Recent years have seen a proliferation of gutter protection products come onto the market. While the increased level of advertising has boosted consumer awareness, gutter installers are still left with an important decision: Which gutter protection products should they carry?
The choice comes down to filters, hoods, or screens. Gutter Opportunities will look at each category. Hoods and screens, to be featured in succeeding pages, have attracted many advocates. But filters also are gaining a significant share of the market for gutter protection.
Filters come in different shapes, from squared-off foam to rounded bristles. But each is designed to be inserted inside the gutter trough and repel leaves and debris while permitting rainwater to pass through.
“For gutter companies, filters have the advantage of being easy to install and are also very marketable,” believes Steve Henderson, product manager for DCI Products of Clifton Heights, Pa. The company makes a line of products including Flo-Free Leaf Guard, a patented industrial-strength nylon filter. “You don’t need any machinery or special tools to install Flo-Free, just a caulk gun and pair of scissors. And you don’t have to mess with the shingles or the gutters, because the filters are simply inserted into the trough.”
Flo-Free is black in color, which absorbs heat and allows sunlight to shine directly through the product, and in turn helps to melt snow and ice in the winter. And because gutter filters are installed completely inside the trough and are not visible from the street, “one color is all you need,” Henderson points out. “That means you don’t have to stock a lot of colors. With gutter filters, unlike covers or screens, you don’t have to worry about matching the color of the roof or the gutter. And homeowners don’t have to worry that gutter protection is going to change the way their house looks from the street.”
While some gutter filter products have flat surfaces, Flo-Free is designed to be installed with a slight dome. “It doesn’t stick up high enough to be noticed from the street,” Henderson says, “but the dome helps the leaves and debris to slide off.” DCI Products makes versions of Flo-Free for 5-inch and 6-inch K-style gutters, as well as half-round gutters. The nylon is chemically treated to resist ultraviolet (UV) rays and prevent the filter from becoming brittle.
In general, Henderson contends gutter filters are more profitable for installers than covers or screens. “Compared to gutter covers,” he maintains, “your material costs for filters are about half as much. So you can charge homeowners about half the cost of gutter covers, which will help you sell more jobs. But since filters are easier and faster to install, your profit margin is greater. And with filters you don’t have call-backs for maintenance and damaged product.”
Two Design Approaches
A different approach to gutter filters is offered by GutterPiller Inc., a manufacturer based in Tinley Park, Ill. General manager and sales vice president Tom Duffy describes his company’s product as a “twisted wire gutter brush.” In appearance GutterPiller resembles a pipe cleaner and comes in 18-, 36- and 48-inch lengths and can be inserted into a gutter trough. Not even a pair of scissors is needed to install the product, he says, “because you can simply bend the wire around corners and double it back with a ‘V’ to get the right length. In fact, if you cut the wire then you void the warranty.”
GutterPiller’s black propylene brushes are treated for resistance to UV rays, as are most other gutter filter products. According to Duffy, the wire design and black color draws sunlight and warmth “down to the middle of the brush, rather than only the surface, and that means ice and snow will thaw sooner,” he explains. “Also, in the summer that means water will evaporate faster, so you’ve got less standing water for mosquito eggs. The brush design cuts down on mice and vermin making nests, since they don’t like the prickly wires.”
With available diameters of 5 and 6 inches, adds Duffy, his company’s filters “can fit with any style of gutter” including K-style, half-rounds, box, and fascia. Material costs are 50 to 70 percent less than gutter covers, he says, while the no-tools-required installation permits contractors to perform eight to 10 jobs per day. Profit margins of 50 percent, he suggests, are not uncommon. Though GutterPiller advises that maintenance be done every three to five years, “that only involves taking them out, giving them a tap, and putting them back in,” he says.
Duffy predicts the gutter protection business is bound for high growth. Only one in every 20 homes has such protection, he says, “and so the market has terrific potential.”
In contrast to a wire brush, Rain Flow USA of Eastpointe, Mich., has developed an L-shaped design made from natural fibers and coated with a UV-stable premium acrylic latex. The product is made to install without tools or caulk, and requires only scissors to cut lengths and miters. “With gutter filters you don’t have to raise the first or second row of shingles,” says CEO Frank Groth. “It’s not like installing gutter covers or screens, where you have to raise the shingles and break their seal with the roof. And if the shingles are old and brittle, they might break. But after years of fading it’s impossible to replace them with new shingles and match the colors.”
In addition, asks Groth, “What if you don’t have any shingles to raise?” For that reason, installing gutter covers and screens can be a problem on homes with metal, slate, and cement tile roofs. Gutter filters, he says, avoid the problem by simply being inserted into the trough without any screws or brackets. “And since filters aren’t visible from the street,” he observes, “black is the only color you need. With a gutter hood you’d have to stock at least eight to 10 colors in order to match the roof, trim, or gutter.”
Color matching is also a problem for installers of gutter covers who don’t have the right color. “If you have to order the color and make customers wait,” says Groth, “some customer might ‘cool off’ and cancel the job. Or what happens if you bring the wrong color to the job?” In some cases, the error may be the fault of the installer; in other cases, when homeowners see their color choice in real life they may not like it. Either way, the installer is liable for a costly return trip. Callbacks might also occur, he says, when homeowners discover that leaves can stick in the slot through which water flows under the gutter cover.
Rain Flow USA gutter filters are made for installation with K-style and fascia gutters. “About 80 to 85 percent of gutters are 5- and 6-inch K-style gutters, though fascia gutters are becoming popular in the West and half-rounds are getting popular in the East,” observes Groth. His company is “uncomfortable about putting filters in half-round gutters,” he says, because the lack of lip means the filter must be installed with glue.
In turn, gluing requires the gutter surface first be cleaned and dried, and then the glue applied, both of which are labor-intensive. Moreover, many half-round gutters are made of copper and, because copper patinas over time, “gluing a gutter insert onto copper is like gluing it onto rusty metal; it has trouble sticking,” Groth says.
Once filters have been installed, he says, any maintenance usually occurs mostly in roof valleys where a splashguard has been installed on the gutter and leaves may accumulate.
For gutter companies weighing filters versus covers, Groth advises that covers can be a roll of the dice as far as costs are concerned. “Even if the aluminum itself doesn’t cost that much, it can be hard to figure out your labor costs ahead of time — especially if you get to the house, find that the roof is old, and don’t know how many shingles you’ll break and end up replacing. Also, with gutter hoods the corners are very intricate to miter.” Altogether, he suggests that gutter hoods take three or four times longer than filters to install.
Rain Flow filters can be installed at a rate of about 100 feet per hour, Groth says. “And filters don’t cost the homeowner and arm and a leg,” he adds, “so that gutter filters are positioned to be big sellers as the market for gutter protection keeps growing.”
Product and Program
At GutterFilter America, a supplier based in Mount Laurel, N.J., CEO Murray Bernstein points out what he believes is another performance advantage of filters over gutter covers and screens. “Filters allow the full penetration of water in the gutter, so that gutters can do the job they’re made for,” he explains. “But covers and screens cut back the water flow.”
Yet another advantage, Bernstein suggests, is that filters can be cut to the needed length so waste is minimized and little material must be thrown away. GutterFilter has some 150 dealers nationwide and, he adds, most report that installation times for filters are about 50 to 60 percent less than for gutter hoods and covers. Moreover, the company makes GutterFilter products for all types of gutters including K-style, half-round, fascia, and even commercial applications.
According to Bernstein, GutterFilter is made of a polyurethane plastic, which is not only treated for UV resistance, but also treated with a biocide to prevent mold, mildew, and fungus that may biodegrade other filter products — and cause metal gutter covers to corrode, contract, or expand. And rather than designing GutterFilter with a flat surface exposed to the outside, the product features a slightly vaulted-angle top “so that debris doesn’t lie on the filter, but the filter is still invisible from the street.”
Gutter installers who are assessing the large number of gutter filter products on the market, continues Bernstein, should consider two additional factors. “First, has the product been around long enough to be proven and tested?” he suggests. “Second, does the manufacturer or supplier stand behind the product?” His own company’s approach, he says, is to offer “not just a product, but a program” that includes business and marketing support.
“I think we’re still at the very beginning of the growth of the gutter protection market,” Bernstein forecasts, “and that it will be a very lucrative market for at least the next 10 to 15 years. Baby boomers are getting older and they don’t want to climb ladders anymore!”
Helping gutter installers review their options is the mission of Mark Hurd, owner of SeamlessGutters.com, an information clearinghouse based in Roscoe, Ill. The website features information on several gutter protection products of various types. “When I think of gutter inserts,” he says, “I think of something that can be inserted into the gutter without having to attach the insert to the front lip of the gutter.”
In that vein, Hurd points out that Alcoa’s Leaf Relief gutter protection product is a perforated aluminum filter screen that can be inserted into the gutter without any other means of attachment. “But when you’re talking about gutter inserts and referring to foam filters,” he states, “then my advice is ‘let the buyer beware.’ You’ve got to have filters that are protected from UV rays so that they don’t become white and brittle like a shell. The filter will still function, but not as well as it was designed to work — and in some areas of the country, you could have a problem with brittle filters becoming clogged with pollen.”
UV protection should be incorporated, not only on the surface, but “go through the entire filter,” Hurd advises. Filters treated to be fire-retardant, he adds, also are preferred. Hurd cites Leaf Defier, a product manufactured by Monzi Inc., as an example of advanced protective treatment.
Hurd agrees with others that filters take less time to install, can be cut with scissors or shears, and do not require tools or fasteners. “The average job should take you less than an hour,” he suggests, “and installing 200 linear feet should, including proper cleaning of the gutter, take you only about an hour-and-a-half.”
Looking to the future, Hurd worries that “since gutter protection is more profitable than installing the gutters themselves, we’re probably going to see more private labeling” where suppliers purchase gutter protection products and then resell them under their own names. “There are a lot of here-today-gone-tomorrow companies, and companies that want to sell gutter products but not stand behind them.”
Nevertheless, Hurd contends that the gutter protection business “is still in its infancy and won’t peak for at least another five years. Installers might have 25 percent of their jobs be in gutter protection, but those jobs might be 80 percent of their total profits. I see gutter protection as a lasting market. Even some new homes are now being built with gutter protection already being offered, which bodes well for our industry.”
At Gutter Stuff Inc. of Vienna, Va., president Steve Duffy has been around since the start of the gutter protection industry and affirms how far it has come. “We started in 1994 when Robert Jones, who’d been in the building and remodeling business for 25 years, came up with the concept of stuffing the gutter with some kind of filter rather than covering it,” Duffy explains. “After trying different types of material like plastic mesh, steel mesh, and different types of foam, he came up with the patent-pending material that is currently being used.”
Duffy believes the market for foam filters “is still in its infancy but is really starting to catch on with millions of feet of our product already sold.” He suggests that Gutter Stuff installs three to four times faster than gutter covers since no tools are needed, and offers several performance advantages. “It doesn’t hold water like a sponge; it’s extremely porous,” he notes. Because of that, water efficiently drains away to prevent problems from mosquito eggs to ice damming.
“And if anything falls on a metal gutter cover then you can get unsightly dents,” he adds, “which of course isn’t a problem with foam filters.”
Nevertheless, Duffy concedes, “There are some big, long-established companies that make metal gutter covers, and that aren’t going away. So in the future I don’t think any one type of protection product — filters, hoods, or screens — will be dominant.” Yet the industry’s high level of advertising has raised consumer awareness so that, he believes, “gutter protection is no longer marketing-driven, but customer-driven. Though no single type of product will dominate, the market is big enough so that there’s plenty of room for all types to grow their sales.”