Confession: One of the main reasons that I sold my single-family house several years ago was to avoid raking and cleaning out the gutters.
That dirty, dangerous fall chore had me standing precariously on the top step of my 6-foot ladder to grab gobs of goo. Yes, I should know better than to stand on the top step, and yes, I was too cheap to hire someone to do the job.
My solution? Buy a townhouse, save a trip to the emergency room and never worry about gutters again.
Or so I thought. Last winter, my downspouts were bursting at the seams after my association had the gutters cleaned but not the downspouts. I could no longer be blissfully ignorant about my gutters.
It was time for a fresh look at hooded “surface tension” gutters, screens, foam, bottle brush and fine mesh options. I researched the topic nearly a decade ago and found that the same systems are still around, with some losing favor and others being perfected.
It’s my experience that most people are happy with whatever system they’ve installed, with a few exceptions. Cheap, aluminum screens with ¼-inch holes, foam inserts and bottle brush inserts all clog easily with leaf stems, seeds and helicopters.
Before I switched to “maintenance-free” living, I installed Sheerflow/Amerimax plastic gutter guards. In my opinion, they’re a worthy bargain at less than $1 per foot at Home Depot or Menards. A two-layer system, each 3 or 4-ft section has plastic holes on the bottom layer and screen-like mesh on the top that’s too fine to collect stems and seeds. The downside? The plastic construction doesn’t hold up as well as metal and is vulnerable to cracking or collapsing under heavy snow. Best case scenario, they probably last only two to four years.
In the September issue of Family Handyman magazine, which rated gutter guards, it chose the surface tension or hooded system, where water hugs the curve of the rounded nose of the gutter, as the best overall. They need little maintenance and are long-lasting. But they’re also the most expensive, difficult to install correctly, and may not be an option with steel, tile, slate or wood roofs, according to the magazine.
I heard from some local consumers that surface tension systems cause more icicles. They also complain that water rushes to the ground in a heavy rainstorm. But consumers who have fine mesh screens report the same problems. I wouldn’t reject either system for those reasons unless the icicles are dripping over a sidewalk or driveway, causing a slippery surface. According to Johnathan Skardon, who writes guttertalkblog.com, ice and snow will build up on gutter guards. “I prefer the ice and snow to melt into the gutter,” he said. “Snow in a gutter doesn’t melt as fast.”
Skardon sells all types of gutter guards and acknowledges that none is perfect. He calls the foam and bottle brush inserts a waste of money. He likes the surface tension systems but said they’re not maintenance-free. “Most of the calls I get are from people with solid covers that have gotten clogged after three to five years,” he said.
He prefers the fine mesh systems, especially the better ones made from durable, surgical stainless steel rather than aluminum. But the small holes that keep out leaf stems, needles and helicopters can trap shingle grit. Newer models have slightly larger holes to minimize that.
One highly regarded fine-mesh option recommended by some local installers and Family Handyman is the EasyOn Gutter Guard (made by Gutterglove) from Costco.com. It costs between $2 and $3.50 per linear foot, is available in 5 or 6-inch widths and does not require professional installation. Nonmembers can also purchase it online from Costco at a 5 percent surcharge.
For those who want to consider a surface tension gutter, Consumer Reports rated Gutter Topper and LeafGuard brands highly, but consumers should negotiate on price. Many sales reps don’t get paid unless they close the deal during their home visit, which can lead to a high-pressure sale. The company may still call at a later date with a lower price. Skardon said the best deals on hooded gutters will be between $10 to $15 per foot for labor and materials.
I suggest trying a less expensive system such as the fine mesh first. The average home has about 150 linear feet of gutters, but you may want to test a smaller section initially.
Moving to a townhouse to avoid raking and gutter cleaning probably seems extreme, so I asked on Facebook for other solutions. Bill Ward of Minneapolis wrote, “Happiest day of my life was when I had the tree in my backyard cut down.”
Even this tree hugger couldn’t help but empathize a little.