5

    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.

  6. September 8th, 2010 at 17:53 | #6

    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.

  7. SHARON FOWLER
    January 2nd, 2011 at 09:18 | #7

    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

  1. September 19th, 2009 at 14:15 | #1
  2. August 4th, 2010 at 15:26 | #2