“Operators standing by!”
You look up at the TV. You don’t see any operators.
“Call within the next 60 minutes and you’ll receive a $500 gift card for ordering our new Thunder Gutter deluxe gutter cap system!”
Yeah, that. Gutter caps, gutter guards, gutter shields. They come with a host of different names and they all claim to keep leaves out of your gutters for less money than you’d ever thought possible.
But do they? Do they live up to the hype?
Yes and no. Yes, they keep leaves out of your gutters, but no, probably not for less money than you’d ever thought possible.
Still, gutter caps (guards, shields – whatever you want to call them) are a worthwhile investment for homeowners who live on wooded lots or near wooded lots. Having to clean gutters once or twice a year is time-consuming, dangerous and expensive, if you hire it done year after year.
Keep Your Gutters Clean
But the worst thing you can do is let your gutters fall into a state of disrepair from neglect. That can get really expensive.
So to keep your gutters free-flowing and looking good, gutter caps might be just the thing for you. Regardless of the design, they function in much the same way – with a cap or grid over the top, with gaps wide enough to let rainwater run through, but too narrow for leaves to pass through.
Here are some recommended brands and styles of gutter caps. But before you begin browsing, you should know how much linear feet you will need, so that you can get a reliable price estimate. Also, check the box content. It’s usually stated in linear feet, so before price comparing, do the math to establish a price-per-linear-foot.
These are based on a standard five-inch gutter. If you have a custom gutters that aren’t five inches wide, you should call a contractor. Some of these will fit over a four-inch gutter, but you have to slide the leading edge under the first row of shingles. We’re not going to recommend that, but some users have done that with good results.
For the most part, these are a DIY project, but you can hire installers locally if you choose.
The 7 Best Gutter Guards and Leaf Guards
1. Raptor Gutter Guard, Stainless Steel Micro-Mesh
Best Feature: Keeps roof grit out of your gutters
While the main thing you think about when cleaning out gutters – or, in this case protecting them from having to be cleaned – is leaves, there are a lot of other things that can fall into a gutter and lead to clogging.
The information guide for the Raptor is “Whether it falls, flies or crawls, nothing gets past Raptor.” That includes leaves, pine needles, seed pods, roof grit, rodents or insects.
This is a good time to point out to point out the role roof grit plays in clogging your rain gutters. Depending on the pitch of your roof and the age of the shingles, a considerable amount of grit washes off during heavy rains and most of it settles to the bottom of the gutter.
When grit combines with wet, decaying leaves and general debris, it forms a barrier that water struggles to get around, which leads to more debris being deposited in that same spot. Even if you don’t have a lot of trees in or near your yard, you’re still going to get roof grit tumbling down into your gutters. It can add up over time, and if your shingles are old, it can add up pretty quickly.
The Raptor catches all but the finest bits of roof grit, and that is a really good feature. Another good feature is the stainless steel construction. Many of the “hard sell” gutter caps you see in magazine and newspaper ads are made of plastic, which allows for a cheap initial price, but not much in the way of longevity.
The boxes ship with 12 four-foot sections, or 48 linear feet. It comes with hardware and self-tapping (no pilot hole needed) screws. A sample pack is available if you want to test them out before ordering enough for the whole house.
Raptor has US-based customer service reps to answer questions and a 25-year warranty.
2. FlexxPoint 30 Year Gutter Cover System
Best Feature: Can be used with non-standard gutters without voiding roof warranties
While this gutter cap comes in three colors – white, matte aluminum and black – it can’t be seen from the ground, so the color choice doesn’t matter so much, unless your house has second-story windows that look out over a section of roof.
The FlexxPoint ships with 102 linear feet per box, 27 sections per box. The panels themselves are aluminum, but the fasteners that come with them are high grade stainless steel.
The leaf-guarding element is the perforation pattern in the aluminum sections that block all sorts of leaves and debris, but allows a heavy volume of water to flow through.
We mentioned earlier about using five-inch caps over four-inch gutters and sliding the leading edge under the first row of shingles. The manufacturer guarantees that installing this product in that manner will not void the warranty on the shingles.
There is a six-inch version of this for commercial applications.
They come with a 30-year warranty and technical support is readily available.
3. A-M Aluminum Gutter Guard
Best Feature: Heavy gauge aluminum construction
Made with heavy duty – .018 gauge – aluminum, these gutter caps promise a long lifespan, and will look new throughout the duration of that lifespan. The fasteners are hidden and there are tabs to make joints seamless. They are virtually invisible from the ground, and look nice from above, so appearance is a non-issue with A-M brand.
Like most of the other gutter caps on the list, the A-M Gutter Guard uses a perforated design to keep leaves and debris out and water in. There are 380 holes per linear foot, which should accommodate some pretty heavy gully-washers.
One minor downside is that the sections do not ship with mounting screws. You will have to buy your own. Quarter-inch zip screws are recommended. But the installation is easy. If you have any trepidations about installation, they refer you to some helpful YouTube videos.
Each box ships with 200 linear feet of material.
Spike and ferrule gutters are gutters mounted with spikes that run through the gutter at right angles and are hammered into the wood framework of the house. They tend to be less sturdy than gutters mounted with the hidden hanger system, and they pose issues with some styles of gutter caps. The A-M brand listed above is one that has been pointed out as not being compatible with spike and ferrule type gutters, yet their installation videos claim that the gutter caps do work with spike and ferrule gutters.
4. Amerimax Home Products Lock-in Gutter Guard
Best Feature: Easy installation
This might be the most versatile gutter cap on our list, being suitable for four, five and six-inch gutters. It’s certainly one of the simplest.
Essentially, it’s four-foot sections of wire mesh that has been powder coated* for durability and protection from the elements. The installation is one of the easiest as well, requiring no screws, brackets or mounting tabs. However, installation does require sliding an edge under the first row of shingles, which may void the warranty on the shingles. Chances are, this will not void any roof warranty, but it never hurts to check first.
The sections are seven inches wide, which means if you have a standard five-inch gutter, two inches of the gutter guard will be tucked under the shingles; for a six inch commercial gutter, one inch will be tucked under the shingle.
There may be some issues with four-inch gutters, where you would have to slide three inches of the mesh under the shingles. There is a likelihood of encountering roof nails at that point. Although it’s not recommended, some users have simply cut a notch in the mesh to allow it to move beyond the roof nails.
The openings in the mesh are pretty much for blocking leaves and little else, but leaves are the main things you want to keep out of the gutters.
There could also be an issue with ice dams with this product, due to its open design. Water can freeze in the gutter to form an ice dam, and it would be difficult to clear the ice dam without removed the gutter cap.
*Powder coating is the process by which powdered paint is given an electrical charge. When it is sprayed, it is attracted to, and adheres to the piece being painted, which is electrically grounded. The piece is then heat-cured, which liquifies, then dries the paint into a finish that is superior to standard spray painting.
5. E-Z-GUTTER GUARD EZ-Quick-10 Gutter Guard
Best Feature: Easy removal for maintenance
This is similar to the Amerimax above in that it’s a simple mesh panel that snaps into place. But unlike the Amerimax, it fits only five-inch residential gutters. It’s held in place with spring-loaded tension. To install, you simply bow the section until the edges fit inside the top of the rain gutter and release.
This makes it easy to remove for maintenance.
The mesh is for leaves only. If you live in an area where pine needles and small seed pods are a problem, the manufacturer suggests one of their other products – the E-Z Shield, which has smaller openings.
While the fairly large mesh openings allow some debris to get in, it also allows a pretty significant amount of water to pour through quickly – a big assist when major thunderstorms dump an inch of rain on your property in 10 minutes or less.
6. E-Z-GUTTER GUARD EZ-Shield-10 Gutter Guard
Best Feature: Blocks pine needles as well as leaves
The manufacturer recommends this product for use in areas where pine needs and tiny pieces of debris are common. It’s not a mesh, but comes in sections of powder-coated black aluminum with reverse louver vents in it to allow water to pass through.
It snaps into five-inch gutters easily, and come out just as easily.
This might not be an ideal product where ice dams could be a problem. Check user reviews and compare their experiences before ordering.
7. Spectra Metal Sales Armour Screen Gutter Guard
Best Features: Easy installation; reinforced edges
Another mesh product, the Spectra comes with metal tabs on the edges for additional strength and holding power. It mounts with C-clips on five-inch gutters, but some users have successfully installed them over four-inch gutter using techniques that aren’t exactly recommended, but seemed to work out for them.
As with the other mesh gutter caps, the main emphasis is on blocking leaves, and not worrying about the small stuff. The reasoning here is that if the gutters do become littered with roof grit and various other tiny bits of debris, it’s easy to remove the gutter cap to take care of it.
Preventing Ice Damming with Gutter Guards
What about snow and ice? Most of our conversation here is about rainy weather, but some consideration to wintry weather must be given.
A serious issue in winter is ice dams in your gutters. Ice dams form when a heavy rain is followed up by sub-freezing temperature, or when snow melts and the water runs down into the gutter and re-freezes. If you live in an area where the temperatures constantly go back and forth over the freezing mark, you can experience the formation of ice dams on a regular basis.
Ice dams block the flow of water through the gutters, and the bigger the ice dam, the longer it will take to melt. Rain water, or snowmelt from the roof encounters the chunk of ice in its way and ends up spilling over the side, or even just dripping over the side and subsequently forming icicles.
This adds weight to the gutter at that point, and could cause fasteners to pull out of the wood or fascia, and that in turn could cause the gutter to sag.
Some gutter caps prevent the formation of ice dams because the water rushes through so fast that it doesn’t get a chance to freeze. Also, the water is shielded from the wind, so in cases where the temperature is right around 32 degrees, the water stays a tiny bit warmer under that shield and doesn’t freeze.
But some gutter caps can actually contribute to ice dams, because they get a glaze of ice at the top that water can’t penetrate, and has no choice but to tumble over the side.
The Importance of Proper Gutter Drainage
The sole purpose of a gutter and downspout system is to draw water away from the house, so that it doesn’t subside into the ground around the house’s foundation. If left unchecked, water could accumulate around the foundation and over time weaken it, cause “settling” of the structure and leak into basements.
Ideally, downspouts should empty into drain pipes that whisk the water well away from the house. At the very least, downspouts should empty onto splash blocks that divert the water away from the foundation.
Every house should have rain gutters, but many do not, and some have rain gutters are so clogged or so improperly hung that they might as well not have any.
Rain gutters should not be hung perfectly level, but have a pitch of one-half inch per linear foot to ensure a good flow of water. Be careful when installing gutter caps that you don’t alter the pitch of the gutter. It only takes one out-of-alignment section to cause back-ups that affect the whole gutter system.
When gutters get clogged, the problem can often be found at the point where the gutters intersect the downspouts. So if you see water pouring over the side of your gutter and want to apply a quick fix, head to spot where the gutter meets the downspout.
Many homes have foundation drains – pipes running underground away from the foundation. They can become clogged by mud, debris and tree roots. When foundation drains get clogged, the rain gutters can be working just fine, but water is still accumulating around the foundation, so once every couple of years, it pays to have the foundation drains checked and cleaned if necessary.