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What is a Soffit?

By Lou Paun
Updated May 16, 2024
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Technically, a soffit is the underside of any element of a building. The word originates with the Latin suffigere, meaning "to fix underneath." So there are soffits on ceilings, stairs, and even cornices. The most common type, however, is found in the area under the eaves on the exterior of the house. The soffit extends from the side of the house to the edge of the eave and closes the space beneath the eave.

The dimensions of an eave soffit depend on the structure of the roof. A roof with a wide overhang will have a correspondingly wide soffit, sometimes up to 3 feet (0.9 m) wide. A roof with very little overhang will have a narrow underside, sometimes as little as 3 inches (7.6 cm).

The soffit is more vulnerable to weather damage than any other part of the house. Wet material rots, and the underside can be repeatedly soaked by water from torn shingles, damaged or rusted flashing, ice dams, or poorly functioning gutters. Squirrels and birds can also damage a soffit, since they like to nest in the space in the space behind it if they can find a point of entry. Bees, hornets, and wasps do not actually cause damage, but when they build a nest in this area, they present a problem for the homeowners.

Fortunately, it is quite easy to repair a damaged soffit. The homeowner should first remove the shingle molding and the fascia. Next, he or she should remove the damaged or rotted soffit. If a rafter is rotted or otherwise damaged, that section will also need to be removed and replaced. The damaged material should be replaced, making sure that all surfaces of the new soffit have been treated with a sealer to protect the material from water damage. The fascia board and the molding can then be replaced, and all surfaces painted or sealed.

An unventilated, overheated attic can be improved with ridge vents and soffit vents. Because heat rises, the hottest air is exhausted through the ridge vents and cooler air is pulled in through the soffit vents. If air circulation is poor, an attic fan can be used to increase air movement.

Improving ventilation with these vents keeps the attic drier, because condensation will not form inside the roof. This reduces damage to the rafters and roof. A cooler attic also means reduced use of the air conditioner in the rest of the house.

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Discussion Comments
By anon185067 — On Jun 10, 2011

what material is best to use on a new build addition? Exterior grade plywood or fir wood?

the builder wants to use plywood as this is what as used on the present house, but the permits call for fir wood and I hear that fir is a better, longer lasting wood?

or is there something else that will last longer with less maintenance?

By anon160531 — On Mar 16, 2011

We bought our soffits from a local plastics company. The UPVC prevents problems with squirrels and bees and can be made to look like timber if you so desire. It's often cheaper too.

By reader888 — On Feb 28, 2011

We have bees in our soffit. I can't stand it, because I have an unreasonable fear of bees. And the section they have invaded is very close to the front door, so I can hear them buzzing around every time I walk in or out of the house. I hate it!

Do I need to have the soffit removed to get rid of them, or is there an easier way to go about it?

By rosoph — On Feb 26, 2011

I'm glad that it sounds like installing new soffit to replace the damaged section we have won't be too hard of a job.

We had a squirrel problem. They sure did a job up there. I had no idea that squirrels could create such a problem! Is there a way to stop them from getting up there again, once the new soffit is in place?

By claire24 — On Feb 24, 2011

Thank you for this information! I have been trying to find a way to cool my attic. Soffit ventilation sounds like the perfect fix, because a fan alone just isn't doing the job. It's just so hot up there! It's a of a decent size, and I use it for storage for just about everything, so I go up there quite a bit to put things away or get something else down. It's just plain miserable, especially if I have to spend more than a minute up there.

I'm going to have soffit vents installed as soon as possible. I can't wait! And if it cuts down on my air conditioner use, even better.

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