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Posts Tagged ‘Gutter Helmet’

It is Time for a Better Mousetrap!

July 21st, 2010 No comments

I like to build companies from scratch. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment! If you have ever done it, you know how gratifying it can be. If you haven’t done it, I encourage you to try it someday. It’s hard but rewarding. It’s much easier to accept a job at an established company, buy into a franchise with a proven concept and customer base, or spin-off a hot product or service to form a new company. While there are aspects of this that are appealing, I’ve always enjoyed being the inventor, the creator, the guy who dreamed up the idea, built the product, technology or service and took it to market. The risks can be great, but so can the rewards. And it’s not just about money. It’s the idea of helping people, making a positive impact, being creative, resourceful, and solving problems that create many of the rewards.

So what does this have to do with gutter guards?

In 1996, I developed a Web site called GutterGuard.com. E-commerce was in its infancy. Ebay was just a year old. Google didn’t exist, and Amazon was figuring out how to sell books online. GutterGuard.com was a hobby, a sideline business, a way to earn extra income. We started out selling a gutter guard to homeowners across the U.S. and Canada. The site came along at a time when you could build it and they would come! There were only a handful of gutter guard companies in existence: GutterHelmet, Englert’s LeafGuard, Crane Plastics’ WaterFall, and a few others. In order for homeowners to access products from these companies, they had to agree to have them installed by dealers at a cost of $15, $20 or even $30 per foot. We thought this was outrageous. Our product, Cinch, now called “Solid Gutter Cover,” was a deal by comparison at $1.25 per foot. Homeowners would call and email us, they’d place orders online and by phone. We’d box the product in whatever quantities they wanted and ship it to them via UPS. We believed in the product so much, we gave homeowners 30-days to test and return it if they weren’t happy. If it didn’t rain for a while, we’d extend the return period until the first heavy rain. We knew the product worked and ultimately so did the homeowners who purchased the gutter guards from us.

During that same time, we began installing Cinch gutter guards on homes. We spent a lot of time on ladders and rooftops. We cleaned miles of gutter, and we installed a lot of product. We became subject matter experts very quickly. All of a sudden, we knew more about the gutter guards than the inventor who was a friend of ours. We would provide him with feedback and suggestions about how he could improve the product and grow the market. I remember sitting on the roof with my partner saying, ‘if we did this or that to this product, it would be a lot better.’ It’s been interesting to see so many products come onto the market. It appears that a lot of products have entered the market in much the same way we dreamed up improvements to the product we were selling and installing. Essentially, there have been a lot of “better mousetraps” developed. Some have been created by big corporations and many have been invented by gutter installers and frustrated homeowners. Many more gutter guards have been designed and patented than are on the market, and rightfully so because some designs are quirky and should never make it onto a production line.

What’s most interesting is that designs are mostly evolutionary and not very revolutionary. The first solid surface gutter guard, AKA reverse curve gutter guard was invented and patented in 1908 — 102 years ago! The same basic concept dominates the market today. You’ll find it in GutterHelmet and LeafGuard, Gutter Guardian and others. In 2003, LeafFilter was invented by Edward Higginbotham. Perhaps the first revolution in the industry in nearly 100 years, it was the biggest step towards creating the next generation gutter guard. Homeowners have responded positively since micromesh gutter guards entered the market. They do a better job keeping leaves and debris out of gutters. Higginbotham’s invention spawned a series of micro mesh gutter guards being developed from the likes of GutterGlove, Leaf Solution, and Mastershield (another Higginbotham design). I’ve tested and reviewed most of the micromesh screens, and they perform similarly well. Each has its pros and cons, but it’s the cons that bug me. I find myself asking rhetorically, “Why did they do that?” and the best answer I can come up with is that they didn’t know any better. Yet, these products sell like hot-cakes.

Why?

Perhaps homeowners are desperate for a solution that actually works — one that lives up to its promises and price-tag. They’re willing to “give it a shot” to see if this solution will be better than the last one they installed or the one their neighbors selected. And so I feel like it’s time for yet another “better mousetrap.”

My quest for a better mousetrap began in January 2008 — twelve years after I started GutterGuard.com. I woke up one morning and began sketching ideas for a new “revolutionary” gutter guard design — something the market had never seen before. I made a bunch of sketches, added notes and captions so I would remember the reasoning behind my inspiration; I dated the drawings and stuck the loose sheets of paper in my bedside table drawer. There they sat until June 2009 when I located and reviewed the drawings. What I found were nuggets of good ideas. As I learned more about other gutter guards on the market, I refined my ideas into something that I thought would work and be a winner in the marketplace. I listened to homeowners problems, I spent a lot of time analyzing other products, and I came to the conclusion that I could indeed build a better mousetrap.

And so my journey began…

Let it snow, ice and rain!

February 28th, 2010 2 comments

As the Vancouver Olympics wind down and snow continues to fall in many parts of the country, we still have time to talk about the affects of snow and ice on your gutter guards. Whether it’s a snow load weight concern, icicles forming on the edge of your gutters, or issues related to ice dams, homeowners face these problems across the US and Canada.

gutter guards snow and ice

Gutter guards tested in snow and ice

Snow and ice accumulating on top of gutter guards generally is not an issue that will jeopardize the function of your gutters or gutter guards. Icicles can be an issue along walkways and driveways because the dripping water off the icicles can form sheets of ice on the ground, so you’ll want to make sure to remove the icicles above doorways and salt the ground frequently in these areas until the icicles melt.

In the case of solid surface gutter guards, snow isn’t able to penetrate the gutters so as temperatures drop and the surface freezes, snow and ice will accumulate on top of the surface. In most cases, the inside of your gutters will remain relatively free of build-up since the guards are preventing most of the snow from entering into your gutters. The weight load is shifted from resting within your gutters to the top of the gutter guards. Standing snow is subject to melting and freezing with temperature fluctuations. As the snow turns into water during the day, it works its way to the front of the gutter guard. Some of the water will make its way into the gutter and some of it will drip off the edge. As temperatures cool and day turns to night, the water refreezes and forms a layer of ice underneath the snow and creates icicles off the edge of the guards.

Micromesh screen gutter guards have the advantage of a larger opening into the gutters because the screens are made up of thousands of tiny holes that draw water into the gutters. Even with the advantage of more holes, as water freezes, it will create a layer of ice over the screen that will prevent water from entering into the gutters, and icicles can also form at the front edge of the gutters. As temperatures rise and ice melts, water will once again be able to enter into the gutters through the tiny holes, and icicles will disappear as quickly as they formed. Snow will melt off the gutter guards before it melts off the roof surface.

Leaf Relief gutter guard

Leaf Relief gutter guard covered with snow and ice

Snow loads can be an issue on gutters, especially if they are not properly attached to the fascia boards. Assuming your gutters are properly secured, then most gutter guards will be able to handle the weight of snow and ice. Gutter guards that would be most susceptible to failure are lightweight plastic and metal screens from companies such as Amerimax, which supplies a variety of gutter guard products to big box retailers such as Lowe’s and Home Depot. The plastic screens are flimsy and commonly collapse under the weight of wet leaves and debris, so they don’t stand a chance in regions where heavy snow loads are an issue.

Professional grade gutter guards from manufacturers such as Gutter Helmet, LeafFilter, and GutterGlove will stand up to the weight of heavy snow and ice. Gutter Helmet, which is a solid gutter cover with a reverse curve design is attached to the gutters with a series of heavy duty brackets that attach to the fascia boards and hold the covers in place. LeafFilter is a micro mesh screen design that is held into place with the hidden hangers mounted within the gutters. Assuming the hangers have been properly installed and spaced along each gutter guard section, then the hidden hangers will carry the snow and ice loads on top of the screen. GutterGlove is another micro mesh screen gutter guard that is made of anodized aluminum. The product is very rigid and installs without the need for hangers or brackets. It is heavy duty enough to stand up to snow and ice loads without any problem.

If your concerns center around ice dams that form in gutters and can damage your home’s interior and exterior, read the following article from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst that explains the cause of this problem: http://bit.ly/baDTda.

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.