Do I need gutter guards? Do gutter guards really work? Should I install gutter guards on my house? Do I still have to clean my gutters if I have gutter covers?

Wow! These are great questions, and we hear them all the time.

First of all, the issue of gutter guards (aka gutter covers) is not totally black and white, or cut and dry if you will. There are different types of covers, and certain covers are better for certain types of homes. But all that being said, it’s not terribly complicated. And if you can stick with us, we will explain it to you.

For explanatory purposes, we are going to sort all gutter protection options into three categories:

Let’s start with the worst of them all.

 

1) Old-style, clip on, arched gutter screens

This is the only product in this category, first generation gutter screens. If you’re not interested in these, you may skip down and move to the second category. For the rest of you still with us, these old screens are the first of the gutter covers ever designed. Each screen had two clips which would clip onto the forward lip of the gutter. However, with modern day seamless aluminum gutters, the forward lip of the gutters is irregular from one gutter to the next. This is not the lip that you can see from the ground but is only visible from above the gutter by feeling the lift with your fingers. These old-style clips, do not clip on to most aluminum gutters manufactured after the 1990s. This is not always true, as seamless gutters are made on the spot with a machine in the back of the truck. There is variation in this forward gutter lip between each gutter machine across hundreds of thousands of machines. But for the most part, they do not clip on well and tend to pop off. This means that these old clips on gutter guards are commonly found laying in the gutter, and not over the gutter. They may also be found in your bushes or hanging off your gutters. So, for the most part, they do not stay on and do not work. When they fall into the gutter, they act like a strainer and create clogs immediately.  They cannot be made straight because they follow the minute inconsistencies with the lip of the gutter. They will be slightly wavy and not sit flat against the shingle. For this reason, it’s common for lots of debris to slide down the roof and under the covers as well. These covers really should not be recommended to anybody, except maybe the oldest of homes, with the oldest galvanized steel gutters, where they still may clip on and perform with the least possible benefit.  We would not recommend this product to anybody.

 

2) Modern under the shingle, flat screens

Aluminum or steel preferred. Do not use plastic. These let the water in and keep out most of the debris. Easy to clean, and work on most all homes.

For the purpose of this article, this second category will contain all screen type products which install under the shingle and securely fastened across the gutter.

To summarize this category, these products usually provide the best bang for the buck. And are usually the most effective for your average Atlanta metro home, or any home for that matter, which may have valleys / inside gutter corners as most people do. If valleys / inside gutter corners are present, as they are for most homes, products in this category are the best possible protection available, unless you’re interested in overflowing gutters (see covers in category 3).

These represent the newer modified version of the first category of covers. And while the first category of covers should never be depended on for any positive benefit. The covers in this category can provide quite a benefit, if you don’t think you ever have to clean the gutters again. These covers resolve most all of the issues associated with the old style clip on screen. They slide up under the shingles, such that debris that slides down the roof remains on top of the cover and not under the cover. They securely fastened across the face of the gutter, (we install two screws on each cover across the upper lip of the gutter with zero detriments to the gutter and absolute security to the covers). Most of these products are made of aluminum, such that they will never rust. Don’t use any made of plastic materials. Plastic covers of this design are available at the large big box retailers, but the plastic will quickly fall apart in the harsh conditions up on your roof (UV rays from the sun, and the weight of the debris).

So why then you ask should you install these covers? If you still have to clean the gutters? Well, that’s a great question. The answer is, with a properly installed cover from this category, most debris will be kept out of the gutters. Yes, this debris will accumulate on top of the gutters, and in your valleys, behind your chimneys, and all the other pesky little areas. However, did you notice the debris does not accumulate inside the gutters?  These covers will allow your gutters to continue to drain properly even after the accumulation of much debris. Yet it is necessary to clean this debris off your roof, shingles, gutters and covers themselves or you will eventually encounter other issues.

There’s a lot of variety in this category. They range from powder coated steel products, shiny aluminum, painted aluminum products, and micro screen products. There are also lower quality price saving products which use less material and are shorter and don’t adequately reach up under the shingles. They should be avoided as they are junk. We also avoid the micro screen products in the Atlanta market. This micro screen can clog with nothing more than dust from decayed leaves and pine straw. Our preference is any of the steel (powder coated) or aluminum standard screen products at least 7 inches deep, fastened with screws across the gutter.

These covers can still be cleaned quite easily when blowing off the roof. We are able to blow off the roof and all the debris, and then simply blow through the screen and blow all the debris down to one end, and out the end of the gutter.

And because it is such a great question, I want to clarify. The benefit of this product is that your gutters do not clog and overflow between cleanings. Usually, the best and final question from an intelligent customer when speaking about gutter guards is; So then why should I install these covers if I still have to clean my gutters. And the answer is, without covers, your gutters may clog and overflow between cleanings. Then you call to have the gutters cleaned. With these covers, the gutters and downspouts still flow and drain water, even though debris has accumulated on top.

So, in conclusion, aluminum or steel covers of this design, when properly installed, will keep your gutters and downspout flowing and draining properly consistently between cleanings. Your trigger to clean will be when you see a substantial amount of debris on top of the covers, or in the roofing valleys. For many people, this may save their home from water damage, water entry, or other issues associated with clogged and overflowing gutters between cleanings.

As a side benefit, these covers offer a true minimal protection against rodent entry through the builder’s gap in the roof (if this is a problem for you. Squirrels in the attic?) While these covers do not provide as much protection against rodent entry as the third category of covers, they do provide some very real protection. And the final benefit is that these types of covers provide protection to your underground drain system, by keeping most debris out of the system.

 

3) Solid Gutter Covers

Any solid, non-screen type product, which relies on water tension only to pull the water into the gutter and allow debris to slide off.

To summarize this category, if you do not have any inside corners, and no valleys on your roof, and your shopping the highest quality products in this category, making sure the mounting system is the type recommended, you can do quite well with these covers. They will cost you the most money of all the covers, but if the above conditions are met, they will also perform the very best, requiring very little maintenance. Typically, just checking visually from the ground to make sure everything is working.

Advanced Pressure has put them on cabins in the north Georgia mountains which acquire tons of debris, where they work 100% effectively year after year, with no cleaning.

This category is plagued with an enormous amount of competition. In the late 90s and early 2000’s, it was thought that these covers may revolutionize the gutter system. Everybody and their brother created a product. Some were designed ultra-cheap to sell to anybody on a budget from a greasy salesman. Others were designed to be the absolute best at any cost. Others were refined over the years to work out issues and deal with common issues such as crush resistance underweight, such as snowpack and wet pine straw. The best of these products are actually pretty good. The cheaper products will leave you very disappointed. But, before we begin with the differences in these products, it’s most important to understand where these products provide a benefit, and where they fail miserably.

Did I mention failing miserably? As of 2017, these products still have one major problem. Gutter cover designers have made many attempts to deal with this issue, but the outlook is grim. I don’t think they will be able to ever out design mother nature.

For any home which has an inside corner, (which is also a roof valley), these valleys have greatly increased debris, and water flow in these valleys, which are located right on any inside corner on your gutter system. This creates an area where water tension alone will not pull water into the gutter. At the same time, there’s a 10-30x increase in the amount of debris in this area. This has plagued solid gutter covers since day one. Water either overshoot the corner, or modifications have to be made. The most common modification, which is visible on greater than 50% of corners which have solid gutter covers, is to cut out the corner entirely and screw down a screen over the top of the covers in that corner. Advanced Pressure and Gutter Cleaning will not do this. We feel that this substantially alters the design and original benefit of these covers. With a screen installed over the corner, debris begins to reenter the gutter. However, different from the solid screens in category number two, these solid gutter covers are not designed to be cleaned underneath, and cannot easily be cleaned. Eventually, this debris will build up and cause obstructions to flow/clogs. One major manufacturer has re-designed an inside corner modification, to attempt to fix this issue. It is marginally better at best. Other custom inside corner fabrications have been designed, to increase the surface area of the gutter, remove the screen corner, and attempt to get the water inside and the debris out. It has been impossible to do both at the same time. Either you get water and debris inside, or you let the water overshoot the corner. These inside corners have never been resolved with any type of cover in this category.

So what am I saying? Do these gutters work? The answer is probably yes if all three conditions apply:

  1. You don’t have any inside corners.
  2. You have at least a marginally steep roof. A 4:12 or better.
  3. You are shopping the very top-of-the-line products in this category. Most others are junk.

Any roof steeper than the flattest of roofs will work. On the flattest roofs, there is not enough elevation gain from the forward edge of the gutter back to the second row of shingles (approximately 12 inches back) to accommodate the 2-inch vertical profile of these covers and provide positive slope away from the roof. If new gutters are being installed at the same time, and by the same installer, such as we do, this pitch can be corrected somewhat by installing the new gutters a little bit lower on the fascia board if necessary. With no detriment at all.

And, you must be shopping one of the high-quality products. None of the cheaper knock off products are even close in function. Did I say the second row of shingles? What is that all about? Since these covers depend on water tension to pour the water into the gutter, the more surface area in the front profile of the cover, where the water pours into the gutter, the better the gutter will handle water. So, the best of these products have a 2-inch vertical profile front leading edge, which allows adequate water tension to draw the water into the gutter and let the debris slide off. This 2-inch vertical profile is accommodated by having a long cover that spans over the first shingle and installs up under the second row of shingles. This works quite well. Beware of any lesser product which installs under the first row of shingles. That is a cost saving design which trades water handling capacity for cheaper cover design. These short covers are no better than the products in the first category.

The next common flaw in these expensive covers is that the weight of debris, beat snowpack or wet pine straw, will push the cover down into the gutter, collapsing the system. There are only two products on the market now which properly deal with this issue. One product, which is sold under multiple brand names, provides a custom plastic bracket inside the gutter, which creates the strength for this cover right across the top of the cover itself. This bracket also provides the proper forward alignment of the gutter cover. It properly deals with all other issues associated with these covers. Other very popular national brands are extremely weak on the top surface and likely to collapse in areas within the first few years. I would not recommend any cover which is attached from the forward drip edge, or by screwing into the roof underneath the shingles. Both of these methods are terribly improper.

Contact us today for any questions you have about gutter protection.