Getting it Right with Gutter Protection

Let’s face it, we live in a rain forest! We have a lot of trees in the Portland area, and we get a lot of rain. That rain needs to be moved away from your home’s foundation to prevent water intrusion in your basement or crawlspace, and protect the basic integrity of your home. We do that with rain gutters. Gutters just are not optional. And keeping the gutter system working properly is a really important maintenance item. And there’s the rub: because of the rain and the trees, it is an ongoing maintenance item, usually at least two times a year. And a lot of people, knowing that there is not an app for that, look to mechanical systems known generally as gutter screens.

It is admittedly a tantalizing idea: Put something over the gutter to keep leaves, needles, seeds, and other debris out, and never have to worry about cleaning your gutters again! In fact, well known companies advertise just that! However, as is often the case, the theory and advertisements don’t hold up when they meet the reality of Portland’s climate and trees.

Almost all gutter screens promise to keep leaves out of your gutters. And they do, for the most part. The problem is that they ignore the rest of the gutter system.

Gutter Screen Types

There are many different types and specifications of products and protection systems available, though all fall into one of the following three brackets:

  • Screen Gutter Covers – These serve as filters that physically screen dirt and debris from the water. They range from ultra-cheap screen panels to costly micro-mesh and come in all imaginable shapes and sizes.
  • Solid Gutter Covers – Designed to effectively capture rain and excess water, while at the same time deflecting debris and leaves to the ground. These are a permanent installation, very expensive, and when it comes time for maintenance, you won’t be done spending big bucks
  • Brush or Foam Gutter Inserts – Products that sit in the actual gutters themselves, allowing water to run through their open channels while blocking leaves and debris.

For each category, you’ll no doubt come across hundreds of brands and thousands of different product specifications. Why so many? Because there a drawbacks to each design and everyone thinks that they can get rich if they just build the better mousetrap. And they are usually designed to work in all climates, mostly in the population heavy areas of the Midwest and Eastern United States. Not Portland.

For our climate, with its combination of the trees dropping leaves and needles after the rains start, all systems will collect debris on top of the guard, forming a mat, which doesn’t let water into the gutters (causing a mold and mildew build up in the gutters, and potentially causing water to wick up into your roof, causing water intrusion in walls and ceilings), and causes the water to flow over the edge of the gutter, potentially eroding your foundation and creating the potential for water intrusion in your basement or crawl space. Ask your Realtor: at least 95% of water intrusion is caused by improperly or uncleaned gutters. With gutter screens, you are often merely shifting the problem from the bottom of the gutter to the top of the gutter with similar results.

Cost-wise, if you still want them, it’s perfectly possible to pick up basic gutter screening at a low cost per linear-foot. DIY installation is usually possible, though bringing in the professionals comes highly recommended to ensure the gutter screening or guard is going to do its job. Our advice would be to not spend too much money on the gutter guards. You will likely end up removing and throwing them away in the near future.

What Does Work?

So if gutter screens aren’t really effective in the Portland area, is there anything that does work? Yes, there are two things that you can do that will help your gutter system significantly.

First, make sure you have the largest outlets possible leading to your downspouts. Chances are excellent that your downspouts are undersized. The math says that if you go from a 1″ diameter outlet to a 2″ diameter outlet, you let four times (4X) as much water out of the gutter and into the downspout. That is a very big deal.

Second, consider leaf traps. These are devices installed at the base of your downspouts that have an opening that lets your clear debris out easily while standing safely on the ground. It also keeps most debris from going into your drainage system, and is an easy way to monitor the condition of your gutters, since a lot of debris in the leaf trap tells you it is probably time to call in the pros.

We can recommend and install both larger outlets and leaf traps for you.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

If, after reading all this, you’ve made the decision to go ahead with gutter screens, we can properly install them for you. If you are determined to go it alone, you might want to learn from the mistakes of others, rather than facing a costly trial and error process yourself!

Here’s a quick rundown of just a few common mistakes to steer clear of:

  1. Buying the Wrong Size – Rookie error number-one is that of picking up a quality gutter protection system that’s too big or too small for the gutters. If it’s too big, chances are it won’t fit the gutters at all without hashed modifications that could render it useless. And if it’s too small, it won’t be able to keep the gutters free of the debris and dirt it should be blocking.
  2. Hammer and Nails – Quite simply, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to nail gutter guards directly into the roof shingles. The reason being that the moment you compromise the integrity of your shingles, you compromise your roof’s ability to do its job. Which is quite an important job! There are specific installation systems and methods to use in accordance with the guards you choose – NEVER bash holes in your roof!
  3. Lifting Roof Shingles – Still on the same subject, lifting the shingles should also be avoided. Doing so will inherently reduce their effectiveness and is generally unnecessary if you know what you’re doing.
  4. Gutter Damage – If you rush the job, go about it with the wrong tools, or try to force the wrong guards into place, you will damage your gutters…guaranteed. Do your homework, know what you’re getting into and be sure you have what you need, before getting started.

If you have any other questions, we invite you to click here or give us a call at 503-407-3346.