Sunday, September 27, 2009

Leafguard. Friend or foe?

eavestrough gutter leaves leafguard Do these eavestroughs look like yours? If so, you might want to consider a leafguard product.
There is so much conflicting information when researching on the web or talking to people that have leafguard. When on the web its hard to find a clear answer as every company says that theirs is the best and all others don't work. Some homeowners report that their leafguard is more hassle than anticipated as the gutters still have to be cleaned. Many saying that debris and leaves get trapped under the leafguard making the cleaning process even more labour intensive.
So how do you decide if leafguard is worth the investment? I will try to give some clarification based on my years of experience in the Toronto gutter business. In my opinion, they all work to some degree and are essential if you are in a treed area. There is a huge difference in price for different products and that may be the biggest driver in which one you choose. I will touch on the main products found in the Toronto marketplace starting with the lowest price and give a brief summary.
Lets start with the most basic product. A product that most homeowners tend to complain about. Its basically is a wire mesh or screen that is fastened over your eavestrough and tucked up under the shingles.
leafguard maple keys It comes in 3 foot lengths and can be found at most hardware stores. It is made of a aluminum wire mesh. The gaps between the mesh is fairly large and lets tons of water through but also allows some debris to get into the gutter. This debris could be pine needles or maple keys for example. After a period of time this will cause the downspouts to clog resulting in overflows. Now there needs to be a cleaning done and this most likely means removing most or all the leafguard due to the large amount of material in the gutter. This is why some versions of this product have hinges; its easier to clean under them. There is not much structure to this product so we often find them fallen down into the eavestrough or a few pieces gone with the wind. We used to use this product about 10 years ago when there was not much of choice on the market. This screen product is probably better than nothing even with its required maintenance but I believe there are far better products on the market. Companies here in Toronto are still using them and as far as I can tell are charging about 3 or 4 dollars per foot installed. As far as I am concerned, its a product that should be used on more of a do it yourself basis rather than a professional install.
Alu-Rex leafguard, is a Canadian product that has been on the market for approximately 10 years. It is marketed as T-Rex.
It is a flat sheet of aluminum that with small round holes punched through it. When installed with a new eavestrough it increases the strength by 50% and is invisible from the ground. This product is very secure and can not be budged by animals, wind, snow or heavy ladders. Its holes have been designed to let the heaviest of rainfalls in and keep debris out. When seeing the T-Rex for the first time most people thing the holes are too small and the water will not enter. The best way to visualize how much this leafguard can drain is to take 3 feet of the product and combine the area of the holes. It is equal to a 2 by 3 downspout. This would be like installing a downspout every 3 feet on your home. This, of course, would be overkill but gives an idea of how much this product can drain. This product has a flat top and when leaves fall on it they can dry up and blow off in the wind. Its limitation is that if you have a full canopy of trees and are sheltered from the wind an annual cleaning may still be in order. However the clean up will be faster and easier as a sweep off the top is all that is required. Under the leafguard will always be free flowing and the downpipes clear. Special attention has to be given if there are pine needles as a few will make it into the eavestrough. Little trap doors should be installed over all downpipes in case a few make it in and do not go out the downpipe. We have installed this product on about 90% of the homes we put new eavestrough on, many in Scarborough and North York. It actually gets installed into the eavestrough before its installed onto the home. It creates a solid box and that's where the strength comes from. Because of the ease of installation and simplistic design we offer this at a very affordable price of about 3.50 per foot when installed with new eavestroughs. If installing over existing eaves, then the price starts around 6.00 per foot including cleaning. This leafguard is probably the best bang for the buck on the market. This product will reduce your maintenance if heavily treed or eliminate it on a lightly treed area. This product is by far the most popular product for eavestrough professionals.

The next type I would like to touch on is the sponge type product which we installed for a client in a heavily treed area with a huge canopy of trees.

Toronto leafguard gitter eavestrough
He had purchased the product ahead of time from the manufacturer and had us install it. It installed easily as it just needed to be stuffed into the eavestrough and friction fits. Very easy to install. It seemed to work fine but is not my preferred product for a few reasons. It does not add any strength to the gutter as it has no rigidity nor is it fastened solidly in place. It takes space in the gutter which could slow down the flow of the water in heavy rain. The leaves will be held up out of the gutter and have a chance to blow off with the wind but may have to be cleaned off if in a sheltered area. This product is being installed on Toronto homes for about 7 or 8 dollars per foot. This seems to me a bit pricey for the benefits received when other products cost less and give more value.
(The picture of the sponge above is from a seperate project for a homeowner who wanted to replace the old gutter and sponge with the new T-Rex system as the gutters were getting old and small in size)

Another product has a fine layer of stainless steel mesh over an aluminum frame.
The Leaf Solution leafguard Toronto gutter
It is designed to go up under the first row of shingles and fasten down on top of the gutter. The fine mesh or fabric will keep everything out of the gutter including shingle granules. This product must be installed on an angle to help debris slide off the screen. I am confident that it will handle the high volume of water as it has an excellent track record and we have tested it against other leafguards to find that it drains water quicker then most. It runs about 12 to 16 dollars per foot and that adds up when you have 200 to 300 feet of gutter on most homes in Toronto, North York and Scarborough. Check out our YouTube channel to see us testing it out.

The other leafguard brand on the market is the hooded leafguard which is basically a panel of aluminum that slides up under the shingles and fastens down over the gutter.
Hooded Leafguard gutter Toronto wasps
It has a nose over the front of the eavestrough and the water has to slip around this by means of surface tension. This product works very well in most cases. Some brands require a bit of maintenance as the water goes around the nose some debris will try to go into the eavestrough. This is where the homeowner has to take a hose or brush on a pole and dislodge the debris. This really only happens on homes that are located in a very heavily treed area. This could be challenging if your home is 2 storeys or more. One little thing with these products is that wasps seem to like building nests in the cavity so this can be a slight maintenance issue. These styles are visible from the ground. Price holds most people back from purchasing as they cost about 16 to 20 dollars per foot.

In my opinion if you have trees you need some sort of leafguard or you will be constantly getting plugged pipes and overflows as trees drop enough debris year round to cause problems. To my knowledge all leafguards require a bit of maintenance in extreme conditions but its still much less work than keeping an unprotected gutter free flowing. Keep in mind that if you have leaves and debris sitting on your roof and valleys then it will also sit on your leafguard. There is no miracle product. If you decide to cover your existing eavestroughs, then make sure they are in good condition and if they are 15 years old or more then probably they should be replaced as they generally last about 20 years. With the high cost of some of these systems some sales people may be reluctant to recommend new eavestroughs to the final bill. I recently talked to the owner of a small bungalow here in Toronto who had all her 15 year old eavestrough covered with a 5500 dollar hooded leafguard. Most likely in a few years when all her corners start leaking the leafguard will all have to be removed and then reinstalled. She was proud to show me her leafguard and pointed out an area in the backyard under a huge spruce tree. To me it was obvious the leafguard had failed and was overflowing there. She proceeded to tell me that according to manufacturer's instructions she was to hose out the front nose to keep it functioning properly.
I am a big fan of leafguard as it will reduce your maintenance. Its important to know your options as there are lots of choices with leafguard. If a product has some grand claims then be sure to read the fine print in the warranty information to see exactly what is covered and what you will be required to do in terms of maintenance.

Check out our video of us testing out some of the more common leafguards in Scarborough. After this video was taken the tree dropped its leaves entirely and all the leaves blew off each brand equally well.

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