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October 06, 2021 12 min read

Can Leaf Guards Cause Leaks ?

Leaf guards did not even exist forty years ago, yet today, everyone is willing to try just about anything in order to get a guard that will save them time from cleaning gutters and will keep the rain water flowing.  Like anything in life, if you keep it simple, you can get by or even improve your gutter drainage situation, however if you get too complicated, you can actually cause yourself some harm and take a few steps backwards.  Properly installed soffit, fascias and gutters should never be the cause for rain water leaking into your home or building, however alterations to gutters, breaking the rules of roofing and flashing, installation of sheet metal items without the necessary flashing height and coverage, as well as mishandling of roof shingles, all can lead to roof edge water leakage.  Once again, a properly installed and even a clogged gutter will never leak into the building, however the alterations people make to install a leaf guard can cause leakage.  In the remainder of this article, I will use my 25 years of hands-on roofing experience, to try to explain how and why some commonly used gutter guard installation techniques could actually cause problems.  Most people are busy searching “what is the best rated gutter guard” in consumer reports, when they might be better served asking “ which gutter guard will provide clog protection and do no harm”.  This article will elaborate on the below topics.

  • Why clogged gutters should not ever leak into the building
  • Gutter Guards that attach to the roof can cause roof edge, soffit leakage
  • Gutter Guards that connect to the fascia board can cause roof edge, soffit leaks.
  • Joint between the fascia board and the drip edge can be vulnerable to leaf guard leakage.
  • How can a gutter guard make the fascia board coverage height vulnerable to problems.
  • How could a gutter guard do harm, if the gutter never leaked prior?
  • Who's altering MY roof?  A gutter guard company, No Way!
  • How to stop gutter ice backups and wind driven rain backup leakage.
  • Some Gutter Guards cause no problems - insert gutter guards

Properly installed gutters will not leak into the building.Many people do not realize that there are roofing text books as well as rules of roof and flashing installation.  When the rules are followed, homes, roofs and buildings will not leak.  The NRCA, “National Roofing Contractors Association”, provides text book details, diagrams, and essentially rules to follow for the correct installation of all roofing and flashing components.  Gutters, drip edge and shingles are noted in the NRCA roofing details. When you follow the rules and perform proper installations, the roof or roof edge will not leak, however if you deviate, add roof burden,  cut corners, or minimize coverage, mother nature will prevail with wind driven rain that will seek out and exploit the weakness.

2 Different Sets of Roofing Rules:   Storm water will always take the path of least resistance.Roofers install roofing materials,  and the physical characteristics of that roofing material directs the rain water to flow in the desired direction while stopping the water from going into the building.  The properly designed roof is always providing the desired path of least resistance for the water to flow.  There are two sets of NRCA details or “rules” for roofing to follow.

  • Rules for Low sloped roofing aka “flat roofing”
  • Rules for Steep sloped roofing aka sloped or shingled roofing

In short, the NRCA provides diagrams that denote the minimum flashing heights for every possible roofing scenario.  If you are installing roofing and flashing around a chimney (for example), the NRCA detail would denote how high the flashing must be to keep the water from breaching over the top of the flashing.  In order to avoid leakage, flat or low sloped roofing requires taller flashing heights than steep slope roofing.  The flashing, is simply the specialty roofing detail, performed at the chimney or any other protrusion.  The NRCA says that the flat roof or low sloped roof flashing height must be at least 8 “ tall to avoid leakage, while the steep sloped roof detail might require a flashing as low as 2.5” tall.  Notice that the low sloped roofing and the steep sloped roofing have different flashing height requirements to avoid leakage, which is because the steep sloped roof will always be sloped away from the flashing and therefore does not require as much flashing height; however conversely the flat or low sloped roof could have a large flat area in front of the flashing which does not slope away and therefore requires more flashing height.   With the low sloped roof, the roof is not necessarily sloped at all which puts more burden on the flashing requiring a taller flashing height in order to keep water out of the building.  The difference between low sloped waterproofing requirements and steep sloped requirements are relevant, because when someone installs a gutter guard, they are essentially adding a low sloped metal “shelf” at the base of the roof.   Adding this low sloped component can and will cause an added flashing height burden in order to keep water from leaking. The addition of the low sloped item changes the dynamics and increases the chances of roof leakage problems.

Any Leaf Guard that touches the roof.  Traditional gutter guards, gutter covers,  and leaf screens come in the form of open screens, closed tight screens such as gutter micro mesh or leaf filters, perforated metal gutter covers, and solid metal gutter covers such as gutter helmets.  These leaf guards are supposed to allow water to sure flow through the perforations into the gutter, however in northern climates, at any time the temperature can drop below freezing causing the screen or the perforated leaf guard to completely “ice over” and act like a solid piece of metal.   In southern climates that do not freeze, all of the gutter screen openings, perforations and gutter mesh openings could easily be closed off or clogged with wet debris simply laying on top of the gutter guard.  Combine the gutter debris mat, with wind driven rain and you can see how a perforated gutter guard or gutter leaf screen will perform like a solid piece of flashing.  Debris lays on these gutter guards decreasing the rate at which the water can permeate, therefore at times the gutter guard will perform as if it were a solid piece of metal flashing causing the water to overshoot the gutter while also allowing wind driven rain to be blown back under the shingles.   Therefore, whether located in a northern colder climate, or a southern warmer climate, the installation of gutter guards should follow the NRCA minimum flashing height requirements in order to be certain that water will not be wind-driven back up the slope, breach the roofing, and leak into the building.  For water proofing purposes, leaf screens, gutter guard mesh and gutter guards should be treated as if they are solid pieces of roof flashing, in order to prepare the roof for the worst case scenario.   Such treatment would denote that each leaf guard should be installed with a minimum flashing height at the upper edge in order to stay leak free, however leaf guards and leaf screens are most often installed with no attention paid to flashing height.   Gutter protection that intersects with the roof certainly can cause harm, leakage, and a ramp for wind driven rain to be blown back up over the fascia causing a leak.

Why Properly Installed Gutters Don't leak even when clogged:   I performed 25 years of roofing, winter and summer, in Rhode Island.  From December to March, any gutter in Rhode Island and areas further north, could become a solid block of ice due to temperatures that drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.   A gutter must therefore be installed such that if it were to fill with solid ice, and it began to rain, the water must not come into the building.  Gutters must be installed such that even if they completely clog, the water will pour over the front of the gutter and not back into the building and soffit.  Leakage is forever avoided by providing adequate minimum fascia height behind the gutter.  When the gutter clogs with ice or debris, and fills up with water,  it could pour over the front of the gutter and it could pour over the back side of the gutter.  When water pours over the back side of the gutter, it should meet the adequate fascia which will keep the water from leaking into the building. The height of the fascia board must extend at least 1.5 inches above the gutter, in order to protect the home and soffit from water backup leakage.  This “minimum flashing height” of the fascia is absolutely required to avoid interior leakage.  With less flashing height, the gutter can back up and water can leak back over the fascia and into the building.  Beware, because installing gutter guards that intersect with the roof is like building a bridge to leakage.  The leaf guard itself can be a ramp allowing wind to drive the rain up and over the fascia; nullifying the fascia height.  The gutter guard is essentially a low sloped flashing with a heavy flashing height requirement, however the industry does not treat it that way, and problems can result.

A Bridge To Leakage: Traditional gutter guard installation is theoretically the same as installing a lower sloped shelf at the base of your roof to protect your gutter from clogging.  As explained above, lower sloped shelves have an additional flashing burden required to keep them from leaking, however gutter guard installers are typically much more concerned about the speed of the leaf guard installation and the leaf guard profits, than about the rules of roofing and minimum flashing heights to avoid future leakage.  Most fascia boards are 5.5 inches wide. Most gutters are 3.5 inches in height. So if the gutter is installed 1.5 inches lower than the top of the fascia board, it will have exactly 1 inch of fascia revealed below the gutter. The gutter looks best and is most aesthetically pleasing, if it is installed as high as possible, so it is common to only have 1.5 inches of fascia board protection above the gutter.  In many cases these days, the leaf screen or gutter cover or leaf guard is installed over the gutter and tucked under the roof shingle drip edge with leaf guard slope. If the gutter guard has positive slope, and it is installed under the roof shingle drip edge, then it is a potentially harmful “bridge” to the top of the fascia board.  The fascia board is the only protection keeping the gutter from backing up into the home, and the leaf guard can be like a ramp directing the wind driven rain right up to breach the fascia board and leak into the building.  In colder climates, the leaf guards made of metal are the first item to freeze because metal is thermally extremely conductive, therefore the leaf guard can ice completely over.  Gutter guards in northern climates can be a reason for ice problems and ice jams causing water to backup and leak. The gutter guard is an invitation for the ice to breach the fascia board.  Gutter guards can be a ramp for wind driven rain leakage.  The gutter guard possesses less slope than the roof.  Due to having less slope, water can backup easier on the gutter guard due to wind or ice, than it could have on the roof.   If you have 1.5” of fascia coverage above the gutter, and you install a gutter screen or gutter guard that slopes upward towards the back of the gutter from the front of the gutter, you have likely reduced the fascia coverage to near zero inches and become vulnerable to leakage.

Gutter guards that don’t touch the roof and dont bridge the fascia are fine: Gutterguards that do not intersect with the roof and leaf guard products that do not bridge the fascia, will not cause problems. Properly installed gutters, even when clogged, will not leak into the building.  Leaf guard systems such as Gutterbrush, are installed down inside the gutter and they do not intersect the roof or the fascia board, so they will cause no problems.  These gutter guards cause no harm.  They provide effective long term clog protection, are easy to install, and they are also easy to eventually clean and maintain because they are self fitting and require no leaf guard fastening.  Go to www.gutterbrush.comto learn more. The properly installed gutter will not leak into the building even when clogged, and gutter guard inserts that do not touch the fascia or the roof, will not alter this dynamic.

I want to know who is going to touch my roof:  Many gutter leaf guard systems intersect with the roof shingles.   After 25 years of roofing, as well as evaluating and judging the caliber of worker usually on these projects, I do not believe it is worth the risk of having a leaf guard installed that intersects with the roof.  Gutter guards often get jammed or installed under the shingles, between the shingles or fastened over the shingles.  If they slide the gutter guard under the shingles, they should meet a row of nails that fasten the starter course shingles.  In order to accomplish such, roof nails would need to be removed and replaced.  If they are going to install the leaf guard between the shingles, then they would need to separate the adhesive that holds the lower shingle courses together.  Any roof nails removed, will leave a resulting hole that should be properly sealed for longevity.  Any fasteners installed, must be limited to the appropriate placement on the shingle, otherwise they break the specifications (rules) of shingle installation and can become a leak.  Any shingles that have been loosened or separated during the installation of the leaf guard, must be re-adhered to keep the wind from grabbing and ripping them off.   All surface fastening should be avoided entirely.  Of all of the roofing and gutter specialists I met over 25 years, none of them were patient or careful enough to disassemble and reassemble any portion of a roof leaving me with confidence and security.  Workers these days are driven by productivity, speed and profit, so I do not believe it is worth the risk of problems, to have anyone alter the roof in order to avoid clogged gutters.  With the low quality of worker expertise that is often prevalent these days, its just not worth the risk.  I would stick with gutter cleaning, before allowing anyone to modify my roof.  In most cases, they jam the gutter guard under the shingles leaving the roof courses damaged, lifted, unstable, loose and in a weakened state.  The problems which will arise, usually would show up months or years after the leaf guard company has been paid.  Whether it is a roof repair or a leafguard installation, whenever a roof shingle is un-adhered, it must be re-adhered with asphalt to avoid future wind or leakage problems.


Most Gutters are not prepared for Ice Backup:   Most ice problems are a result of improper roof ventilation.  Correct roof ventilation is a subject for another day but feel free to contact me to discuss the subject.  Years ago when I started roofing, if you wanted to assure that a gutter could never have an ice back-up causing leakage, you would install a copper lined gutter and the copper flashing would extend up the roof slope to be assured that backup could never breach the fascia board.  There is no current proper roofing method to connect or flash the seamless type k-gutter to the roof.  If one wants to prepare a gutter against ice back-up or any back up, then you must extend flashing both behind the gutter as well as down into the gutter.  When the gutter backs up, the water reaches the flashing that extends behind the gutter and over the fascia, therefore that water will not leak because the flashing directs the water over the fascia and outside the building envelope.  If you have a new roof installed, and the gutter was not ever removed or replaced during the installation, and you live in a northern climate, chances are your gutter is susceptible to ice backup leakage.  Flashing behind a gutter so that ice can not backup into the building, requires that the gutter be removed for the installation of that flashing.  If you get a new roof and the gutter was never removed, chances are there is a wide open vulnerable joint between the two.

In conclusion, wind and ice can cause rain water to defy gravity and travel backwards up the slope.  Most gutters have an extremely vulnerable opening at the roof shingle drip edge where the roofing meets the gutter.  As long as rain water is moving forward based on gravity, the gutter likely will not leak back into the building, however as soon as the rain water travels backwards, it can leak into the vulnerable joint that exists between the roof shingle drip edge and the fascia board; leaking into the building or causing soffit rot.  Many leaf guards, gutter micro mesh and gutter screens mimic a physical ramp bridging that gap and making it easy for the wind to drive the rain water backwards, over the fascia, and into the building.  Without the gutter guard in place, the backing up water would be blocked by the fascia height and would weep outward, but with the gutter guard in place, the water can easily be blown directly over the fascia.  The gutter guard can be a conduit providing a shortcut for water to be driven behind the fascia.  Gutterguards are also the first item to freeze when the temperature drops.  In colder climates, the gutter guard can cause a growing build up of ice causing water to back up and leak into the joint between the roof and the fascia.  As described, certain leafguards can cause problems, so choose a gutter guard that does not intersect with the roofing or fascia.  Solving clogged gutters is not worth the risk of causing an expensive roof problem, so keep it simple and choose a gutter clog prevention device that will not cause a problem.  Choose a leaf guard that remains inside the gutter and doesn't touch the roof; like www.gutterbrush.com.  GutterBrush is made in the USA, provides simple yet effective gutter clog protection since 2004, is easy to install with no tools or fasteners, and it will not cause problems.


Alex O’Hanley
25 Years Roofing in RI.

Alex O'Hanley
Alex O'Hanley



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