Gutter guard manufacturers promise to make your life easier. Install this awesome system on your roof and you'll never have to clean your gutters again! That's the promise, but how accurate is this? Do these systems really work? Are they worth the money? Maybe. To start, here's a video discussion on the topic:
A stern lecture from me
Clogged gutters are a big deal. Seriously. You're better off with no gutters than clogged gutters because clogged gutters will cause overflowing gutters. This leads to water intrusion, rotted soffits, rotted fascia, and all other kinds of bad stuff you don't want at your home.
If you have large trees near your home, you need a plan to keep your gutters clean. The traditional methods are to either work off a ladder or walk on the roof, but I can't decide which one is more dangerous. I actually had a client bring his own ladder to an inspection once, so he could clean out the gutters at the distressed home he was buying. He reached too far, his ladder tipped over, and he took a nasty fall.
I haven't tried any of these methods, I'm not endorsing them, and I can foresee problems with all of them. But still, none of these potential problems could be as bad as falling off of a roof.
There's no perfect solution, but proper use of a ladder is a safe option, as far as I'm concerned. That's what I've always done, and it has worked well for me. My tool of choice is a $4 gutter scoop.
Gutter guards can do a very good job of keeping gutters flowing freely. If you have big trees in your yard, gutter guards really will save you time and nasty work by helping to prevent your gutters from getting clogged. I'm a fan of properly installed, high-quality gutter guards.
If you go for the really high-end systems, you can even get heated gutter guards to help with ice dams. One such product is the Helmet Heat® system from Gutter Helmet. These systems won't prevent ice dams, because ice dams begin to form above the gutter. They will, however, help to give melting snow and ice a path to the ground.
There is no such thing as a maintenance-free gutter guard system. Even the best systems can be completely overcome by debris on the roof, as the valley trees below clearly illustrate.
Let me repeat, there is no such thing as a maintenance-free gutter guard system. No matter what you install, someone will still need to get on the roof or a ladder to clear off debris. If this isn't done, water can overcome the gutters.
Additionally, there is no perfect system. Solid 'shield' type of gutter guards rely on the capillary properties of water to get water into the gutters. This works well with normal rain but can overflow with heavy rain, despite what manufacturers claim on their websites. This video clip demonstrates this.
I've seen tons of outright failures on cheap DIY systems. I recommend staying away from these.
I've seen failures on the high-end systems too, however. No system is perfect.
Back in 2010, Consumer Reports did a report on gutter guard systems. They rated one particular DIY plastic guard as a Best Buy, but I don't agree with their findings. I call those plastic things junk. They might work fine when they're initially installed, but I know from experience that they clog and collapse into the gutters over time.
If you're going to do a gutter guard, do it right. Either purchase a high-end system or have a high-end system professionally installed.
High-quality gutter guards are great, but they're expensive. You could spend up to $30 a foot on an installed system. There are many great options available, and I'm not going to try to steer you in one direction or another, because I've seen them all perform well when properly installed and properly maintained. The evaluation that Consumer Reports did back in 2010 came under heavy fire for having left out a lot of big players in the industry. They haven't done another report since.
If you're planning to install a system yourself, check out the installation instructions to make sure it's a job that you can tackle, and if it seems too easy or too good to be true, it surely is. If you're going to hire a pro, work with a company that you like and be sure to ask about warranties.
Most importantly, remember that you'll still need to periodically inspect your roof and gutters for debris. Also, remember that someone will need to get up there to periodically clean stuff off.
Special thanks to Kyle Miller at All Around for his insight and advice.