Is there any household chore that sounds less appealing than cleaning out the gutters? It requires you to get up on a ladder, or in some cases, climb around on the roof. And once you get up there, you'll be met with handfuls of soggy leaves, twigs and other debris that have been building up in the gutters.
So why bother? Well, rain gutters are a crucial part of the infrastructure that keeps your house dry and in good shape. They're designed to collect rain from the roof and move it away from the house, preventing water from pooling around the foundation and flooding your basement. But gutters can only do their job if they are kept clean and clear, so that water can flow through them and down the downspout (and hopefully into a gray water storage system) [source: Gurskis].
Left unchecked, twigs and leaves can build up, and weeds and fungus can grow in the gutters and roof. If gutters become clogged with branches, leaves and other debris, they won't be able to do their job. In fact, ignoring your gutters is probably worse than having no gutters at all, because clogged gutters are likely to result in water damage to your roof and fascia board (the molding that sits just below the edge of the roof). When gutters fill up with decaying organic material mixed with water, they become very heavy, and in extreme cases they can become so heavy that they tear off the house.
To prevent damage, most experts suggest cleaning out your gutters twice per year -- once in the fall and once in the spring -- and possibly more often if your home is shaded by trees that drop lots of leaves and branches on the roof. But many people don't keep up with gutter maintenance. The debris that fills our gutters is out of sight and out of mind -- both literally and figuratively -- and it's just one more item on the long list of yard work and home maintenance that often goes overlooked.
If you have trouble keeping up with your gutters (and really, who doesn't?), perhaps it's time to consider installing gutter guards, a device that helps keep debris from clogging your gutters. Gutter guards or covers keep the leaves and twigs and any other junk that can clog your gutters while ushering rain to the downspout and away from your home. Your house is probably the biggest investment you'll make in life, goes the common real estate mantra, so take the simple steps to protect it, starting at the top [source: Hageman].
Choosing the Right Gutter Guard
When it comes to choosing which type of gutter guard to install on your home, there are three basic styles: mesh or plastic screens, gutter filters that rest inside the gutter, and surface tension units that fit over the top of existing gutters. The type of gutter guard you choose to install will depend on the level of investment you want to put into your gutters.
Mesh gutter screens are typically in the middle range of gutter guards on the market; they're more expensive than gutter filters, but on average, they aren't quite as pricy as the surface tension-style units. Less expensive versions, which are made of plastic and that you can install yourself, can cost as little as 50 cents a foot. But those products don't always keep all debris out, meaning that you'll likely have to clean them out periodically [source: Hageman].
At the higher end of the screen spectrum are brands like Gutterglove, a relatively high-tech system that consists of two parts: a perforated aluminum channel and super-fine stainless steel mesh that is glued into grooves along both sides of the channel. The mesh filters out leaves and other debris, allowing rain to flow freely. Gutterglove also makes an "Icebreaker" model that melts icicles and snow. The high-tech option comes at a price, though; installing the Gutterglove on your home can cost as much as $2,500 [source: Gutterglove].
For the budget-minded buyer, the Gutter Brush might be a better option. The design consists of a cylinder-shaped brush that fits inside your existing gutters. The beauty of the design is its simplicity: the brush acts as a filter, allowing water to enter the gutters while keeping larger debris out. But it earns the highest marks in the affordability realm, as it costs as little as $3.25 per foot, and it's so easy to use, you shouldn't need to hire anyone to install it [source: Gutter Brush]. For a similar, but slightly more expensive design, the Gutter Filler is a porous polyurethane material that fits into existing gutters. The company claims that the product has rain-handling capacity up to 10 times your normal rainfall [source: Gutter Filler].
And finally, you have the surface-tension gutter guards, which fit over the gutter and are shaped in such a way that water runs into the gutter while debris flows over the edge of the roof. The Gutter Helmet, a popular design that was dreamed up by MIT alum Bob Demartini in the 1960s, falls into this category. The curved shape sends leaves and other debris off the roof, while channeling water through a narrow slit three-eighths of an inch (0.95 centimeters) in length. The Gutter Helmet also has a textured surface that makes the rain cling to it as it flows downward, the company claims [source: Gutter Helmet].
Preparing To Install Gutter Guards
Whether you're installing your new gutter guards yourself or hiring workers to do it, the first step will be cleaning out any existing debris in your gutters and making sure that they're working properly. In our experience, the only way to know for certain that your gutters are working right is to test them with water, and that means taking the garden hose up to the roof and running water through the gutters. During this stage, you should also check for any leaks that will keep water from making it to the downspout.
Before ordering gutter guards, you'll of course want to measure the length of the gutters on your home. Although we're sure that you're pretty handy with a tape measure, we recommend measuring twice -- just to be sure. If you end up ordering a gutter guard that's slightly too long for your gutters, you'll probably need to cut it so that it fits perfectly. Depending on the type of gutter guard you choose and the material it's made from, you'll need a circular saw, a chop saw or metal snips to cut it.
You'll also want to gather all of the tools needed to install the gutter guards. If you choose one of the simpler designs that fit inside your gutters, you won't even need to crack your toolbox. But gutter guards that fit over the top of your gutters often require screws, nails or pop rivets to hold them in place, so if you're using one of those designs you'll likely need a power drill and a screwdriver. Each design is slightly different, so check with the manufacturer to see how they're attached.
Tips For Installing Gutter Guards
Next comes the fun part: installing your new gutter guards. Before pulling out your tools, carefully read the installation instructions, and make sure that it's a job you're up for. Only professionals can install certain gutter protection systems because they're custom fitted to each home. So make sure that you're capable of installing your gutter guards before getting up on the ladder.
One of the easiest types of gutter guard to install is the snap-on, one-size-fits all variety. Because they fit on virtually any type of gutter and are relatively inexpensive, snap-on gutter guards are quite popular. For the weekend warrior, snap-on gutter guards are attractive because you don't need to pull out the power drill or screwdriver, but because they aren't tailored to your specific gutters, they may not deliver the best results.
For an even easier installation process, you can choose a gutter guard that rests inside the gutter. For those products, you don't even need to snap them in; all you need to do is measure them, cut them and set them inside your gutters (after cleaning them out, of course). It's difficult to argue with that!
Another common type of gutter guard is held in place by roof shingles and fastened down at the front edge of the gutter. The Gutterglove, the high-tech stainless steel mesh gutter guard we addressed in the previous section, uses this design. The backside of the Gutterglove doesn't need to be screwed in place because the shingles hold it down, but the front will need to be screwed to the front of your existing gutter. The Gutterglove also requires finger fasteners to connect each section together, which are connected with a thin strip of caulk.
Of course, if getting up on the roof and messing around with screws, fasteners and caulk sounds a little too daunting, you can always hire gutter technicians to come install them for you. Whether you want to install them yourself or hire someone else to do it for you, make sure to ask how a particular product is installed before investing in new gutter guards.
Use Proper Safety Precautions
People install gutter guards for a lot of reasons, but safety should be near the top of the list. As we mentioned earlier, if you have clogged gutters, the only way to clear them is to get up on a ladder and remove the debris (or to hire someone to do it for you). If they're working properly, gutter guards should at least lower the number of trips you have to make up to the roof, or prevent you from ever having to clean out another gutter again.
That said, practicing good ladder safety while installing your gutter guards is a must. Every year, thousands of people are injured from ladder falls, many of which could be easily prevented. The best way to prevent yourself from a ladder fall is to avoid working on a ladder when you're alone. If you're working on a ladder, either to clean out the gutters or to install new gutter guards, it's a good idea to work with at least one other person so that they can hand things, like the hose or a bucket, up to you. And speaking of buckets, when cleaning out gutters, use an S-hook to hold your bucket, so that both of your hands are free -- and so the bucket doesn't throw you off balance.
When setting up the ladder, it's also a good idea not to lean it up against your gutters, because the weight of the ladder with a person on it can dent -- or worse, crack -- the gutters. If you can't find a place to lean the ladder up against without damaging your gutters, you could try using an A-frame ladder or an articulating ladder that bends over the gutter without damaging it [source: DIY Network]. When you're working on gutters, you'll find yourself getting down and moving the ladder as you circumnavigate the house, don't forget to safely set up the ladder each time you move it!
The only thing that I can think of that'd be worse than having to get up on a ladder and remove handfuls of half-decomposed leaves and twigs from my gutters twice per year would be to shell out thousands of dollars on roof and foundation repair. I've never spent much time thinking about gutters (who does?), but after researching and writing this article, I doubt I'll be able to look at them the same way. I don't own a home yet, but if and when I do, those gutters will be spotless!
- Bianchina, Paul. "The truth about home gutter guards." Inman News. Oct. 27, 2006. (May 3, 2012) http://www.inman.com/buyers-sellers/columnists/truth-about-home-gutter-guards
- DIY Network. "How To Install Gutter Covers." (May 3, 2012) http://www.diynetwork.com/how-to/how-to-install-gutter-covers/index.html
- Gurskis, Jason. "How to Clean Your Gutters Before They Clean Out Your Wallet." Fox News. Dec. 22, 2010. (May 5, 2012) http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2010/10/05/clean-gutters-clean-wallet/
- Gutterbrush.com. "Install Gutter Guard Yourself; It's Easy!" (May 3, 2012) http://www.gutterbrush.com/gutter-guard-install
- Gutterfiller.com. "Gutter Protection Solutions from Gutter Filler." (May 3, 2012) http://www.gutterfiller.com/gutter_protection_00.asp?band=shi
- Gutterglove.com. "Installation Guides." (May 3, 2012) http://www.gutterglove.com/PhotosMedia/InstallationGuides.aspx
- Hageman, William. "Staying out of the gutter." Chicago Tribune. April 08, 2011. (May 2, 2012) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-04-08/classified/sc-home-0404-gutter-guards-20110408_1_gutter-guards-plastic-screens-gutter-talk