You’re in the market for gutter guards because you’re tired of the dangerous, messy business of cleaning your gutters a couple of times a year. But when you start looking, you realize that there are many options on the market. In this article, we’ll explore the different types of gutter guards and the pros and cons of each.
What is a Gutter Guard?
A gutter guard is a cap or insert that blocks debris from entering your gutter system. It is typically made from plastic, stainless steel, aluminum, or copper.
Also known as gutter covers, leaf guards, and gutter helmets, they prevent leaves, twigs, pine needles, and acorns from clogging your gutters and reduce the need for frequent gutter cleaning. Once gutters become blocked, it doesn’t take long for drains and downspouts to become clogged, too.
While they can be a big upfront expense, an effective gutter guard system will pay for itself over time.
Benefits of Gutter Guards
Homeowners can significantly reduce the amount of gutter maintenance needed on their homes by installing leaf guards. Some benefits of leaf guards include:
- Protect from mold and mildew development, foundation damage, rotting fascia, and basement flooding
- Prevent vermin and insect infestation
- Reduce the need for yearly gutter cleaning
- Prevent existing gutters from premature rust and corrosion
- Reduce the likelihood of fire by stopping the buildup of dry debris
- Alleviate destructive ice dams
Types of Gutter Guards
While each gutter guard has the same goal, not all covers are created equal. Homeowners have many factors to consider when deciding on the right type of gutter guard for their homes.
- Climate: If you live in a harsh climate — either very hot or very cold — flimsy plastic guards probably aren’t the best option because they can warp in extreme temperatures. Instead, consider going with stainless steel.
- Roof type: Steep roofs, less accessible roofs, and long rooflines translate to higher installation costs.
- Width of your gutters: Most gutters are 5 inches wide, but some can be 4 or 6 inches. Pro tip: measure your gutters before purchasing guards.
There are six main types of gutter guards on the market, but there’s no reason to become overwhelmed with all your options. You’ll find that each type offers varying levels of maintenance, cost, and features.
Screen Gutter Guards
The most common type of gutter guard, screen guards are a great choice if you’re working within a tight budget. Typically plastic or aluminum, screen covers block large debris well, but they can allow smaller debris to enter your gutters. Screen guards require yearly cleaning and are not ideal for homeowners in windy areas because they can blow out of your gutters.
Screen gutter guards don’t require professional installation. However, if you’re not an experienced DIYer, you may want to opt for professional help anyway.
- DIY installation
- Block large debris
- Available in various sizes and materials
- Not good for pine needles or small debris
- May need professional installation
- Require regular maintenance
- Can blow off gutters during a storm
Mesh Gutter Guards
Mesh gutter guards are similar to screen guards but have smaller holes. They do an excellent job of blocking all types of debris from entering your gutters while allowing water to flow through.
Mesh guards require less maintenance than screen guards, but they tend to be higher in price.
Mesh gutter guards should be installed by a professional because they are generally slipped under the bottom row of your roof shingles. If you attempt to install these yourself and damage your roof, this could void the warranty.
- Easy to maintain
- Improve water flow
- Block large debris
- Improper installation can void roof warranty
- Typically requires professional installation
- Smaller debris can get inside
Micro-mesh Gutter Guards
Micro-mesh gutter guards are generally regarded as the best gutter guard type. They have extremely small holes, which can filter out even the smallest debris like pine straw and shingle granules. Micro-mesh guards are excellent for homes with heavy tree cover and those that experience heavy downpours.
Stainless steel micro-mesh gutter guards last a long time. Because of this, they tend to be one of the most expensive types of gutter guards. They also require professional installation, which will add to their already high price.
- Minimal maintenance
- Typically have a warranty
- Filter almost all debris types
- Allows for the best water flow away from the foundation
- Made of high-quality materials
- Not visible from the ground
- Debris can accumulate on top of the gutter cover
- Need professional installation
Surface Tension Gutter Guards
Also known as reverse curve gutter guards, surface tension gutter helmets are the oldest option on the market. They cover your gutters with a slotted opening on the outside for water to enter. Ultimately, water flows over the top of the guard, around the curve, and into the slot, while debris slides off the top of the cover and onto the ground.
Surface tension gutter guards are great for homes with lots of foliage. However, if you have a steep roof, these guards may not be the best option. Water can gain too much momentum and shoot over your cover and onto the ground.
Reverse curve gutter guards often require homeowners to purchase new gutters and professional installation, so costs can add up quickly.
- Usually come with a warranty
- Prevent fascia rot
- Block large debris
- Require less maintenance
- Excellent at allowing proper water flow through gutters
- Require professional installation
- Water may flow over the gutters during heavy downpours
- Poor installation could affect your roof warranty
- Visible from the ground
- Small debris can still get inside
Foam Gutter Guards
If you’re on a budget and want to install gutter guards yourself, foam gutter guards are a great option. They’re a long, dense, triangular piece of foam that easily slides into your gutter system.
The downside, foam gutter guards make cleaning messy. In order to clean your gutters, they need to be removed and then replaced. In addition, large debris will build up on top of the foam causing them to deteriorate quickly.
- DIY installation
- Block large debris
- Fits a variety of gutter styles
- Smaller debris can collect on top of the foam
- Disintegrate over time and don’t last long
- Difficult to clean
- Can trap water
Brush Gutter Guards
Brush gutter guards are another affordable option. Resembling large pipe cleaners, brush gutter guards sit inside your gutter system. They are designed to allow water to flow through the bristles while keeping debris out. While they work well for large debris, smaller debris tends to get stuck in the bristles. Unfortunately, brush gutter guards require frequent cleaning, and there is no easy way to clean them out.
- Easy to install
- Variety of sizes
- Allows maximum water flow
- Will not void roof warranty
- Require lots of maintenance
- Wind or animals can remove from gutters
- Clog easily with small debris
- Can damage existing gutters
Gutter Guard Overview
|Gutter Guard Type||Average Cost Per Linear Foot||Installation||Average Lifespan|
|Screen||$1.50 to $3.17||DIY or professional||5 to 10 years|
|Mesh||$1.16 to $2.75||Mostly professional||4 to 11 years|
|Micro-mesh||$2 to $3.50||Professional||4 to 11 years|
|Surface Tension||$3.58 to $6.69||Professional||Up to 20 years|
|Foam||$2.17 to $4.25||DIY||2 to 5 years|
|Brush||$3.12 to $4.50||DIY||Up to 5 years|
Frequently Asked Questions About Gutter Guards
There is no such thing as a maintenance-free gutter guard, but some varieties need more maintenance than others. For example, brush gutter guards require routine maintenance because debris can become entangled in their bristles.
Most gutter guards will work in heavy rain, but some surface tension gutter covers don’t handle downpours well because they are installed on top of the gutter. Micro-mesh tend to be the best gutter guards for heavy downpours.
Brush gutter guards are the easiest option to install. Resembling large pipe cleaners, these leaf guards are simply inserted into the gutter and can be pulled out when they need to be cleaned.
Final Word on Gutter Guards
If you’re looking to invest in gutter guards, take your time to consider the pros and cons of each gutter guard option on the market. Depending on the type you choose, installation can be tricky. If you’re interested in installing gutter guards, reach out to one of our home improvement specialists for a consultation.