Rain gutter screens offer the hope of reduced maintenance. But our experience from installing and removing gutter screens for over forty years indicates that sometimes they actually do reduce gutter system maintenance but usually they do not. Installation of these screens often costs more than the resultant saving in maintenance expense. Gutter cleaning when screens are present costs more than cleaning of unscreened gutters, and screens are usually damaged at least a little with every cleaning.
The only reliable gutter screening is very rigid and strong. For installations we fabricate screens on-site, cut from long lengths of welded wire mesh available at most hardware stores. This mesh comes in one-eighth inch, one-quarter inch or one-half inch mesh size. You simply cut the mesh into strips about five or six feet long by about seven inches wide. Insert these strips up under the lowest course of shingles but not under the roof tar paper and then screw the front edge of the strips to the front edge of the rain gutters. This is a very hard task and is not recommended for inexperienced workers.
Gaps are left in the screening at gutter corners and at gutter outlets for cleaning. While gutter screens reduce the amount of cleaning required, they do not eliminate all cleaning.
An alternative installation method is to use strips of twelve or fourteen inches in width and insert the strips up under the second course of shingles and fasten to the gutters in the same method. This can give more pitch to the screens.
For gutters over two stories high, or for medium high gutters where few trees are present, a good and low cost alternative is to install “light bulb” shaped outlet screens, sometimes called “downspout screens.” These work well if very few leaves fall in the gutters; they will block up easily from leaves, but they are also easily unblocked.
Beware of outlet screens made of mesh. Bulb-shaped screens sold at some hardware stores are made of mesh. These will block up very easily and usually cause more maintenance than they reduce. Good outlet screens are made of strong vertical strands shaped into light bulb configuration with a small solid patch on top to hold the strands together. The good outlet screens look similar to the protective covers on “trouble lights.” There is no mesh or net-like configuration used in good outlet screens. Look around and you will find these correct bulb shapes. Some stores stock both types.
Flexible screening is never recommended. Flexible screening can often last a year or two before squirrels, raccoons or the like wriggle it out of position. Usually the weight of wet leaves will cave flexible screening into the gutter itself. Remember that if the screening bends in your hands, it will bend in the gutters.
Gutter awnings, gutter deflectors, patented gutter covers and similar “gadgets” are interesting but impractical for commercial usage. We have seen some deflector-type awnings repel leaves nicely, but the gutters filled up over time with “small stuff” that is not deflected. Squirrels mess up the awnings’ workings as they bury their nuts in the gutter debris. Eventually the awnings are discarded during a gutter cleaning.
Balance your costs. Gutter cleaning may cost fifty cents per foot per year. Cheap flexible gutter screening may cost one dollar per foot and only last one or two years. Strong, well-installed screening may cost three dollars per foot and reduce the cleaning requirements from annual cleaning down to cleaning every three or four years. Few, if any, gutter screens seem to last over ten years.
Gene Simpson is a principal at the Simpson Company in Pal, an ECHO-member firm founded in 1956 that does property maintenance and repair and waterproofing for many homeowner associations.