Ask the Engineer – "Gutter Covers Vs Cleaning the Gutters?"

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You see ads for gutter protectors every where telling you that you’ll never have to clean gutters again, but before you buy, think twice. In fact don’t think; do research. The cost of gutter protection can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.

Since most gutter covers are known for poor performance, it might make more sense to contract a gutter cleaning service several times a year for between $75 to $100 or so. And if indeed you can find a reputable insured company that will service you it’s probably the best way to go. Yet, that may be a difficult challenge; and having someone else or you cleaning your gutters may not be the way to go. Why? Answer: There are several reasons:

1. Not all gutter cleaners do a good job. Rosemary paid $75 to have her gutters cleaned and just three days later they overflowed. Did the contractor do a bad job or did enough leaves fall to clog the downspout? Answer: No way to tell.

2. The fellow Joe hired to clean his gutters didn’t have any insurance. Big problem! Unfortunately there was an accident with the ladder and the fellow sued Joe; and Joe went through a nightmare the fellow’s doctors and Joe’s own insurance company.

3. Claire had a company clean her gutters at an advertised price of $75 but ended up paying $350. The company replaced end caps, drop tubes, elbows and charged her an arm and a leg for every additional service.

4. Jim always cleaned his gutters until his ladder slipped and he ended up falling through his living room bay window and ended up in the hospital with a broken pelvis.

Yes, to avoid these issues, it looks like the smart thing to do is install a gutter protector with a promise to solve clogged gutter problems. But buyer be ware. If you choose the wrong product it can also be nightmarish with flooded basements, mildew, mold, soil erosion, and worse yet the be totally dependent on the installing company as you can no longer access your own gutters to clean them.

So let’s do some research. Basically there are six different types of gutter protection devices:

1. Screening devices which are not really recognized as gutter protection devices. Made of wire, metal, or plastic, they work simply with gravity and require routine ladder maintenance.

2. Filters, membranes, and brushes installed in or on existing gutters. Basically they are not any more effective than screens and require routine ladder maintenance.

3. Fin type with rounded front nose and solid flat top. Their advertising graphics lead you to believe that debris is jettisoned off onto the ground when instead in medium-to-high debris areas enough debris sticks to the surface to clog the gutters. Here you have to depend on the installing company for service. See resource box for photos.

4. Flat solid top with rounded front nose and a trough–fin type with trough. Since the basic fin type fails, the next progression was to add a trough. But it doesn’t take a college graduate to see that debris that goes into the trough (basic screening system) will either clog the trough or break down and pass into the gutter and clog it. See resource box for photos.

5. Flipping type gutter or rain dispersal units. These require removing your gutters and installing either a gutter with a hinge that gets flipped or fins (installed horizontal to the fascia board) to disperse the water. They both look viable until you see them work. The rain dispersal unit doesn’t work in slow rain fall and debris lays on top of it blocking it from working. The flip clean gutter requires a rain coat for when the gutter is full of putrid debris. The flip clean gutters are also known to warp rendering them useless.

6. Rounded front nose with vertical louvered water collectors and a flat solid top. Whereas with the fin type of gutter cover that will pass full sized leaves, the louvers discriminate the size of the debris the gutter cover allows into the gutter. This gutter guard is the only rounded nose type that limits the amount of debris or size of debris that can pass into the gutter.

This one system has proved that gutters can stay free flowing in heavy debris conditions for twenty years; and that’s no small feat. The only downside is that in heavy debris conditions debris can accumulate on the louvers and block them off meaning that some kind of maintenance is required.

Whereas most other products require someone to go up a ladder and clean the gutter or the cover, it can easily be done from the ground using a telescopic pole and brush. Because it’s easy to see where cleaning is required, there’s no guessing where to do the brushing. No rain coats are required (as might be with the flip type gutter) to do this simple task as it can actually be done dressed in a suit and tie.

After all, telling someone, who has to clean his gutters several times during the fall, that no maintenance will be required is like asking the him to believe in Santa Claus.