Greenspace: Gutter covers are far from perfect

Jim Hillibish

Should you follow the insistent nice guys on TV and get a leaf-proof gutter system? Well, nothing is perfect in this world, despite the ads, and that’s true here, too.

These systems do cut back on gutter cleaning. They keep leaves and most but not all debris out of gutters. They end the yearly trial of climbing up on a ladder and removing the black gunk by hand. At least for a while.

But the main issue is cost. I was quoted an astounding $22 a foot for leaf gutters for my Canton, Ohio, home. That’s going to cost $2,000 to $3,000 for the average house. No wonder they can hand out $100 gift cards as a bonus. You could hire a guy for 30 years to clean your gutters at this rate.

Many of these are sold by franchises. That accounts for some of the cost.

The leaf guards, or gutter helmets, work best on straight-line roofs. Roofs with valleys (two roofs joining in a V) can funnel double the water into a gutter. You won’t know if your leaf gutters can handle that until it happens. (Many open gutters cannot cope with that in a heavy storm and send the water plunging to the ground.)

Your average leaf-guard system comes with a guarantee to never clog. They do not clog, but there are other problems.

A worst case for a leaf guard is a heavy fall of leaves that piles up on it. No. 2 is leaves matted on gutters under snow. That creates an ice dam and can damage interior walls.

Seeds, tree pollen and pine needles can blow into the leaf gutter and rot. It is a lot more expensive to clean a "guarded" gutter than an open one.

Given all this, we still need leaf protection, especially on second-story roofs. There are cheaper alternatives that may make sense here.

These guards are made of mesh, nylon and aluminum. They are secured to the top of the gutter and block leaves. They suffer the same problems as a leaf-guard gutter, but at much lower cost and most often are self-installed.

Nylon mesh in rolls costs about 10 cents a foot. A 3-foot solid plastic cover guard that snaps on the gutter is about $2. You can buy an approximation of a leaf helmet, an aluminum cover, for about $3 a foot, self-installed.

The oddball of the bunch is a foam strip, a gutter filter, that fills the gutter. It allows water in but nothing else, at about $3.50 a foot.

None of these is perfect. Your best hope is gutter protection that will cut down on the amount of gutter cleaning. The key is how much are you willing to pay for that.

Jim HIllibish writes for The Repository in Canton, Ohio. Contact him at jim.hillibish@cantonrep.com.