The Best Gutter Guards for Your Home

Updated: Apr. 18, 2024

Make cleaning your gross gutters a thing of the past. Here's what you need to know about gutter guards.

When I moved from Minnesota to Texas, the gutter guards were a major perk of my “new-to-me” home. The gutters on my old home had been subpar, to say the least, and I spent many a spring wondering whether this would be the year a melting ice dam and millions of last fall’s maple “helicopters” brought them down.

So I was pretty stoked to see new gutters and matching-color gutter guards when I bought my place. And now that I’ve been here a few years, the love has only grown. These things are great! I never had to do anything to them and my gutters run clear every time a Texas-sized thunderstorm rolls through— which is often.

Want in on these good vibes I feel toward my gutters? Below, I talked to LeafFilter expert Chris Counahan to help you navigate the world of gutter guards.

What Are Gutter Guards, and Do They Work?

Gutter guards keep leaves, sticks and other debris out of your gutters. They work like a charm, too. Rainwater or snowmelt passes through the guard, into the gutter and through your downspouts, keeping solid matter behind on the guard to be whisked away by wind or cleaned off periodically by you.

“Clogged gutters are a primary cause of water damage, and with gutter guards, water can’t sit in gutters or overflow,” says Chris Counahan, president of LeafFilter and a longtime construction and remodeling expert. Keeping your gutters clear means you’re “less likely to have water seeping into the roof, walls and foundation of your home,” Counahan says.

Types of Gutter Guards

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Gutter guards commonly come in multiple styles and materials, including vinyl, aluminum and steel. Some sit on top of the gutter while some slide under your shingles. There are also foam (aka sponge) gutter guards that fit right inside your gutter.

“While vinyl and sponge gutter guards are the most affordable, they do deteriorate quickly and often are not very durable, costing the homeowner more money in the long run,” Counahan says. “Aluminum and steel gutter guards have a higher price tag up-front, but are more resistant to rust and often need less maintenance over time.”

Here are three major categories of gutter guards:

Screen Gutter Guards

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Screen gutter guards have a metal mesh or vinyl screen that sits on top of the gutter, blocking debris like a horizontal screen door. Depending on the proprietary technology or patented design, screen gutter guards may be attached with rivets, screws or hangers, snapped onto the gutters, nestled under your shingles, or any combination of these and other options.

I have screen gutter guards and every time I’m up on my ladder (putting up Christmas lights, for example) I’m amazed at how clean my gutters are. They honestly look brand new — seriously, check them out at the link.

Foam Gutter Guards

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These wedge-shaped, flexible pieces of foam fit inside your gutters, forming a flat-topped barrier that allows water through but keeps the leaves and pine needles out. Counahan says this style is less expensive than other options, but less durable. Sunlight and harsh weather can break down the foam over time, and you may get some debris resting on top or caught in the cells of the foam.

Reverse Curve/Surface Tension Gutter Guards

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These solid-surface gutter guards work due to surface tension: Water clings to the rounded nose of the guard and flows into the gutter, while leaves and other debris slide off the top — there’s no mesh or holes for seeds and needles to get stuck in. One downside? In major downpours, the water power may overcome the surface tension, causing it to shoot over the top of the gutter guard along with the debris.

Surface tension gutter guards are usually vinyl or metal. They’re more visible than other styles because they’re solid and tilted to match the pitch of your roof and gutters. One pro is that they’re easy to clean with a garden hose.

How to Choose Gutter Guards for Your Home

“Every home and situation is different and has unique needs, from the type of gutter debris to the amount of water flow to the style of each individual roof,” Counahan says. “Gutter guards are rarely one size fits all.” It’s important to do your research and consider all of your home’s unique conditions.

Here are some things that influence the style of gutter guard you should choose:

  • Tree cover. A home with a dense canopy of pine trees, giant maples or leafy sycamores needs different protection than a treeless desert scape.
  • Severe weather. “If not made with the right materials, gutter guards can be prone to collapsing in extreme weather conditions, like under heavy snow and ice,” Counahan says.
  • Roof type and water flow. For some styles, getting the right pitch is important.
  • Size of your gutters. “While most come in 5 or 6-inch sizes, it’s important to measure your gutters to get a proper fit before purchasing gutter guards, to reduce frustration,” Counahan says.
  • Current installations. You might have to repair, replace or even remove your old gutters, which will add to your materials and labor costs.
  • Fire chances. “For homeowners in areas prone to wildfires, be sure to look for a noncombustible gutter guard to prevent floating embers from falling in the gutters and potentially sparking a flame,” Counahan says.

Gutter Guard Maintenance

Gutter guards don’t take a lot of upkeep, but it’s still a good idea to check them periodically. “To best maintain gutter guards, check them after heavy storms and severe weather, just as you would with your roof,” Counahan says.

And remember, working on ladders and roofs (especially on multi-story homes) is dangerous. Follow ladder safety at all times, and call a pro if you’re uncomfortable. Counahan recommends professional installation to ensure you get the best fit and performance.

FAQs

Which gutter guard is best for DIY installation?

Sponge or foam gutter guards are the easiest to install, because you just cut them to length and insert them inside the gutter. However, you’ve got the reduced longevity of this style of gutter guard to contend with, so you could be replacing them more often.

Do gutter guards require cleaning?

It depends. “Overall, gutter guards should eliminate the need for gutter cleaning,” Counahan says. (I can confirm.) You may need to sweep off the gutter guard itself, though. “If you’re looking for an extremely low-maintenance gutter guard, purchase one with a slanted design feature to reduce the need to clean them off,” Counahan says.

About the Expert

Chris Counahan is the president of LeafFilter, a leading maker of gutter guards, where he oversees hundreds of field managers. Counahan has a 27-year background in construction and remodeling, including at Owens Corning, maker of roofing materials and composites, and Erie Construction.