Designers and contractors like to use the word “soffit” often, but most people are unfamiliar with such terminology. Soffits play an essential role in the construction of your abode, and without it, your roof would lose structural integrity. Knowing the basics about your roof can help you in the future, such as when it is in need of repairs or you want to renovate the exterior of your home.
So, if you’ve been wondering what a soffit is and what it does, here are the answers you’ve been looking for.
What is a Soffit?
The word “soffit” is derived from two languages, French and Latin. In French, the root word means to “form as a ceiling,” and the Latin term is “to fix underneath.” With that in mind, it’s time to take a field trip. Head outside and look up at the underside of your roof wherever there is an overhang. The material that connects this piece of the roof to the side of the building is the soffit.
Technically, a soffit is any piece that is the underside of any part of your household, including ceilings, stairs, and cornices. Older architecture might feature soffit as a decorative element. For instance, some houses have soffit in the kitchen that separates the cabinets from the ceiling. Other buildings might use soffit to conceal structural beams, heating/cooling ducts or overhead plumbing from sight or contain recessed lighting fixtures.
However, the most common type is the one that goes outside on the edge of the eave and seals that space between the wall and the eave.
Common materials used in creating soffit are aluminum and vinyl, but fiber cement, wood, and steel has been used, as well. The dimensions of an eave soffit typically depend on the structure of the roof. Wide overhangs correspond with larger soffit, sometimes spanning up to 3 feet in width. Roofs with a little overhang and thus a narrow underside might have soffit as slim as 3 inches wide.
The Purpose of Soffit
As mentioned previously, soffit can serve both a functional and aesthetic purpose. Within the roofing system of a house, the soffit lends protection to the rafter beams. Without soffit, the beams would be exposed to the elements, risking dangerous mold growth and rot. That’s why even the smallest overhang will have soffit.
The soffit also helps the structure breathe. Vented soffit aids in airflow throughout the attic and into the house. Circulation is important to preserving your house. Where the eaves sealed tight, heat would remain trapped in the attic, which would inevitably overheat the entire building. Your utility bills for cooling would be exorbitant—and no one wants that. The same is true for winter months. Air flow helps prevent the moisture from building up and inviting mold to grow.
Keep in mind that not every building has vented soffit. Solid soffit is common in older homes, and therefore you might need to install soffit vents to help with air circulation.
Different Types of Soffit
Aluminum and vinyl soffit are the most popular choice for American homes, due to the low cost of manufacturing, ease of installation, and durability.
Aluminum soffit is an excellent choice for those who are looking for a more malleable material to fit into an oddly sized space. Aluminum is also resilient to changes in temperature and will not rot, crack, or chip. The downside is that blunt force can put a dent into this kind of metal easily. Furthermore, you don’t have to worry about cleaning aluminum soffit, because the material doesn’t attract dirt. Wet regions will often incorporate aluminum soffit for its water-resistance. The trade-off is that insulation is lacking when compared to vinyl. Aluminum does tend to run with a higher price tag than vinyl soffit, but there is a reason for that.
Vinyl is water-resistant, will not rot, and comes in a variety of textures, grains, and colors. Vinyl is the best choice for houses in colder, dryer regions because it insulates extremely well. However, vinyl is weaker to the elements that aluminum. In damp climates, vinyl may develop mold, and if exposed to regular sunlight, it can crack and discolor. This is true for hotter regions, as well.
Both aluminum and vinyl soffit requires very little maintenance. Simply do routine checks to make sure squirrels and other rodents or insects haven’t bored holes into the soffit for nests.
The other material options for soffit, including wood and steel, can be both expensive and time-consuming to manufacture and install. However, if you are interested in these types of soffit, discuss the options with your contractor to see what is available to you.
Soffit serves aesthetic and functional purposes at the same time. More often than not, you will find soffit on your home, guarding the rafter beams against exposure to rain, snow, and other kinds of weather. While soffit requires little maintenance, it will sometimes fall into disrepair. When that happens, you can call a professional roofer to help or handle the repairs yourself.
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Want to learn more about whole home remodeling in PA? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Remodeling Your Luxury Home.