Low Maintenance Roof Gutter Systems - Leaf Them Alone

Jim Mallery

It's hard to keep your thoughts out of the gutter when you're perilously perched atop a ladder trying to scoop your gutter clean. And if you have an old house, old rusting steel roof gutters or rotting wooden ones might compound your evil thoughts.

Manufacturers have developed what they claim are gutter systems guaranteed to keep leaves out. They're not as fool-proof as advertised, but they do help. They can also cost twice as much as conventional seamless aluminum roof gutters, so you need to weigh the pros and cons.

There are two common designs of leaf deterrent--the deflector and the mesh screen. You want to shop your area carefully to see which systems are available and to find reputable installers.

Gutter Deflectors

A deflector style roof gutter has a solid cap over the top of the gutter. The front edge of the cap is rounded, so water follows the curve and drops into the gutter, while leaves and needles fall off the rounded edge to the ground--that's the theory, anyway. Leaf Guard and Gutter Helmet are a couple of the brand names for this style.

  • Problems: Deflector gutters do allow some needles and small leaves inside, although they are better at rejecting broad leaves. They also let dirt and pollen into the gutter. The rounded edge can get very dirty and unsightly. In a heavy rain, the gutters do not capture all of the water--much of it spills to the ground instead of into the gutter. This spillage is exacerbated by the oft-dirty edges. These gutters can also produce huge and dangerous icicles. Also, the gap below the curved edge makes an inviting environment for wasp and bird nests, which of course clog the gutter.

Gutter Meshes

The other style of leaf-free gutter employs a mesh covering that lets water through, but blocks debris. LeafFilter and Gutterglove are two common mesh makers. Manufacturers argue that debris that gathers on the mesh should dry and blow off in the wind, rather than remain on the mesh and block it.

  • Problems: Some mesh systems are not durable, and there is always a danger of a falling branch ripping the mesh. No matter what manufacturers say about self-clearing debris, it can still gather on the screens and needs to be cleaned off. When they're clogged with debris, these systems also spill water over the edge of the gutter in heavy rain.

So if you are tired of yearly gutter scooping, there are some pricey solutions out there. Although they may not work entirely as advertised, they can greatly reduce your annual pain.

About the Author

Jim Mallery, a semi-retired journalist and onetime registered contractor, has extensive experience remodeling, repairing, and rebuilding homes.

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