Soffit problem might indicate a roof leak

December 04, 2008|By PAT LOGAN/Creators Syndicate

Dear Pat: I have a one-story ranch-style house. I seem to have to get on a ladder and paint the horizontal area under the roof overhang every couple of years. Is there a low-maintenance fix for this? - Cyndi W.

Dear Cyndi: The area beneath the roof overhang is called a soffit. It should not require such frequent painting because it is not directly exposed to the sun's rays or rain. This will probably not cause a structural problem, but it looks bad because it is easily seen from the ground.

Adding new, vented aluminum soffits is the best low-maintenance fix for this problem. Before you install soffits, though, it would be wise to try to determine the cause of the existing paint problem. If you just hide the existing problem behind aluminum, there is the possibility of future structural damage. Once you determine the cause and correct it, you might try painting one more time before choosing a more expensive option.


The most common causes of paint problems are improper surface preparation or moisture. The underside of the overhang should stay reasonably clean, so a layer of dirt is seldom the problem. If the base coat was peeling and never thoroughly scraped, none of the additional coats of paint will adhere well.

Check for signs of roof leaks. Water from leaks can run down the rafters and cause the soffit to remain damp. Roof leaks will not always be apparent on the ceiling directly below the leaky spots. If the soffits do not have air vents in them, add some. This will improve ventilation beneath the roof and reduce moisture.

If you are sick and tired of the painting, installing vented aluminum soffit panels is your best choice. Because you have a one-story house, this will not be terribly difficult job. It will require a helper, though, primarily to handle the long, lightweight pieces.

You should be able to buy aluminum soffits at most home center stores, usually in either white or brown. They are made from inexpensive material. So if you do the work yourself, it might make sense to purchase the higher-quality soffits professionals use at a building supply outlet. This is often heavier-gauge aluminum, making it is stiffer and easier to handle.

You can also replace the vertical wood fascia strip immediately beneath the soffit with aluminum so they match. Professionals usually do this, but it is unnecessary if you are not experiencing a paint problem.

If you decide to replace the fascia, you will have to remove the gutters first. Old gutters are often attached with long nails and they usually pull out easily. You will likely find many of the nails are loose. You should be able to reuse the old gutters. It would be wise to use long gutter screws to reattach them; never try to drive a nail into an old hole.

Make sure there are plenty of holes in the existing wood soffit for ventilation. They will not be seen when covered by the new, vented aluminum soffits. A J-channel is nailed to the wood soffits. One edge of the aluminum soffit slips into the channel and the other end is nailed to the old wood soffit.

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