foam gutter guards

Foam Gutter Guards

Do Foam Gutter Guards Work ?  

Are foam gutter guards any good?  I worked outdoors on roofs and gutters for 25 years, summers and winters, in New England, so lots of people ask me “ Do foam gutter guards work? “   All gutter guards work at solving gutter clogs to a certain degree, but all gutter guards can also be blamed at some point, for gutter overflow.  Thus, it is important to try to analyze and understand different gutter guard types as well as the various gutter guard characteristics and features that affect leaf guard performance.   After years in the field, experienced contractors and homeowners know that all leaf guards in the way of leaf falling and tree detritus, will require maintenance.  You can not avoid exterior maintenance and cleaning.  While leaf guards and complicated gutter clog protection products can keep gutters clog free, eventually they all need maintenance.  Without maintenance, the gutter guard itself will be blamed as the scapegoat for gutter overflow and gutter drainage problems.

Foam Gutter Guards vs. Leaf Guards Comparison

Gutter Guard foam and other leaf guard products:  Most traditional gutter clog protection products come in the form of gutter screens, gutter microscreens and gutter covers.  So what family of gutter guards is gutter sponge aka gutter foam or foam gutter guards?  Gutter screens and gutter covers are exactly that; they come in the form of an item that is installed to cover over your gutter.  All gutter covers and screens work by restricting or decreasing the gutter opening.  They are intended to keep debris out of the gutter, but at some point when dirty, they may also keep the water out of the gutter.  Due to the fact that they restrict or decrease the gutter opening, they can often be the cause of the water overshooting past the gutter.  The fast water uses the leaf guard cover as a ramp to bypass the outer edge of the gutter and create a gutter waterfall down the side of the building.  The gutter foam, gutter guard sponge or foam gutter guard, is not a cover.  Leaf guard foam does not cover your gutter, instead it is inserted down into the gutter and rests entirely inside the gutter underneath the gutter crossbar hangers.  Foam Gutter Guards are in the category of leaf guards that are known as “ Gutter guard Inserts.”  In the USA, one of the most popular brands of sponge gutter guard is known as GutterStuff ™.

What Are Foam Gutter Guards?   

As the name implies, they are pieces of open cell foam usually shaped in the form of a gutter foam wedge that is slid beneath the gutter’s horizontal hidden hangers.  Gutter horizontal crossbar hangers provide gutter support and are usually spaced 18” to 24” apart, so installation of each 4 foot piece of gutter guard foam will need to pass beneath one or two gutter hangers.  For this reason, the gutter foam sits down inside the gutter.  No tools or fasteners are required to install the sponge gutter guard, however fitting requires cutting and trimming around each gutter hanger if the foam gutter guards are going to be positioned up near the top of the gutter.  Gutter guard foam is permeable with open cells so that the rain water can pass through the foam gutter filter while the leaf guard foam itself filters out the debris. The installer would slide 4 foot lengths of gutter foam under the gutter hangers, trimming or cutting the foam around each hanger; installing one after another into clean gutters until the entire gutter has been filled.  If it were not for the gutter hidden hangers obstructing installation, sponge gutter guards would be somewhat self-fitting and a fast and smooth installation, however the hangers must be dealt with in order to position the foam optimally and continuously in the gutter. Unfortunately the gutter crossbars can force the gutter foam to sit deeper in the gutter than desired.

Benefits of Gutter Guard Inserts: 

Gutter Guard inserts tend to be faster and easier to install than other traditional gutter guards such as gutter screens and gutter covers.  Due to the fact that leaf guard inserts are actually slid into the gutter, they tend to be easy to fit with no fastening required because they are cradled or surrounded by the gutter itself.  Leaf guard inserts such as gutter stuff, get inserted or slid into the gutter underneath the horizontal crossbar hidden gutter hangers.  Due to the fact that leaf guard inserts such as gutter stuff, get inserted under the brackets, they physically are situated down deep inside the gutter.  In other words, due to the fact that they are positioned under the brackets, they physically could not ever extend above the gutter edge.  Conversely, due to bristle technology, GutterBrush is a gutter guard insert that slides into the gutter beneath the crossbar hidden hangers, however thanks to the flexible bristles, after you slide GutterBrush under the cross bars, the bristles spring back up into place creating a raised bristle profile.  Gutterbrush’s raised profile extends about an inch or so higher than the edges of the gutter so that when tree debris and leaves fall onto the brush, they are up higher than the gutter edge so that multiple wind storms from various directions can have a positive affect at blowing the debris off.  GutterBrush is the only gutter insert with the flexibility to both slide under the brackets for easy installation with no tools or fasteners, yet also provide a raised profile for wind purge.  No other leaf guard insert has a raised profile.  Without the raised profile, all of the leaves and debris end up down inside the gutter.  Gutterbrush is both faster and easier to install while providing the raised profile for better gutter performance and decreased gutter cleaning and maintenance.

Foam Gutter Guard Performance and Uses: 

Gutter stuff and other sponge gutter guards act as a gutter guard filter.  As the rain water drips off of the roof drip edge and flows into the gutter, the tight pores or open cells of the foam gutter guards, filter out the debris while the water passes through the foam into the gutter.  The pores or cells of the foam gutter guard are small, so they can filter out even the smallest debris. Unfortunately, the small pores get filled up with dirt, dust, shingle granules and debris quickly.  This characteristic will keep debris out of the gutters, however the gutter filter foam pores tend to clog often, and block the flow of water causing rain water spill over.  Therefore, while they do keep debris out of the gutter, they tend to require very frequent gutter cleaning and maintenance.  Once it is time for maintenance, it can be difficult or impossible to clean the fine particles and grime out of the center of the leaf guard sponge itself.  Customers have explained that the gutter sponge works well when placed immediately around the gutter outlet tubes and downspouts. Customers who are serious about keeping all of the fine debris from clogging the downspout, have explained that they will surround the area immediately around the gutter outlet tube with gutter guard foam, in order to keep all of the debris from clogging the downspout. This technique is effective at keeping the downspout clear, however it requires frequent trips up the ladder to remove and clean out the foam leaf guard material; otherwise it will clog.  For some homeowners, this level of maintenance would be prohibitive, but for others with a single story home, it is an acceptable means of keeping gutter debris out of the downspouts and especially out of the in-ground storm drainage pipes.

Other Gutter Guard Inserts: 

There are multiple gutter guard inserts on the market such as slinky type devices and perforated pipes. These insert leaf guards do provide gutter clog protection, however only one insert has a very special and important gutter guard characteristic.  Earlier I explained that GutterBrush is the only leaf guard insert with a raised profile. The raised profile not only aids in the wind's ability to blow debris off, but the raised bristles also serve to draw the water down into the center of the gutter.  GutterBrush is a simple leaf guard system, but the bristle technology is quite sophisticated allowing GutterBrush leaf guard to accept rain water better than any other gutter guard.

One other thing worth mentioning, is that plastic gutter inserts require protection from the sun, in order to last out in the gutter without decaying and shrinking.  Foam gutter guards will often express that they are UV protected, however if they are knock offs imported from China, they may not be UV protected and may shrink and curl in a short amount of time when exposed to the harmful effects of the sun.  GutterBrush is UV protected and lasts over 15 years out in the gutter.  GutterBrush has been made in the USA since 2004 and has a stellar reputation as a high quality leaf guard product that can be renewed for many years.  Gutter Brush provides a 10 year material warranty.

Leaf guard costs per foot: 

Foam gutter guards do not consist of much substance.  Physically speaking, it does not possess much weight or mass, and it does not take up much space, so gutter foam products (materials only) tend to be cheap.  If a homeowner were to take on the project him or herself in a “ do it yourself leaf guard " fashion, the leaf guard cost outlay would be low, however the homeowner is faced with positioning a product that is not self fitting, as well as trimming around all of the crossbar hangers.  Ultimately, this is a high amount of work to perform when you consider that the product will likely need maintenance and therefore will need to be removed and re-positioned in the future.  Gutterfoam is typically not a product that contractors install, mainly because the cutting and fitting is time consuming.  When you combine the labor, and the fact that the sponge gutter guard foam sits deep within the gutter, it tends to be a DIY “do it yourself” gutter guard solution.  As a better performing gutter insert, GutterBrush can be purchased and installed in a DIY leaf guard fashion for between $ 2.50 to 3.50 per foot which includes shipping to the customer.  Contractors typically will install GutterBrush simple gutter guard charging between $ 5.00 per foot and $ 7.00 per foot which includes both the material and the installation labor.  Most other gutter guards, gutter screens, covers, helmets and gutter micromesh are contractor installed for between 20 and $ 35.00 per foot. The contractor installed GutterBrush price is typically far less expensive, due to the self fitting nature and the speed of leaf guard installation; with no trimming and no fasteners required.  Contractors installing Gutterbrush can get the job done far faster than any other leaf guard.  Since labor is the highest cost component of any job, that contractor speed translates to a much lower installed gutter guard price.

Alex O’Hanley
25 years of roofing and gutter experience

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