Fall is here, and while we're all busy guzzling pumpkin lattes and buying sweaters, homeowners need to figure out what to do about all the leaves falling in their yards — and onto their roofs and gutters.
As we're previously pointed out, if you own a home and live in a spot where leaves and debris can accumulate in your gutters, you may want to invest in gutter guards. These guards help prevent your gutters from getting clogged by leaves — a situation that can cause problems for your roof, drainage, and the gutters themselves.
Keep in mind that even after you've installed gutter guards, you're still going to need to give your gutters a cleaning about once a year according to Eamon Lynch, director of warranty service at the Philadelphia-based Power Home Remodeling. Why? Just to make sure that no bits of debris get stuck in there, leading to a potential blockage.
There's a gutter guard for every price level and style of home, and many of them are designed to be easy to install. For example, there are the FlexxPoint Residential 5″ Gutter Guards, which are available for $84 when you buy 102 feet worth.
But just because you can install gutter guards yourself, does that make it a good idea? Or should you just pay to have a professional do it? Also, if you are going to self-install, what equipment do you need and what should you keep in mind? To help answer these and other pressing questions, we asked some home maintenance experts to walk you through the process.
Best Gutter Guards: DIY or Pay a Pro?
"It is best to pay a pro to install your gutter guards if you do not feel comfortable installing them yourself," says Kershan Bulsara, owner and manager of Roofmaster, a roofing company based out of Ottawa. "Whether you feel unsafe going up on a ladder to install them or feel as though you do not have the proper skills to install them properly, it is best to ease your mind and contact a professional to install them safely and effectively."
Zach Reece, owner of the Atlanta-based Colony Roofers, echos this sentiment. "When it comes to gutter guards, I would caution homeowners to know their limits and realize that there may be costs to doing it safely that add up quickly," he says. "If your home is more than one story, I wouldn't recommend doing it yourself for safety reasons. When you're paying for someone to install gutter protectors, you aren't necessarily paying for the materials, which are inexpensive, but for the risk, expertise and experience that allow us to do it safely. Plus, we have insurance to protect us if injured on the job, and you may not if you're attempting a DIY."
Do Gutter Guards Work for All Homes?
"Your roof’s pitch plays a big role in whether or not you’ll need professional assistance. I find that gutter guards are not very helpful for steeply pitched roofs, because water naturally splashes off of them due to their sharp angle," Lynch says. "Water actually overshoots and drops down onto the yard or lawn. Similarly, some guards can be detrimental for homes with low-pitched roofs (0 to 1.5 inches), because if a guard enables too much debris to stay in the gutter, it can prevent water from being able to flow off and then you risk causing leakage and other damage. If you’re ever unsure, I would recommend calling a professional to get their opinion and ask about potential solutions.”
Are Some Gutter Guards Better for Certain Homes or Locations?
"Some gutter guards are better for homeowners depending on the style of the home," says Bulsara. "The most significant factors are the type of roof and story levels of your home, as this will impact how water moves through your gutters and the risk of overflow issues.
"It is crucial to the types of trees around your home and your neighbors and the types of leaves, seeds, needles, or tassels they produce. If tall trees or shrubs surround your home, they will produce lots of debris and will be problematic for your gutters as they risk getting clogged," he adds. "If this is your case, avoid perforated gutter guards; however, if trees are at a distance from your home, they are the right choice. Opting in for a micromesh gutter guard is the best choice if you have overhanging trees. This concept is designed to keep leaves, pine needles, oak tassels, and shingle granules out of your gutter, allowing continuous water flow."
Many gutter guards use micromesh. Shane Dutka, the founder and general manager of the D.C.-based Review Home Warranties, is a fan of the Ultra Flo brand of gutter guards, which feature micromesh and sell for $109.50 in 100-foot sections.
What Gutter Guards Are Easy to Install Yourself?
"Just like how they sound, drop-in style gutter guards are simply dropped into the gutter trough. They are often made from a foam pad or brush, so they aren’t the highest quality, but they’re the easiest to install and maintain because they don’t require any tools," says Lynch.
The FlexxPoint Residential 5″ Gutter Guards, for example, are an example of the easy-to-install, drop-in-style, with prices starting at $84.
"Similarly, tension guards are also fairly easy to install because they don’t need to be secured with screws. Once these guards are installed, their tension ensures they stay in place," says Lynch.
Brian Patrick, CEO of Pest Strategies recommends LeafFilter Gutter Guards as an example of a good tension guard. LeafFilter offers professional installation, and the company offers consultations in order to determine your price, which will vary based on your roof size and whether your gutters need to be repaired. The company will honor its quoted price for up to a year.
What Gutter Guards Are Hard to Install?
"Gutter guards that sit on top of the gutter itself can be trickier to install. Oftentimes, you have to reach over the gutter to correctly position the guard at the lip, while drilling and securing it in place," says Lynch. "And because it’s a permanent hold, you have to make sure to install it perfectly straight or level. If you don’t, the hole drilled will be oblong, making it more difficult to remove and reinstall during maintenance."
What Gutter Guards Should Only Be Installed by Pros?
"Gutter guards that are installed with the over-under method should be left to professionals. This method is riskier and requires the guard to be placed over the drip edge and the first course, and then tucked under the second course of shingles," says Lynch. "Although effective, this method is challenging because shingles are delicate in nature and you have to be careful not to break them while lifting them up.”
Lynch adds, "If you are screwing the gutter guards into the roof, the placement of each screw is critical. The screws cannot be exposed and must be covered, or lapped, by the course of shingles above. Exposed screws could potentially lead to a whole new set of issues, so I’d leave these methods of installation to the pros."
DIY Gutter Guard Installation: What Tools Do I Need?
Here's a list of tools and equipment that should be on your shopping list if you want to install gutter guards yourself — all recommended by home improvement experts.
"If you only have a one-story building, here is a great ladder to use," says Reece.
Another common tool you’ll need is a drill so that you can fasten the guards in place. I always recommend a cordless one, so you don’t have to worry about wires getting caught on the ladder," says Lynch. "For the weekend warriors, I like Makita professional grade."
"A roof harness is a good basic, but MUST be installed correctly to be effective, you don't want a false sense of security," Reece says. "This one from 3M has a 310 lb capacity, keep in mind that has to include your equipment, boots and tools.
"I can't emphasize enough how much this should be done by professionals; if you need to use a harness, you should likely bring in a professional unless you have experience installing them correctly or a construction background."
“Gutter guards come in different sizes and will likely need to be trimmed or cut down with snips to fit your gutters,” says Lynch. "I’ve found that work gloves are particularly important if the gutter guards are made from aluminum or metal because you run a greater risk of getting cut when you customize them.
“When it comes to work gloves, standard leather pairs that you might pick up for landscaping or gardening tend to be bulky and not the best fit for your hands. Mechanics' gloves are more form fitting and have padded knuckles and finger tips, which makes working with your hands much easier and more flexible.”
GutterStuff Original 4-ft. Foam Filter Plastic Gutter Guard: 8-Pack for $57.19
"If you have a bungalow situation and a good quality ladder, foam gutter protectors can easily be placed in the gutter without too much skill," Reece says. Still, consider them only "a temporary solution as they may not last as long as mesh."
What to Do Before Installing Gutter Guards?
"Don’t forget to inspect your gutters before installing the guards. I always recommend having your gutters cleaned and checked for damage. If your gutters aren’t fastened tightly to the fascia board, this can complicate things when you need a repair," says Lynch. "One easy way to assess if your gutters need maintenance is to check the downspouts. If water isn’t coming out, this means your gutters are clogged and need attention. Now that we’ve approached fall, this is a great time to check it out. If you have too much debris clogging up your gutters and you let it lay through the winter, it can lead to ice damming and other greater issues."
What About a Real DIY Project: Can I Make My Own Gutter Guards?
"You can also create your own using sheet metal and a drill bit if you’re up for the DIY task," Lynch says. "By measuring and cutting the sheet to meet your gutter’s dimensions, you can add a pattern of holes to let water drain through. This is also a great tip to keep in mind for gutter guards that aren’t functioning properly. I’ve often seen homeowners drill additional holes in their gutter guards to allow more water to pass through."