The Pros and Cons of Each Type of Gutter Guard

Jim TrummDec 5, 2017

Gutter guards come in at least five different types. The type you need will depend on the area you live in, the types of trees and animals that share the neighborhood with you, and the weather in your part of the world.

Micro Mesh Gutter Guards

Micro mesh gutter guards look like metal or uPVC plates that fit over the top of your gutters. But a close inspection shows that those plates are not solid, but are actually perforated by thousands of tiny holes that are as small as 50 microns in diameter. That’s about 1/500th of an inch, or 1/20th of a millimeter. That’s certainly fine enough to keep out leaves and twigs and most seeds, though tiny particulates may still get in. However, those larger materials may come to rest on top of the guards and need to be swept off from time to time. This type of guard is particularly appropriate for houses that are near evergreen trees. Pine needles can fall through coarser screening media or get stuck in foams and brushes, but usually do not penetrate micro mesh covers.

Foam Gutter Guards

While other types of gutter guards sit on top of the gutter opening, foam gutter guards sit inside them. They are flexible lengths of coarse polyether foam that allow water to pour through easily but catch leaves, seeds and dirt. These guards are among the least expensive and the easiest to install. All that’s needed is a pair of scissors to cut the foam to the proper lengths. Fitting them into the eaves troughs is just a matter of pushing or bending them into place. However, some customers who live in areas where there is a lot of sand, dirt and dust blowing around complain that those materials get caught inside the foam pieces, mix with water and congeal, and are difficult to clean out.

Brush Gutter Guards

Imagine taking a very long, fat bottle brush and laying it inside your gutters and you’ll have a good mental picture of what brush guards look like. Like foam guards, brush guards are relatively inexpensive and easy to install and remove for cleaning. And indeed, some people report that the brush bristles themselves catch leaves and require frequent cleaning, lest the accumulated debris impede the flow of water into the gutter.

Screen Gutter Guards

Screen guards consist of coarse screens that fit over the top of the gutters. They may resemble hardware cloth or chicken wire and are typically made of metal, nylon filaments, or coarse polyether foam. They’re lightweight, inexpensive, and not overly difficult to install, but they often don’t last as long as other guards. Also, because the screening material tends to be fairly coarse, small leaves, seeds, dirt, and pine needles can easily make their way through the guard and into the eaves trough. High winds or falling branches can bend or dislodge them entirely.

Reverse Curve Surface Tension Gutter Guards

If you’ve ever seen a trickle of water clinging to the outside of a pipe or running along a ceiling or wall, you’ve seen a demonstration of the principle of surface tension that keeps water adhering to a surface until a greater force—such as gravity—pulls it away. Reverse curve surface tension gutter guards utilize this principle to conduct water into the eaves troughs. They completely cover the top of the eaves trough and then curve back toward the house, creating a long horizontal slot that leads back into the gutter. Water flows over the top of the guard, around the curve, and into the slot. This system completely prevents leaves and other debris from dropping into the gutter from above. However, it doesn’t create a maintenance-free gutter system. Debris can be washed into the gutters with the water. And because these are the heaviest, bulkiest gutter guards available, they are more difficult to remove when gutter cleaning becomes necessary.

Weighing the Pros and Cons

Whether you have a gutter guard of some type or you leave your gutters open to the elements, you will still have to clean your gutters from time to time. Even the best gutter guards do not block 100% of the dust, dirt, sediment, insects, debris, leaves, seeds, twigs, and animals that eaves troughs seem to attract. If a salesman tells you that with his product you’ll never have to clean your gutters again, run away. There’s no such thing.

What gutter guards are good at is cutting down on the amount of crud that gets into your eaves troughs, which means that you have to clean them less often. And when you do have to clean them, the job is generally less messy and arduous.

The first question to ask is whether you need gutter guards at all. If your house has no trees anywhere near it, isn’t located in an especially dusty or sandy region, and isn’t part of an environment where there are a lot of nesting birds, gutter guards may not be a wise investment. On the other hand, if you have some or all of these things, you may be very thankful for a product that makes it unnecessary for you to climb up a ladder and clean your eaves troughs two, three, four, or five times a year.

If you live in an area where there are a lot of pine trees, you might find that a more solid gutter guard, such as a micro mesh or a reverse curve, will be a smarter purchase. It’s easy for pine needles to become lodged in or fall through the other types of guards. On the other hand, if you have a lot of deciduous trees around your house that shed big leaves every year, a brush, screen, or foam guard will keep most of them out. If you want a gutter guard system that’s practically invisible from ground level, consider a brush or foam system that fits completely inside the gutter. And if you’re especially concerned about how your roof and eaves look, you probably shouldn’t consider a reverse curve guard, since they tend to be bulky and obvious.

Once you’ve narrowed down the type that’s best for you, you’re ready to take a look at our top recommendations for gutter guards and get some estimates.