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. That’s what rain gutters are for. Gutters just are not optional. And keeping your 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 covers.
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 covers 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 Cover Types
There are many different types and specifications of products and protection systems available, though all fall into one of the following three categories:
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 dozens of brands and countless different product specifications. Why so many? Because there are drawbacks to each design and everyone thinks that they can get rich if they can 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 here in Portland, with the trees dropping leaves and needles after the rains start, all these various options will collect debris on top of the cover. In many instances this forms a mat of debris that doesn’t let water into the gutters, which then leads to, among other things:
1) mold and mildew build up in the gutters; 2) water potentially wicking up into your roof, leading to a perfect place for moss to grow and water intrusion in walls and ceilings; and 3) water flowing over the edge of the gutter, potentially damaging your siding, eroding your foundation, and water intrusion in your basement or crawl space. You can see photos of gutter covers that led to roof damage and water intrusion on our Facebook page here.
Ask your Realtor: at least 95% of water intrusion is caused by improperly or uncleaned gutters. With gutter covers, you are often merely shifting the problem from the inside of the gutter to the top of the gutter with similar results.
Plus, removing, cleaning under and then replacing the gutter covers takes at least twice as much time as just cleaning the gutters, and therefore usually costs about twice as much, resulting in little or no net saving to extending the time between cleanings.
Cost-wise, if you still want them, it’s perfectly possible to pick up basic gutter covers or screens at a low cost per linear-foot. DIY installation is usually possible if you can reach your gutters safely from the ground, though bringing in the professionals comes highly recommended to ensure the gutter screen is going to do its job, at least to the best of its ability. If, after reading all this, you’ve made the decision to go ahead with gutter covers, we can properly install them for you. Our advice would be to not spend too much money on the gutter covers. You will likely end up removing and throwing them away in the near future.
What Does Work?
So if gutter covers and screens aren’t generally effective in the Portland area, is there anything that does work? Yes, there are three things that you can do that will help your gutter system significantly.
First, have your gutters cleaned regularly on a routine maintenance schedule appropriate for the type and density of tree coverage you have. Our recommendations are discussed here.
Second, make sure you have the largest outlets possible leading to your downspouts to maximize the flow capacity of your system. Outlets are the hardware that connects downspouts to the inside of the gutter. Chances are excellent that your outlets 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.
Third, consider leaf traps. These are devices installed at the base of your downspouts that have an opening that lets you 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.
If you would like a free estimate for gutter cleaning, or the installation of leaf traps or larger outlets, we invite you to click the button or give us a call at (503) 407-3346.