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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…

Spring is here. We want to hear from you.

March 16th, 2010 No comments

Daylight savings is here. Spring is just around the corner — we hope — and homeowners across the country are emerging from hibernation to face the task of sprucing up their homes and yards. With the advent of spring comes the seasonal chore of cleaning your gutters — either what you put off from last fall or anticipating what’s to come after trees blossom and shed Maple seeds, Oak tassels and the like.

Since we started this conversation, we have received lots of great feedback and comments from homeowners trying to figure out the best gutter guard application for their homes. We’ve even heard from a handful of manufacturers commenting on reviews we’ve written about their products. It has been rewarding hearing from you, yet we’d like to hear more. We want your questions, comments and feedback.

If you’re contemplating a particular brand of gutter guard, we want to hear what you like about what you’ve seen and what concerns you. We realize that with so many choices in the marketplace, the more products you look at, the more confusing your decision can become.

In addition to scouring the Internet for information, how else do you search for gutter guards? Do you use the Yellow Pages, attend home shows, or seek referrals from friends?

Do you like solid reverse curve or micro mesh screen systems?

What do you like about each type?

What bugs you?

How much does price impact your buying decisions?

Reviews and requests for information about pricing are the most popular search terms we get on this blog. If you have received quotes for different products on your home, feel free to share that info with other readers. They want to learn from your experiences.

If you’ve bought something and love it, let us know. By the same token, if you bought something and regret your decision, readers want to know.

Don’t hesitate to ask us questions. If you like the topics we’re discussing, let us know. If you want us to write about something in particular, let us know that, too.

We’ve recently added a few features that allow you to easily share our blog stories with others. If you find the information helpful, be sure to select the “Like” icon at the bottom of each article. If you want to share our articles on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, etc., the links at the bottom of each story allow you to easily share the information with your friends, neighbors and colleagues.

Welcome to spring. Welcome to the conversation. We look forward to hearing from you!

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.

What’s the Scoop on Shingle Sediment?

September 19th, 2009 1 comment

Brian wrote to us that when he recently cleaned his gutters, he found a lot of sediment build-up in his gutters. Brian asked, “What exactly is sediment and does it contribute to clogging gutters?”

Brian, thanks for your question.

Shingle sediment is made up primarily of sand-like granules or grit that separate from asphalt shingles, and other small matter that sticks to the roof surface and washes into gutters. Granules naturally separate from shingles over its life. It seems to be most prevalent early and later in the shingles life. In other words, when shingles are new, excess granules from the manufacturing process fall off when somebody walks on roof and when it rains. Later in life, as the shingles become more brittle, granules continue to fall off, exposing the shingles fiber underlayment.

While homeowners, roofing contractors, and gutter guard dealers may pass-off the idea that shingle granules in gutters can be an issue, I have a different perspective on this topic. Most homes on which we install gutter guards have moderate to significant accumulation of shingles granules in the gutters. It doesn’t matter whether or not we’re replacing existing gutter guards — shingle granules get into the gutters! We have seen granule accumulations as deep as 2-3″, which accounts for roughly 50% of the area within a gutter.

Plants have sprouted in gutters and are pushing through the expanded metal gutter guard!

Plants have sprouted in the gutters and have pushed through the expanded metal gutter guard!

Here’s an anology: equate shingle granules to sand dunes along your favorite beach. Sand dunes are there to serve as a buffer between the water and the mainland. Sand dunes slow the advancement of water, it is a place for grasses and vegetation to grow, and it creates a natural barrier that makes it difficult for small things to climb or blow over the top of dunes. Now imagine a bunch of small sand dunes inside your gutter. This sediment is going to act the same way as sand dunes on your favorite beach. This means that they’ll slow the advancement of water from the high end of the gutter to the downspout, leaves and small debris will get stuck behind the granule build-up, and it becomes a natural, fertile breeding ground for plant life. Yes, when you see small plants and trees sprouting out of your gutters in the spring and summer, the seeds have lodged in the granules and sediment (soil) before they sprout to become prospering plant life. Now if it were just that easy to grow plants at ground level!

Earlier this summer, we compared micro mesh/screen gutter guards and traditional reverse curve systems to see how they handle the accumulation of shingle granules. The bottom line is that the micro mesh/screen gutter guards did an excellent job of keeping shingle granules out of the gutters because the micro-screens were smaller than the smallest granules and debris that washes off the roof surface. Reverse curve systems, on the other hand, have large enough openings that granules and small debris will enter the gutters. If you refer back to the blog posts, you’ll see which of the micro screen gutter guards performed the best.

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…