Self Cleaning Gutters – Fact or Fiction

The idea of self cleaning gutters sounds like something out of science fiction. It sounds crazy to any homeowner who lives with a forest of trees around his home. He has debris falling year round with twigs and sticks along with literally a ton of debris in both the fall and spring. Cleaning gutters is a year round chore–every week from mid September through mid December and three or four times in the spring. Just look at a gutter full of leaves and debris and you’ll think the idea of self cleaning gutters is simply ridiculous.

Because gutter screens were invented before all other types it’s usually the choice. Anticipation is met with disappointment for within 12-to-18 months corn is seen growing through the screens and the gutters are overflowing. Inspection of the gutter and the screen shows that the gutter is full of a very fine soil like debris with the plants rooted deeply within the dirt. It’s totally amazing how all this fine dirt-like debris has passed through the screens and into the gutter.

The idea of ever having self cleaning gutters is now seems even more remote than before trying the screens.

But there are other products offering hope such as filters that are installed either in the gutter itself as a brush or mesh. Another type of filter product has a filter installed within a solid panel that covers the gutters. But if you remember the nature of debris-like soil, it’s easy to see that there are no self cleaning gutters here either. The same great expectations are met with disappointment as the fine soil-like debris accumulates in the gutter and actually builds a layer that can’t be penetrated over the filter causing gutters to overflow. The one with filters in the cover likewise become clogged. They are supposed to work like coffee filters but the debris is so fine that it clogs the filter requiring replacement.

Next hope comes from the solid gutter covers that have one long fin at the front guiding water downward through a gap of approximately 3/8″ in thickness into the gutter. Initially it appears that the rain water would just skip off into space but instead it adheres to the surface of the fin and is directed into the gutter. Having had experience with screens and filters, it makes sense to be skeptical of the ability of these covers to make gutters self cleaning and rightly so. These are easy to test in your kitchen sink. Simply run water over the guard and watch the water follow the contour of the fin downward into what would be the gutter. Next place a wet leaf on the surface as you continue running the water. Watch the leaf (if you don’t have leaves, use a wet dollar bill–it mimics a leaf) move slowly to the fin and instead of dropping off the fin, you’ll see it follow the fin downward with the water into what would be the gutter.

This type of gutter guard will actually pass full sized leaves along with most of the tiny buds and blossoms in the Spring Time. Again, no self cleaning gutter here.

Even though the idea of self cleaning gutters so far is only a dream, hold on, there are two other types of gutter guards we can investigate.

A variation of the fin type is one with a trough containing sieves. However, it doesn’t take an engineering school graduate to realize that all the debris that sticks to the fin will indeed go into the trough where it has no place to go except to clog the sieves or deteriorate even further and pass through the sieves in sufficient amount to clog the gutters. Again, no hope of self cleaning gutters here either.

It’s obvious that the only way to accomplish self cleaning gutters is to limit the size and amount of debris that can enter the gutter. There is one more design to consider and that is of a gutter cover which utilizes two rows of interspersed louvers in the front portion of the gutter cover to replace the long fin. Since the louvers are only 3/4″ in width nothing longer than 3/4″ can ever enter the gutter and in order for anything even that size to enter the gutter, it has to hit the louver exactly at the right position.

After twenty years of service (that’s right not one or two years but twenty), visual inspections show that as the water cascades into the bottom of the gutter, it causes a swirling which constantly stirs up the bottom of the gutter moving what little debris enters the gutter toward and down the downspout. Finally the dream of self cleaning gutters has come true for all kinds of tree debris–oak, locust, pine, ash…

Richard Kuhns B.S.Ch.E. President and CEO of R.K. Industries manufacturer of the Waterloov® Gutter Protection System.