Gutter snipes: What if the helmet leaks?

Gutter Helmet's promise– "Never clean your gutters again!"– was mighty appealing to Rey Berry. "Since leaves and debris are a four-times-a-year cleaning problem at my house," he explained, "$3,500 to refasten the gutters and install effective covers seemed a fair deal."

Of all the available devices, Berry concluded that Gutter Helmet "owns the patents on the best technology." The company's website ( waxes rhapsodic when it describes how those patents protect against "a variety of maintenance nightmares," such as soaked ceilings, mold in attics, and ice damage to gutters.

The regional dealer, Gutter Helmet of Central Virginia– which is part of Quality Improvements, Inc., of Stuarts Draft– installed Berry's system last January. That's no simple task, by the way; according to the website, "trained installers clean, seal, check, and adjust the alignment" of existing gutters as needed. Next, reinforced steel brackets (one of three models, depending on special needs such as heavy snowfalls or high winds and the existing gutter system's design) are attached, after which Gutter Helmet panels are "individually prepared and custom-fitted" over the gutters. Finally, "depending on a professional dealer inspection" of the home, the panels are installed either over or under the shingles so as to blend in with the roof's architecture.

Berry was dismayed to discover that his $3,500 gutter-protection system appeared to be inviting one of the very maintenance nightmares it was supposed to protect against: roof rot. Two leaks sprang up after the pricey helmets had been installed, he claimed, which caused rainwater to build up underneath the custom-fitted panels and drip down behind the gutter "for days" after a rainfall.

Berry reported the problem to Quality Improvements, and someone was dispatched. But because Berry and his wife weren't home when he arrived, the employee simply left a note on the door. "I phoned the firm several times," Berry says, and was told every time that his message would be given to "Tom," but no one called or came back.

In September, almost nine months after the Gutter Helmet system had been installed, Berry used the website's "Contact Us" link to report the problem– but, he claims, "nothing came of it." On September 27, he contacted me.

I spoke with Eric Bohner, national sales manager for Gutter Helmet, on October 3, and he contacted Quality Improvements. The dealer's service manager and an assistant were on their way to Berry's house almost immediately, where they surveyed the situation and, according to Barry, sealed the leaks.

Barry had a second concern, which appears to have been taken care of as well. Although Gutter Helmet touts a "transferable lifetime materials and product performance warranty," he claims he never received the written documentation of this– even though, by his account, the dealer "promised repeatedly" to get it to him.

A secretary at Quality Improvement called Barry on October 3 to say that an "after-sale packet of Gutter Helmet materials" had been mailed on January 5, but he claims that he never received it. Finally, Barry learned that the elusive Tom, who had held a "major sales and service position at the dealership," was no longer employed at Quality Improvement.

One part of Barry's saga is so familiar that it merits special mention, and that's his experience with the company's "Contact Us" website link. This is something I not only hear frequently from consumers, but can attest to myself: Precious few businesses, seemingly, respond to customers who take that route to report problems.

At the same time they're urging us to email them for help, I've noticed something else about company websites. It's getting harder and harder to find a company's phone number– to the point that searching for one, in tiny type at the bottom of the page or deep inside a FAQ page, can feel like digging for dinosaur bones alongside a freeway.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at Box 4553, Charlottesville 22905.