Gutter guards (aka leaf covers for gutters) are an attractive idea to homeowners whose homes are surrounded by large trees. Plenty of marketing dollars go into promoting gutter guards, but are they really worth the money?
In this guide, we cover the cost to install gutter leaf guards, their pros and cons, and alternative approaches — all in an effort to help you decide whether or not gutter guards make sense for your home.
Right off the bat: Gutter guards will not completely eliminate the need for gutter cleaning.
You should know a couple realities from the start: Gutter covers WILL reduce the frequency of gutter cleaning, but they WON’T completely eliminate it.
Depending on how many trees are in your landscape or backyard surrounding your property, expect to clean your gutters about one-third to one-half as often as you did before.
It’s impossible to keep fine tree debris out of the gutters. The debris will build up over time. Seeds might sprout, and you’ll have significant clog issues if you don’t clean the gutters.
Did you know? When your gutters eventually need to be cleaned, the job will be more difficult and time-consuming because you’ll have to clean the gutter guards and the gutters.
Depending on the type of guards you install, removing them before cleaning the gutters might be a necessary extra step in the process.
Three Gutter Guard Installation Options
You’ve got three options for gutter guard installation:
DIY installation: You buy the product at your local Wall Mart, Lowe’s, or Home Depot and install it yourself ($-$$)
Pro installation of the product you buy or select: You hire a handyman service or gutter guard company to install the product of your choice ($$-$$$)
Pro installation of a proprietary product: You hire a company to install its own brand of gutter guards ($$$-$$$$)
How Much Do Gutter Guards Cost?
The features of the gutter cover types are listed below. First, here’s what you can expect to pay based on the three options for gutter guard installation we just listed. All costs are in linear feet:
- Plastic screen gutter guard: $.20-$.40 (20-40 cents)
- Aluminum perforated gutter covers: $.50-$1.25
- Steel screen gutter guard: $1.50-$3.00
- Foam gutter guard: $2.00-$3.25
- Micro-mesh steel gutter guard: $2.25-$4.00
- Brush gutter guard: $3.15-$4.25
- Solid-surface gutter guard (helmets): $3.50-$6.25
Professional installation cost when you purchase the materials: $1.85-$3.75
Full-service professional installation — materials supplied and installed by a gutter guard company: $7.50-$12.00
Types of Gutter Guards and Their Features
What are the best gutter guards? It depends on how heavily-treed your property is and what type of trees they are.
Some gutter covers work better against hardwood leaves while others do a better job keeping pine/conifer needles out of your gutters.
Here are the types with their individual pros and cons:
Plastic PVC screen gutter guards: ($.20-$.40/ft.) These are the cheapest in quality, not just in price. They’re produced in rolls of flexible plastic with width options of 5” to 7” and ranging in length from 15’ to 30’. They can be cut to length with a utility knife or similar tool.
The guards lay on top of the gutters and can be tucked under the eave or drip edge. There are typically no fasteners used.
- Pros: Inexpensive and easy to install, strong enough not to collapse under wet leaves
- Cons: Cheap, strong wind, ice and large twigs can move them out of place, they might warp in very hot weather and become brittle in sunny climates and where hot/cold weather cycles are common
- Best for: Both leaves and needles
- Durability: Expect about 3 years in harsh climates and up to 6 years in temperate climates
Pro Tip: Tucking any gutter guard under the first layer of shingles is not recommended because it exposes the roof deck to wind-driven rain. Doing so might also void your shingle warranty.
Perforated aluminum covers: These guards are lengths of aluminum 4’ to 8’ that has been punched to produce perforations. Most is bare aluminum. Some types are installed with fasteners to the fascia; Others are bent in front and back to snug into the gutter.
- Pros: They are affordable. DIY installation is possible, but you’ll need a hacksaw or straight snips for cutting them to fit. Aluminum maintains its appearance and won’t rust. Many believe this type offers the best value of any gutter guard.
- Cons: Products that are installed with fasteners make it difficult to clean the gutters when fine debris and seeds (that might sprout) eventually get into them.
- Best for: All debris types.
- Durability: Expect 10-20 years of use.
Pro Tip: Wear protective gloves for installation because the cut edges are sharp.
Steel screen gutter guards: ($1.50-$3.00/ft.) These cost quite a lot more than the plastic type, but their performance is the same and they are more durable. Most come in pre-cut lengths of 6’ to 10’ and can be trimmed with tin snips. Width options are 5” to 7”. Some versions curl down between the gutter and the fascia. Others tuck under the first layer of shingles and should be avoided.
- Pros: Reasonably priced and easy to install, good strength
- Cons: Cheaper products aren’t powder coated, so will rust quickly. Heavy twigs and ice dams can damage them.
- Best for: Both leaves and needles
- Durability: Expect 7-10 years of use, though they’ll rust in a couple years if not powder-coated. The powder coat will start to fail in 5-10 years depending on the product and your climate.
Pro Tip: When debris covers these guards, wait until it is dry, and use a brush to remove it.
Micro-mesh gutter guards: ($2.25-$4.00/ft.) Micro-screen covers have the same pros and cons of screen gutter guards. Materials used are plastic, steel and aluminum. Metal guards might be powder-coated.
- Pros: The smaller holes keep more debris out of gutters. Powder-coated types are more durable and look better.
- Cons: The smaller holes become blocked more easily, especially by large, wet leaves, so this type is best suited to dry climates.
- Best for: Hardwood leaves
- Durability: Expect 3-12 years of use depending on the material – Plastic (basic), powder-coated steel or plain aluminum (better) or coated aluminum (best.)
Pro Tip: Powder-coated mesh guards can be painted with a good exterior spray paint before installation to match your shingle color. Matte finishes are preferred.
Foam gutter guards: ($2.00-$3.25/ft.) These guards are typically polyurethane. The foam wedges are triangular, about 5” wide and available in strips up to 8’ long. The base is wedged into the gutter; the point sticks up. Debris is prevented from getting into the gutter, but water will filter through.
- Pros: Foam is easy to install, and it stays in place well without fasteners. Effectively keeps out leaves and needles.
- Cons: Like any filter, the foam can become blocked and allow water to pass over it and onto the ground. Once the foam collects enough organic matter, algae and moss will grow on it, causing an unsightly mess. The sun breaks down the foam, and microplastics are washed to the ground and might eventually show up in ground water and other water sources. Expect to remove the foam wedges to wash them every year or two in wet climates and every three to five years elsewhere.
- Best for: Any type of debris
- Durability: Foam wedges last up to 10 years in temperate climates, not as long in very sunny and very wet climates
Pro Tip: Treat foam gutter guards yearly with an environmentally safe algaecide. Do not use herbicide, or it will wash out and kill grass and other plants.
Brush gutter guards: ($3.15-$4.25/ft.) These guards are constructed of a steel rod or twisted wire with bristles attached – a large circular brush. They fit into the gutters and prevent debris from entering. Gutter brushes come in sections 18” to 6’ in length and must be cut with a hacksaw or beefy tin snips.
- Pros: Easy to install. They keep out large debris if its dry.
- Cons: They don’t cover the gutter, and the bristles collect seeds and pine needles. Plants will sprout in your gutters. You’ll have to remove the brushes to wash them as often as you’d clean gutters, and the task might be more difficult. The bristles are nylon or other plastic, so they’ll eventually deteriorate and shed microplastics.
- Best for: Large debris, dry leaves
- Durability: Expect 10-20 years of wear (unless you realize earlier that they aren’t effective)
Pro Tip: Skip this type. We include this type to be thorough, but we can’t recommend it because we don’t think brushes work.
Solid metal gutter guards (surface tension / helmets): ($3.50-$6.25/ft.) These guards cover the entire gutter, though they don’t rest on the outside edge of the gutter. They feature an outside edge that curves downward toward the gutter.
Water running across the “helmet” clings to the metal (surface tension), runs around the curve and falls into the gutter where it can be drained away.
Some manufacturers call these reverse curve guards. Most surface tension gutter guards are fastened to the fascia, an installation method preferred to those that fit under the shingles.
- Pros: They effectively cover the gutters. Wet leaves that cover them will eventually be washed away or can be removed with a broom.
- Cons: DIY installation takes longer than any other type. Most are professionally installed, so the total cost is higher.
Small seeds and other debris will be blown into the gutters through the gap between the “helmet” and the front lip of the gutter. It will slowly accumulate, plants will grow, and you’ll eventually have to clean the gutters.
With the gutter guards in place, this will prove to be a difficult task, one that might make you wish you’d never installed the helmets.
Heavy rain, especially on roofs with a steep pitch, runs over the covers as if there were no gutters on the home and falls to the ground where it can damage your foundation and home
- Best for: Any type of debris.
- Durability: Up to 20 years.
Pro Tip: Occasionally running a hose into the gutter for a few minutes will help remove the small debris that gets past these gutter covers. Place the hose at the opposite end of the gutter from the downspout.
Gutter Guard Pros and Cons
Beyond the pros and cons of specific product types, what are the advantages and disadvantages of installing gutter guards?
What we like:
- When gutter guards do their job, they prevent the gutter from filling with debris or clogging — problems that can cause gutter overflow during heavy rains
- Your gutters will require cleaning about one-half to one-third as often.
- Gutter guards keep large debris like large twigs, kid’s toys and tennis balls out of the gutters
- Many types, as noted, are DIY-installation options
- If selling your home, gutter guards are an attractive feature to many homebuyers that want to save time and money doing home maintenance
What we don’t like:
- Wet leaves on gutter covers easily prevent water from entering the gutters, and if it runs across the gutter guard surface and falls to the ground during a heavy rain, it is a threat to leak into your home’s foundation or damage wood siding or a wood garage door
- Gutters are harder to clean when covered with fixed guards
- Removing and cleaning guards that can be taken off our out is a job that takes significantly longer than cleaning the gutters
- Gutter guards that warp or rust diminish a home’s appearance
- When a home’s attic is poorly insulated, snow on the roof melts due to escaping heat, and the water runs into the gutter where it freezes (the same process that causes ice dams), and the ice damages gutter guards and gutters
To Guard or Not to Guard?
Our recommendation is to skip gutter guards or choose affordable DIY guards and try them for a few years. If they reduce the frequency of gutter cleaning and don’t cause other issues like rain running right past the guards, then you’ve made a good investment. If they create more trouble than they’re worth and you decide to remove them, you haven’t lost much in the process.
Buying expensive guards and having them professionally installed will cost what you might pay to have your gutters cleaned for 5-12 years without the guards, depending on the trees in your landscape. And you’ll still need to clean the gutters and guards at least a few times during those years.
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