Why You Need to Skip (or Ditch) Those Gutter Guards

gutter guard failure

Gutters play a vital role in protecting your roof. Without them, or when they are clogged, water will damage fascia boards over time and can get back up under shingles. Beyond your roof, proper water drainage is important to protect the rest of your home:

  • The soil around the house is stabilized
  • Foundation problems can be avoided
  • Flooding under houses and in basements can be prevented
  • Erosion can be prevented and this preserves landscaping and turf
  • Water damage to siding can be prevented
  • Water staining on brick and stone masonry can be prevented
  • Settling and cracking of sidewalks, patios, and driveways can be lessened
  • Exterior doors and garage overhead doors can be preserved

~Square House

In an effort to have their gutters cleaned less often and decrease required maintenance, many homeowners opt to install gutter guards. These, however, don’t usually solve the need to clean your gutters and, when they do need to be cleaned, make it more difficult.

 

The problem with gutter guards

In the Pacific Northwest with all of our tree species, we get a mix of broadleaf varieties and fir trees. That means plenty of leaf and tree litter which can easily get through the gutter guards or screens and more than can completely cover them so water cannot get through.

While there are varieties of guards which will help prevent leaves from covering them by using a curved design, that design creates a different problem. Small twigs and other debris can create a dam by building up against the raised portion of the guard.

Even if the gutter guards work as intended, there is still the issue of moss and algae growth. As long as a small amount of leaf material makes its way into the gutters, it creates the perfect growing environment for lichen and moss. Left unchecked, it will continue to grow. As it does, it can block downspouts or break free and clogged them.

 

You are still going to need your gutters cleaned, even if less often.

There is no way to prevent it. That is where the second big issue arises – gutter guards make it difficult to clean your gutters!

As good as they can be at keeping leaf and other debris out, they do a better job at keeping us out. In some cases, we may not be able to remove the screens at all. In this case, the choice to flush them out with pressure and get what we can or they will need to be replaced. If the brand you choose to install can be removed in sections, cleaning your gutters will be far easier, though far more time consuming as well. You may need to have them cleaned less often, but it will likely cost much more.

The best guards are the hinged ones. They are easy to ‘open’ to allow cleaning so not likely an added cost for the time. We still wouldn’t recommend these as they open away from the roof. That makes it difficult to clean your gutters from a ladder.

 

What about those brands which claim to keep debris out?

They may. However, the material and design which makes that possible will also work to keep airflow and sun out. If debris gets in, if there are seams in your gutters, or the guards get damaged, moisture will remain trapped. The combination of moisture and a small but of debris can result in mold growth. With no easy way to see it, you may never know it’s there.

 

Gutter guards are not a great investment.

  • The best ones worth installing are expensive.
  • The best brands can still cause your gutters to be blocked even if they keep them free from debris.
  • Gutter guards will not prevent everything from getting in so they don’t prevent the need to clean your gutters.
  • They can make it more costly to clean your gutters when necessary.

For those brands which state they work perfectly, consider that the main reason for installing them is to reduce maintenance. Since your roof should be inspected annually, should be cleaned annually, and a chimney should be inspected and cleaned annually, adding gutter cleaning at this time adds little to no cost.

Our professional advice is to skip (or ditch) those guards and set up a maintenance schedule to have your gutters cleaned twice per year. You’ll find it more effective and less expensive over time.

52 replies
  1. Sarah Haynes
    Sarah Haynes says:

    Leaf Filter does not attach to the roof, keeps all debris out, even shingle grit, does not prevent proper water flow into the gutter, and never has to be cleaned off, because the debris doesnt block the water flow. I can’t sell it to you or anyone else through commenting here. I am commenting because your article is incorrect, because that is true of every other type of gutter guard, but Leaf Filter actually works. Our customers go from cleaning their gutters twice a month in the fall to never cleaning them again. I havent touched mine in two years. No more ladder climbing or roof walking.

    Reply
    • rooftop-services-llc
      rooftop-services-llc says:

      Sarah,

      There is an exception to many rules. In general, the information is correct. The other consideration is location. We have seen products work well for customers who have property in other areas yet the same ones did not here. With broad leaves and pine needles prevalent, we’ve seen issues with every brand, though some worse than others. The other concern in our area is the amount of rainfall and heavy at times. Anything that limits the amount of water which can get into the gutter itself is a potential issue. That includes products covering the gutters to keep leaves and debris out. As such, we do not recommend these products.

      Since the vast majority of our experience is that gutter guards are ineffective, we do not recommend them.

      Reply
      • Dominic
        Dominic says:

        Do your research, then, on ALL products. When surgical stainless steel mesh filters all rainwater & snow, then nothing can get into gutters to clog them. The mesh also does not clog, stain or get sticky with sap. Check out Consumer Reports, too. And check out their lifetime, transferable warranty!

        Reply
        • Ray Gantz
          Ray Gantz says:

          Got mine in 2013. 80-90% blocked with green lichen so water does get blocked. I power washed !st floor roof gutter but can’t get to 2nd floor. Just had nice big rain and watching water run down front and back of gutters. In winter, it forms nice big icicles, but not a problem. Got to call rep

          Reply
      • Tom tusing
        Tom tusing says:

        So let’s have homeowners climb on roofs or tall ladders. (Not. A good idea) you show a gutter guard that is not designed good. Valor Gutter Guards dont let anything in the gutter. So cleaning out the gutter is never needed. Will you at time have to blow the roof off but with pine needles you would have to do that reguardless. As pine needles sitting on the roof is not a good idea and will cause back ups and leaks. Cleaning the gutters out will only be a very short term option. It takes a handful of leaves to clog a downspout and back up the gutters.

        Reply
        • Dan Koesterman
          Dan Koesterman says:

          Tom, we recommend homeowners call a professional to clean their gutters and to never get on a roof. We are very adamant about that. As to gutter guards with a fine mesh or screen, in our very wet climate, especially in wooded areas where we see little sun, the guards best at preventing debris can and will prevent the gutters to dry out or get enough airflow. This can cause mold growth.

          Since homeowners should have at least an annual roof and an annual chimney inspection, having the gutters cleaned twice a year can be part of a good maintenance plan. Our experience has been that most guards are ineffective. The rest don’t eliminate concerns completely. You did point out pine needles so the roof still needs to cleaned. Gutter guards aren’t entirely necessary when maintenance is routinely performed. Experience has also been that they are installed to decrease the necessary maintenance.

          Reply
          • Peter
            Peter says:

            Dan, of course you recommend a professional to over-service gutters, that’s your bread and butter. But homeowners have been climbing ladders to DIY for decades without being made a paraplegic.

      • John
        John says:

        There is no 100% guarantee product on the market that will prevent debris from entering. In fact Leaf filter allows water to roll off and bypass the gutter which is not good. Also what should be taken into consideration is how long the mesh will stay secure to the frame of this product. Once that starts to fold in, more debris will get into your gutters.

        Reply
    • JJ
      JJ says:

      I have worked in the gutter industry for over 20 years and have removed 1000s of feet of clogged Leaffilter. Eventually the micro mesh will clogged and debris will build up on top . There is no perfect Gutter Protection system. Best bet is to find out who in your area has been in business the longest and go with them. These products are only as good as the people that install them and service them.

      Reply
      • Tyson Matter
        Tyson Matter says:

        I have sold LeafFilter in WA state & JJ is spot-on. The post from Sarah Haynes is typical not-based-on-the-real-world LF talking points.

        They offer a 100% money back guarantee if your gutters ever ‘clog’. But the fine print defines a clog as ‘debris causing your system to fill with water and overflow’.
        It’s even on their website.

        When LeafFilter is installed, no debris enters the gutter; it just piles up on top. This also prevents water from getting into the gutter. It’s deceiving & immoral.

        They claim 43 million feet installed with 0 clogs. I do know that some people have received partial refunds, but they are required to sign non-disclosure statements & the terms of the agreement allow the company to claim the refund was not due to product failure or clogging.

        Reply
        • Jim Maxey
          Jim Maxey says:

          I agree , I have micro mesh & the heavy pollen clogs the mesh . I am about to remove a side of section & test which works better . Mesh or no mesh . .

          Reply
      • Neil
        Neil says:

        EXACTLY- The small pores will get clogged with algae or molds and then you are screwed. The commercials carefully avoid addressing this critical point.

        Reply
        • Ms. B
          Ms. B says:

          You are correct and Leaf Relief is just as bad. The gutter never clogs because even water can’t flow in there as it should. In a heavy rain the tiny tray on top fills up with water and overflows into everything on the back side then over the front side. Almost useless. I’m removing the perforated cover so water can get in. Then I have to install hangers to keep it from bending in or open.The overflow soaked my wood siding and flooded my foundation, drained into the fascia and sheathing. Then my air conditioning unit went out. What a rip off. What they should say is they installed millions of miles of the crap and laughed all the way to the bank

          Reply
      • Amy Rohrich
        Amy Rohrich says:

        I agree with you on that! I had gutter screens put on last year when I had my gutters fixed, along with avalanche rails as I have a steel roof. I spoke with company regarding my neighbors weeping willow and evergreens and wanted a solution, this is what I got. My gutters were plugged a month later, they had to come back to flush the gutters. This year same thing and local company won’t call me back…I just got a 20’ foot ladder and am probably going to see if I can take them off or something, just really sick and tired of people not standing behind their product!

        Reply
      • Tom Regan
        Tom Regan says:

        I agree with JJ. I bought a house with metal leaf strainers and finally had to take all of them off because I couldn’t get to the gunk that sifted through.

        Reply
    • Stephen K Johnson
      Stephen K Johnson says:

      Sarah,

      Your assertion is false.

      I had leaffilter installed about a week ago.

      Five minutes into the first train storm after installation, the system has failed due to being completely blocked by shingle grit. The water could not enter the gutter, and therefore spilled over, pooling at the joint between my basement and my garage.

      Photos available.

      Reply
      • Jacqueline
        Jacqueline says:

        I had mine installed two weeks ago with a new roof and the same thing happened, I have water pouring over the gutters. It’s very frustrating. After reading all this, I may just have to pay to get them taken down.

        Reply
    • Mary Waechter
      Mary Waechter says:

      I had Leaf filter installed on the second floor, and now I have icicles and dripping water on my patio which I never did before. The first floor gutters don’t have that problem, only the Leaf Filter ones.
      So I am exceedingly unhappy with my purchase. I would not do it again.

      Reply
  2. JaredWelch
    JaredWelch says:

    Thanks for the information. I know how important for the homeowners to clean the gutter on a regular basis. Preventive maintenance service is the only primary way by which one can prevent clogging.

    Reply
  3. Brian E.
    Brian E. says:

    I have seen just about every type of “leaf-guard/gutter- filter “, in different scenarios (I e. Different trees/ no trees), and just as with everything in life, there are pros and cons.
    In my line of work (for the past 30 years), I provide a service to homes (from brand- new construction, to 100 years old), and gutters are a big issue.
    So, let’s say homeowners follow the advice of not using any kind of leaf protection. 1) out of sight out of mind. People forget. 2) getting to old to climb a ladder and neglect. 3) hire a service that clears the leaves and twigs, but not the asphalt fron the shingles, or they rinse out the gutters without detaching the downspout from the buried extension and now thers a blocked extension that needs replacing. 4) cleaning 2x a year isn’t enough when surrounded by trees. 5) between $100-$200 each cleaning.
    I’ve seen and heard it all. The worst is when vegetation is growing in the gutters.
    Now let’s think about protection. When deciding what type of protection system, there are a few factors that need to be taken into consideration, such as, the types of trees, the pitch of the roof, etc.. (the pitch of roof needs to be considered because, on those heavy down-pour’s, water flows off the roof, mainly the valleys, very fast).
    I’m all for using gutter filters to stop leaves, and asphalt from washing down the downspout to block up my buried extension (which I installed 15+ft away from foundation). If the roofers were any good, they would have overlapped the edges and wrapped the corners with the ice and water shield. The gutters and the gutter flashing should be installed properly as well.

    Reply
  4. james kinsella
    james kinsella says:

    I agree totally.Gutter guards,filters,screens fail ultimately over time.Why is it that we know we have to change our oil filter in the car regularly but we think a gutter filter will last forever

    I have my gutters cleaned outby a guy 3 times a year,,,,end of problems…and it supports the local economy

    Reply
  5. Gregg Brentlinger
    Gregg Brentlinger says:

    I installed a mesh over the gutter, which runs down into a water tank. I stapled the black mesh to the shingles to
    prevent leaves, etc, from getting into the tank. Any guttering system needs maintenance, and I blow off leaves and
    other such things every once in a while. Don’t waste your time with expensive gutters….do maintenance on every
    system.

    Reply
  6. Jason
    Jason says:

    This article misses the most important point (at least on the west coast). I’m not looking to reduce gutter cleaning, I’m trying to keep flammable materials out of my gutters during fire season!

    Reply
    • Chase
      Chase says:

      Jason: In my opinion, the leaf screen/filter will not avoid the leaves from piling up on top of the gutter during dry season. Even with the leaf filters, most of the leaves will not wash off until the first big rain. At that time, the fire danger pretty much passed. So, if you noticed excessive leaves/branches accumulation on your roof, you may need to either blow or hosed off the leaves from the roof to minimize the fire danger. That is what I did last month to clear the piles of leaves on top of my new gutter screens.

      Reply
    • Matt Morris
      Matt Morris says:

      In California and most fire areas, an all metal gutter screen does a great job. We are a manufacturer and have done tons of studies. Findings? It is always better the have them, than not.

      Reply
  7. beatrice wright
    beatrice wright says:

    Had a leaf filter system including new gutters installed at the beginning of the year. Coupled with some unsavory practices like not installing at least 12 ft of new gutter and having a shorter length of gutter that was installed twisted and pitch the opposite direction of the downspout, my dissatisfaction with the system is that following a snowfall and freezing, snow sits on top of the filter, freezes and drips on my porch causing a ice hazard at the entrance of the front and rear of my home. Also the frozen filters create a drip furrow at foundation areas. Moreover, during a rain with the pitch of my roof, water cascades off the filter across the entrance of my house. Also, water was observed to run behimd the gutters and the company’s fix was to seal the base of the gutter against the facia board, which to me (I’m not the expert) will cause pent-up water and condensable moisture to rot my facia. Does this make sense?

    Reply
  8. Keith
    Keith says:

    Hi Pro’s, what has been your experience with gutters that come with a guard built in – like leafguard.com or kguard.com – I am thinking of buying one of these for my house. Thanks

    Reply
  9. Al McCann
    Al McCann says:

    After removing the plugin trash guard from the downspout opening, I have just flattened the old dome-shaped metal gutter guards, trimmed them to fit, and installed them on my shop building,. I expect the twigs and leaves that collect behind the dome-shaped guards to slide over the flattened ones and the stuff that gets through to flow out the downspouts. I expect this to reduce maintenance considerably. The gutter guards are installed so that some can be removed, should occasional hosing out the gutters become necessary. Time will tell.

    Reply
  10. Chris Pederson
    Chris Pederson says:

    I had no idea that gutter guards make it more difficult to clean your gutters. I’ll see what I can do about getting a new gutter on my house. I won’t get a guard but a new one will get rid of the water more efficiently.

    Reply
  11. Ed
    Ed says:

    I have had good luck with gutter stuff pro. I just replace it every 8 years or so. It cuts maintenance dramatically especially pine needle clogging. You can remove them easily and shake them out when dry and reinstall. I did the over the bracket style installation and am very satisified. No system elimiates all maintenence that is a falsehood. Having good flow and not having the water run over the gutters is most important. Zero maintenence is a sals pitch, less maintenence is achievable. Materials cost about 450.00 and installation takes about 5 hours.

    Reply
  12. Gloria Collins
    Gloria Collins says:

    We had new gutters installed 3 years ago and paid additional 800 for leaf guards. Since then we have had 3 damaging leaks into the house, one of which cost the insurance company 18,000 dollars, our front window, which never leaked, is leaking, and yesterday the icicles caused an ice jam, which caused water to leak into my kitchen. The paint bubbled up and a big bubble of water formed at the bottom. We are removing the gutter guards as soon as I can get a guy out with a tall ladder. What a mess.

    Reply
  13. Ron
    Ron says:

    Thanks for the info Dan. I love the discussion. We have lots of trees in our neighborhood. Cedars and leaf trees. And my roof and gutters get filled every fall. The old covers were garbage so I removed them last year. I was not sure if I should get mesh covers. But reading your post helped me decide not to.
    Do you think 6″ gutters and 3″x4″ downspouts with drain guards were help my gutters not get clogged?

    Reply
    • Dan Koesterman
      Dan Koesterman says:

      Ron,

      Yes, that set up will work. Be sure to keep a watch on the broadleaf. They stick when wet and rain will pour over the gutter. The guards may still grow moss on them over time. You can simply blast it off with a hose.

      Reply
  14. Roz Nice
    Roz Nice says:

    Thanks for the info folks! Like Jason, I live on the West Coast and need to keep flammable debris out of my gutters, too. And our home is 2 stories in front and 3 in back with a steep roof. Some gutters are impossible to get into. But if leaves rest on top of the covers we can hang out a window to blow them clear, I’m hoping. I have tried supporting the local economy by hiring folks but they decline once they see our place. Still looking for info from local roofers.

    Reply
  15. Eli Richardson
    Eli Richardson says:

    It really helped when you talked about how a house’s gutters help to prevent multiple problems. Recently, my sister said she has an issue with her home’s gutters. There was a huge storm last week, and it made my sister realized how she might need to replace her gutters, and I think this article could help her avoid problems in the future. Thanks for the information on gutters and their key role in a household.

    Reply
  16. Edward John
    Edward John says:

    I agree totally.Gutter guards,filters,screens fail ultimately over time.Why is it that we know we have to change our oil filter in the car regularly but we think a gutter filter will last forever

    I have my gutters cleaned outby a guy 3 times a year,,,,end of problems…and it supports the local economy

    Reply
  17. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    The best solution is no gutters unless it is a walk through area. Landscape the rest of the roof drip lines to catch and distribute the water to catch basins and tiles away from the structure.

    Reply
    • Dan Koesterman
      Dan Koesterman says:

      Depending on the grade of the land under the home and the architecture of the roof – that it extends far enough past the walls – no gutters is a great option.

      Reply
  18. Randy Gilmore
    Randy Gilmore says:

    As noted in other comments… Some regions don’t benefit from gutter guards. Micro mesh works well here in the Midwest if installed correctly and also if the customer keeps the tree branches trimmed back away from the roof of their home. If you have trees over your roof, the system will be overworked and you will have issues.

    Reply
  19. Jeff Carbine
    Jeff Carbine says:

    My favorite part of this article is gutters are essential for the protection of your roof. Water will harm fascia boards over time if they are not present, or if they are blocked, and can come back up under shingles if they are not present. Someone recently told me about this and it is different from what I understand. Thanks for helping me understand gutter installation.

    Reply
  20. Steve Owen
    Steve Owen says:

    Living in a wildland urban interface (WUI) of Los Angeles my house is surrounded by coastal live oak. I am on a slope so I can set onto my single story roof from the backyard. I regularly blow out my gutters.

    Recently my fire insurance carrier started requiring gutter guards. I got a ridiculous quote from the big company, so I opted to install a micro mesh product myself for way less money, appx 1/10 the cost. After 1 week the holly style leaves of the coastal oaks we’re all ready sticking in the mesh.

    I’m glad I didn’t spend the BIG $$$$ for them, but I didn’t get dropped by the underwriter.

    Gutter guards are definitely a double edged sword.

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Leaf debris can clog gutters allowing water to back up and potentially find a path of lesser resistance – into fascia boards, under shingles – where it can damage your home. That leaf debris and backed up water can create a haven for insects attracting birds and other critters. […]

  2. […] thrives in damp conditions. Leaking downspouts and clogged gutters provide a perfect environment for growth. Make sure they are free of debris and flowing properly. […]

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