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Consumer Reports Reviews Gutter Guards: LeafFilter & GutterGlove are Top Picks

August 4th, 2010 10 comments

After years of requests and complaints from Consumer Reports magazine readers, subscribers will be pleased to see that this non-profit product rating organization has finally tested and reported on nearly 20 professional-grade and do-it-yourself gutter guards. Check out the following video to learn more:

It’s no surprise to us that the micro-mesh gutter guard systems from LeafFilter and GutterGlove were top picks. We have found these systems to be superior to solid surface gutter guards both in their ability to handle water and keep leaves and debris out of gutters. (See our July 2009 review)

What we found shocking was that Consumer Reports recommended inexpensive Amerimax gutter screens available at Home Depot, Lowe’s and other home improvement stores as a viable alternative. In fairness to Consumer Reports, it appears from the video above that its test environment wasn’t overly rigorous, which may explain the products’ favorable results. I believe most homeowners who are in the market would agree that the flimsy plastic and metal screens available for under a buck-a-foot are, at best, a Band-Aid approach to solving gutter clogging problems. Any meaningful amount of leaves and debris accumulating on top of these screens and within the gutters will render them useless or more trouble than they’re worth within a relatively short span of time.

Only in America would somebody be able to pass off what amounts to a triangular sponge and oversized pipe-cleaners as gutter protection systems. It surprises me everytime I run into homeowners who believe these products are possible good solutions. It was obvious to Consumer Reports that the foam and pipe cleaner-like inserts are not worth the money or the hassle, so maybe this “official voice” of consumer products reviews will serve as a warning to homeowners across the land to stop buying this stuff!

We receive a lot of inquiries asking about the cost to have professional-grade gutter guards installed on homes. According to Consumer Reports, the average home has 160 feet of gutter and the cost for a professionally installed system ranges between $3,000 and $5,000. In rough dollars, that puts the installed cost at $19-$31 per foot. For that you will receive a lifetime no-clog guarantee and product warranty in addition to having your gutters cleaned and adjusted before the products are installed. In our experience, those costs are on the high side; however, we have also heard of instances where gutter guard dealers attempt to charge as much as $40 per foot! It would be interesting to see if Consumer Reports negotiated the prices they paid or if they simply agreed to the retail prices suggested by the dealers. Generally you should be able to get the top-rated products $15-$20 per foot installed. Prices are going to vary based on the size of your home, how many levels it has, and the level of competition in your market.

To see the results, go to ConsumerReports.org.

Consumer Reports Tests Gutters Guards in September 2010 Issue

August 4th, 2010 No comments

Editor note: The following is a copy of Consumer Reports press release announcing its first-ever testing of gutter guard systems. We removed the section summarizing leaf blowers from the press release.

Consumer Reports Finds Lower Prices and Comparable Performance on Leaf Blowers and Gutter Guards in Time for Fall Spruce Ups

Strong Selection for Shoppers Ranging From DIY Gutter Systems and Top Electric Leaf Blowers

YONKERS, N.Y., Aug. 3 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The latest issue of Consumer Reports rates the best leaf blowers and gutter guards to ensure that yards and rain gutters are tidy for the Fall season. More than 2,600 pounds of leaves were blown away by testers to reveal a $60 Toro electric leaf blower that performed comparably to the more powerful and costly gas blowers. Gutter guards were exposed to 480 days of outdoor elements and the Amerimax gutter guards were a top pick for do-it-yourselfers. At .30 cents per foot they beat out many professional installed systems and could save homeowners cash.

“Consumers will find lots of confusing promises out there for leaf blowers and gutter guards,” said Bob Markovich, senior home editor for Consumer Reports. “We found several top-value blowers for both small and larger properties. And we found some big differences in gutter guards when it came to keeping out leaves—and keeping water where it belongs.”

The full report, which features the full ratings on gutter guards and leaf blowers, appears in the September issue of Consumer Reports and online at www.ConsumerReports.org.

Gutter Guards: DIY Systems Beat the Pros

Consumer Reports ran 16 months of outdoor testing to find the best systems to keep gutters leaf free and found that a low-priced screen may be all it takes. Tests included professionally installed and do-it-yourself products sold at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and other major retailers to see how well they kept out maple leaves, pine needles, and other gutter-cloggers.

Consumer Reports testers saw some big differences among types of systems. Most professionally installed systems often use a surface-tension design, where water is supposed to cling to the surface and flow into the gutters while leaves pass over and fall to the ground. Though all were impressive at shedding debris, even the top-scoring LeafFilter screen was only middling at containing a severe downpour.

If homeowners want convenience it will cost them. At $20 to $30 per foot, the professionally installed systems tested would cost $3,000 to $5,000 for roughly 160 feet needed on an average-sized home. But homeowners will pay less than $100 if they install the CR Best Buy Amerimax 85198 or 854054 themselves. They’ll still save a bundled if they add in the roughly $100 to $500 a contractor will change to put in a do-it-yourself system.

Most do-it-yourself gutters guards were easy to install although it’s likely to require climbing on a ladder—a dangerous activity. For inserts, simply cut the foam or bend the brush and press it into the gutter. But none of the inserts were good at keeping out debris. The Raingo RW115 let water pour out over the sides of the gutter.

How to Choose

Inspect the rest of the gutters. Have a pro check for clogs, corrosion, broken fasteners, proper pitch, and gaps between connections and between gutters and fascia boards. The LeafGuard and K-Guard are all-in-one systems that include the gutters and guards, an option if existing gutters are worn.

Pick the right screen. Fine-mesh screens like the top-scoring LeafFilter and Gutterglove Pro outperformed screens with larger holes. But the Gutterglove was relatively pricey and hard to install and isn’t meant for flat or gambrel roofs.

Check the fine print. Be sure that any system won’t void a roof or gutter warranty. Also check suggested maintenance. LeafFilter may need brushing in high-pollen areas and Amerimax must be checked for debris; both of those steps mean climbing a ladder or calling a pro.

Play it safe. Ladder injuries are linked to approximately 200 to 300 deaths and an estimated 200,000 emergency-room visits each year. Use a sturdy Type 1A extension ladder made of fiberglass if working near electrical lines. Always face the ladder when climbing and descending and never go beyond the highest recommended step or reach more than 1 foot to either side of the ladder.

SEPTEMBER 2010
Consumers Union 2010.
SOURCE Consumer Reports
http://www.consumerreports.org

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.

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

July 20th, 2009 10 comments

In Part One of our comparison, we tested micro screen gutter guards from LeafFilter, GutterGlove, Leaf Solution and DiamondBack. In the second half of our test, we’ll look at solid gutter covers from LeaFree, the Solid Gutter Cover that’s available at Home Depot, Lowe’s and hardware stores, and Elko’s GuttaPro. The products were selected because they represent three price points in the market. LeaFree is available from home improvement, roofing and gutter contractors, GuttaPro is also sold through a dealer channel, and the Solid Gutter Cover is a do-it-yourself gutter guard available at most home improvement retailers.

Solid surface gutter guards work similarly to one another by using surface adhesion/tension as the basic principle of physics. The premise behind the design of these products is that water adheres to the solid surface of the gutter guard and flows around a nose into a slot that is near the front edge of the gutter. The products have many different designs that purport to one up the next, but they all work in a very similar fashion. The easiest way to describe this is that the guards work in the same way as putting a drinking glass under running water: the water adheres to the glass and follows the curves until the water drops into the sink.

Now that you have a basic understanding of how solid surface gutter guards work, let’s jump into the reviews.

LeaFree Solid Gutter Guard

LeaFree Solid Gutter Guard

LeaFree – The most industrial strength of the solid surface gutter guards tested, LeaFree is made of heavy gauge aluminum and is available in several colors. The guard installs under the first course of shingles and goes into place relatively easily. LeaFree is secured to the gutter lip with sheet metal screws. The LeaFree profile is considerably higher than the other guards and screens we tested. The gutter guard has a channel that runs horizontal with each section at the rear of the guard. The top surface of the guard sits surprising flat, and the nose curves around to a relatively wide opening into the gutter. Prior to installing the guard, we thought the rear channel was the first point of contact with water that flows off the shingles; however, the channel actually sat under the shingles, and it appeared that this channel was in place more to stop the back-flow of water that occurs because the top of the guard was flat. If the top of the guard had a forward slope, then this addition channel would likely be unnecessary. 

LeaFree handled a decent amount of water, but as the flow increased under our downspout, approximately 20-30% of the water “missed” the nose and splashed over the edge of the gutter to the ground. By contrast, every micro-screen easily handled that amount of water and more without any spillage. Even though the top of the guard sits flat, shingle granules will wash off the guard without any problem. This issue is that shingle granules will easily enter into the gutter along with other debris.

Elko GuttaPro Gutter Guard

Elko GuttaPro Gutter Guard

 

Elko GuttaPro – GuttaPro and its sibling, GuttaGard, are touted by Elko as being an inexpensive aluminum gutter guard, and that pretty much fits the bill. GuttaPro is installed by dealers and contractors whereas GuttaGard is available for the do-it-yourself market. GuttaPro is a low-profile aluminum guard that slides under the first course of shingles and secures to the front edge of the gutter with metal brackets. The concept is straight-forward and the guards are easy to install. The gutter guards are available in a handful of colors. The metal brackets slide under the curve of the guard, which means that the nose sits less than an inch above the gutter lip whereas the top of the nose on LeaFree is approximately two inches above the gutter edge. Because the nose sits so low, it can handle a large percentage of the water when it was placed below our downspout. The angle of the guard was more consistent with the slope of the roof shingles, so the combination of the low-profile and angle allowed shingle granules to roll off the top of the guard. The drawbacks with this system are that because the nose sits as low as it does and it uses a rudimentary bracket to hold the guards in place, the opening into the gutter can vary and is hard to keep consistent along a run. The inconsistency in the gap opening and the fact that the nose sits behind the gutter edge, shingle granules and small debris will more easily enter the gutter. 

Solid Gutter Cover (formerly known as Cinch)

Solid Gutter Cover (formerly known as Cinch)

 

Solid Gutter Cover (formerly known as Cinch) – Readily available at your local big box home improvement retailer, Solid Gutter Cover is made of PVC and is available in white and clay, two of the most popular gutter colors. It’s not available in brown because the dark color is difficult to manufacture and maintain due to the amount of heat is absorbs once installed. As I have stated in other posts, I used to distribute this product to the do-it-yourself market years ago prior to it being available in home improvement stores, so I have a lot of familiarity with it. The core design has remained the same although the manufacturer has modified the nose over the years. Solid Gutter Cover is easy to install. It slips under the first course of shingles and hooks onto the gutter edge. Sheet metal screws can be added on the drip lip to hold the guards in place.

It maintains the same slope as the shingles and it sits lower than LeaFree and higher than Elko’s GuttaPro. The slots are consistently spaced across each section and were the smallest tested. The benefit is that it is more difficult for debris to enter the gutters, but it’s more likely that the slots will clog over time, especially in yards where the trees shed small leaves. Shingle granules will typically wash off the guards surface to the ground or into the gutter.

While it was easy to tell which of the micro screen gutter guards shed the most shingle granules, it was more difficult to decipher which of the solid gutter guards performed the best due to the concentrated nature of our tests. Based on the products’ design characteristics, Solid Gutter Cover will shed the granules the best followed by LeaFree. Elko’s GuttaPro will likely have the most granules enter the gutters.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a gutter protection system that will truly protect your gutters from debris while absorbing the most amount of water, micro screen gutter guards are the way to go. The micro screens handle considerably more water than the solid surface gutter guards; they have the lowest profile, and will NOT allow small debris such as shingle granules to enter your gutters. While some of the micro screens may hold some of the smaller debris on the screen surface — and may require an occasionally clearing off — water is still able to easily enter the gutters even during the heaviest downpours. 

It’s more likely that micro screen gutter guards will have to be installed by an authorized dealer, whereas two of the tested solid surface gutter guards can be purchased by do-it-yourselfers. The cost of best micro-screen gutter guards is comparable to the most popular solid surface gutter guards, while offering more comprehensive warranties and significantly enhanced performance.  

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

July 15th, 2009 7 comments

 

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…

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.