Cleaning your home’s gutters can be about as fun as…well, there’s really no fun in it at all! And paying someone else to do it might not seem fun either. It is no wonder why so many homeowners think about preventative solutions in order to avoid clogs and blockages in the first place.

In theory, you would assume that gutter covers–which are specially designed to keep gutter systems free-flowing–must be a good thing. Moreover, you would expect every expert in the business to wholeheartedly recommend their installation and use.

But in reality, you’ll find just as many experts advising against this kind of hardware. Some even suggest removing gutter covers that are already in place. There’s a ton of conflicting information doing the rounds from pros and homeowners alike, so what’s the truth? One key to consider is that most experts recommending gutter covers also sell them. And most experts recommending against them are field people that have to deal with the gutter covers that have already been installed. So it can be a sort of theory versus experience issue.

Gutter Cover Types

Before coming to any kind of conclusion, it’s a good idea to first know what your options are, but also to remember that every region of the country is different. And we are constantly told that Portland is different! And the Portland area climate presents some unique challenges. Regardless, there are five primary gutter cover types used routinely across the US, which are as follows:

Mesh – Sheets of metal with many tiny holes attach to the roof and act as a filter, preventing debris from entering the gutter.

Solid Gutter Covers – Designed to effectively capture rain and excess water, while at the same time deflecting debris and leaves to the ground.

Bottle Brush – Rigid upright bristles that are used to catch debris and leaves, preventing them from entering the drainage system.

Nylon – Used in areas prone to colder winters and heavy snowfall, due to their effectiveness in reducing heavy buildup of snow.

Foam – Positioned right in the gutters themselves to allow free-flowing of water, while blocking debris and litter.

These five can be split into two categories–covers that serve as screens and those that are actually built in to the gutters. Screens are simpler in nature, far less expensive, and easy to install, though have to be replaced more frequently than covers.

In terms of which suits your needs better–this is a question you’ll need to take to the experts, along with a full description of your current gutter and drainage systems. Suffice to say, choosing at random really isn’t the way to go!

What the Experts Say

Keeping up so far? Good, because now it’s time to throw in a few pearls of wisdom from the experts!

For the most part, the consensus remains the same. If you can find, purchase, and have installed a gutter cover system that works in the Portland area’s unique climate, then go right ahead. Likewise, if you currently have covers in place and they are doing a good job, removing gutter covers doesn’t make a great deal of sense.

However, the consensus only focuses on one aspect of the gutter covers: do they keep leaves out of the gutters. And they all do that, to a greater or lesser extent. While it would seem logical that quality covers that are fit for purpose can reduce maintenance and labor requirements significantly, while at the same time minimizing clogs and blockages, that is usually not the case. The problem is that gutter covers, while somewhat keeping the debris out of gutters, ignore the rest of the system.

On the flip side, gutter covers can actually cause more problems than they solve. For example, some experts warn of gutter covers not allowing sufficient moisture to evaporate, resulting in the development of thick, unpleasant, and potentially risky mold and mildew. They also warn of the covers or screens themselves becoming clogged with dirt, debris, seeds and so on, being rendered ineffective in no time and increasing the risk of ‘gutter tree’ cultivation.

In the Portland area, we have a lot of trees and a lot of rain. By the time the leaves and needles start to drop, it’s the rainy season. And that’s the problem. The leaves and needles rarely get a chance to dry off and blow away, which is the key to every gutter cover working properly. Instead they form a mat of material on top of the gutters that allows water to flow directly over the gutters and down next to your foundation, and into your basement or crawlspace. The debris on top of the gutter can also encourage roof deteriorating moss growth along the edge of your roof. There’s even the possibility for covers to actually damage the gutters themselves as they accumulate debris.

The Possible Advantages of Gutter Covers:

  • Gutter covers will keep much of the debris out of your gutters.
  • Effective prevention of rodents and pests setting up home in your gutters.
  • Reduced frequency of cleaning.
  • Fewer trips up the ladder reduce the risk of accidents.

The Possible Disadvantages of Gutter Covers:

  • A high-end permanent gutter cover system can cost thousands of dollars.
  • There are still no 100% maintenance-free gutter covers–all still require periodic attention–and that attention will be far more expensive.
  • Removing, cleaning under and then replacing the gutter covers takes 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.
  • Gutter cover systems can contribute to premature roof failure by creating an environment for moss to grow.
  • Gutter cover systems can cause water intrusion in your crawl space or basement if water overflows.
  • Covers that prevent moisture escaping can exacerbate mold and mildew growth.
  • Some covers add excessive weight to existing gutter systems, which can cause damage.

So What to Do?

Which brings us back to the original question–what to do? Buy gutter covers? Remove gutter covers? Or just stay away from the idea of gutter covers entirely?

If you’re surrounded by huge trees that shed pretty much the whole year round, gutter covers will probably cause more problems than they solve. If you have a tree or two that doesn’t drop debris directly on the roof, gutter covers may help. If you’ve so far never had even the slightest problem with clogs and blockages, it’s definitely not worth bothering. In Portland, most gutter systems function more optimally and it’s more cost-effective to have the professionals regularly visit your home and comprehensively clean your gutters on a routine maintenance schedule.

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