The Folly of Gutter Guard Inventions

Most gutter guard inventions have been pretty silly; I know because over twenty years ago I began my manufacturing career by trying to market and sell one of them.

The first device I started with was installed in the top most portion of the downspout. Water flowed over several rows of louvers which captured the water and rejected the debris onto the ground. A running water display that I built actually convinced (as I was convinced) several homeowners that it would solve their clogged gutter problems. I also installed it to test it on my own home.

Guess What? As much as I wanted it to work, it was a miserable failure. It did keep the downspout from clogging but did nothing for portions of the gutter more than four feet from the device. In other words my gutters still clogged.

It was a reminder of the disappointment I had experienced a few years earlier when I first installed screens on my gutters. Much to my surprise, eighteen months later, I noticed corn growing from my gutters. Ripping out the screens to clean the gutters was a night mare. I should have used gloves to protect my hands from all the cuts and lacerations.

Now, after manufacturing gutter guards for twenty years, I've seen every type of screen imaginable and they all clog. One of my customers actually invented his own with three layers of the finest mesh he could find--his gutters still clogged with pine needles, Now he's had my system for fifteen years and hasn't called once--more about my system later. It seems that every year or so some ingenious inventor modifies the size openings or adds steps or troughs to the screen convinced that the results will be different. But isn't that the definition of insanity--doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result?

After having installed gutter guards for several years you actually see how other gutter covers handle debris and they all fail yet, every now and then a prospectus crosses my desk and I get a laugh at the silliness.

For instance one system (not yet on the market) is basically a very long brush inside the gutter extending from one end to the other. It is turned by a three speed electric motor on one end. The inventor apparently tried one of the filter systems and noticed the one that is maintained by removing it from the gutter and shaking it clean. Noticing the inconvenience and mess this causes, he thought he'd improve upon it by having the brush spin by a motor. Can you imagine the mess created by a brush spinning inside a putrid clogged gutter? And it how about the downspout which may still be clogged? What happens if the homeowner forgets to spin his brush--then what? Remember, he can't look inside the gutter and see its condition and will probably wait until the last possible minute before spinning the brush.

Another system (not on the market) has larger than life openings made in the bottom of the gutter for a larger than life downspout attachment. The homeowner must remove downspouts from house to clean them. It's set up so that the downspout can be easily removed, however, can you imagine a flood of putrid water flowing from the gutter, as the homeowner removes the downspout, all over the siding? And how about dangling a twenty foot length of leader that's clogged with heavy debris at the top? Also can you imagine the homeowner climbing onto a lower roof to remove a leader from an upper gutter and shaking the debris loose from the downspout? Again, the homeowner can't see into the gutter so most likely he awaits some indication, such as an overflowing gutter, to know that servicing is required. Unfortunately by the time he notices it, his basement may have already been flooded.

Study the progression of gutter cover designs and you'll also see the silliness of them. The first improvement over screens was a solid top device with a single longitudinal fin—patents have expired and many of popularly sold gutter covers are of this design.

Just as I hoped my first invention would work, inventors of these devices hoped that as the water and the debris flowed over the fin that somehow only the water would go into the gutter and that most or all of the debris would be jettisoned onto the ground.

It’s true that less debris gets into the gutter than with screens. However, enough does get in to clog the gutters in mild-to-heavy debris conditions. Don't take my word for it. Just look at the next breed of gutter cover—it’s a fin coupled with a trough system containing a sieve (essentially a screen).

One inventor actually back tracked. Instead of a solid top, he has tiny openings in conjunction with the fin--basically a screen in conjunction with a fin.

Back to the fin and trough system--it doesn't take an MIT graduate to see that all the debris that follows the fin downward will also go into the trough. I suspect the reason the inventors use the trough is to keep full sized debris from entering the gutter. But what do you think will happen with this debris? Will it stay in the trough and clog it or break down into the gutter where it also clogs? You get the picture?

Twenty-five years ago one inventor decided that the answer was to do away with the gutter completely. He invented a rain dispersal system. It definitely looked like the solution to the problem. But what do you think happened to leaves and debris that accumulated on top of the rain dispersal unit? What would keep it from just laying there? What do you think happened with slow rain falls where the kinetic energy of the rain dripping off the roof was insufficient to disperse the water? Do you think there might end up being soil erosion all around your roof line?

Fifteen or so years ago another inventor just figured he'd put hinges on gutters and use a pole from the ground to detach and flip them. What do you think happens to all that putrid debris that accumulates in the gutter when they are flipped? Can you imagine dumping this putrid mess from an upper gutter onto a lower roof? I’d suggest wearing a rain coat and hat.

When I invented a double row louvered system twenty years ago I wanted to make sure it worked. Instead of one long fin, I used two rows of louvers to collect the water. The louvers actually limit the size of the debris that can enter the gutter. The first two years was limited to installing it in the local NJ area. My hope was that it collect all the water, keep gutters clean and free flowing and be maintenance free.

Every six months I personally inspected a dozen homes in high debris areas to make sure that the gutters were clean and free flowing--they were.

Yet, after eighteen months I had my first disappointment--we found that the louvers on the front visible vertical surface in heavy debris conditions clogged. I almost abandoned the product. Fortunately I found that a strong bristle brush on the end of telescopic pole easily knocked the debris off. Next we were pleasantly surprised to find that brushing the louvers was not a dirty or difficult job--in fact one could do it dressed in a suit and tie.

We asked ourselves, what options do homeowners have? Install one of the other products--all of which clog in the gutter or are just plain silly, or use our system with suit and tie maintenance?

Ultimately we found that 85% of all our customers never have to do any maintenance whatsoever--some only need brushing once every year or two. We realized the reality early on that asking someone who has to clean his gutters several times in the fall to believe that any gutter protection product would be maintenance free is like asking them to believe in Santa Claus.

Richard Kuhns B.S.Ch.E. President and CEO of R.K. Industries manufacturer of the Waterloov® Gutter Protection System. To learn more please go to
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