Welcome back to another RenoCompare comparison post where we continue to help untangle the many different roofing terms you may come across when researching a new or replacement roof. This week we compare roof eaves with roof soffit. What are they both, in what ways are they different and what do you need to know about installation and maintenance? We also answer some of your most frequently asked questions. Please leave us any other questions you may have in the comments section below.
Eaves and soffits are features of most residential roof structures and many commercial buildings too. They are typically found on sloped roofs but are occasionally included in flat roof construction. Soffits and fascia boards are both part of a roof eave design.
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WHAT ARE EAVES?
Eaves are the part of the roof created by horizontal overhangs at the edges of the roof at the low end. Trusses or rafters that extend beyond the exterior walls of the home create the overhang.
What do eaves consist of? The underside of the overhang is the soffit. The front of an eave, the board that the gutter system is fastened to or installed in front of, is the fascia of the eave.
Types: There are three types of eaves. Open eaves, known as exposed eaves, may reveal the underside of the roof deck overhanging the home or be finished with wooden planks or other wood materials. Closed eaves are more common, and they are finished with wood, vinyl, fiber cement or aluminum soffits. The third kind, boxed eaves, are a type of closed eave employing wood or fiber cement to box in the eave framing.
Aesthetics: The eaves enhance the aesthetics of a home, though not all homes have them. All home styles including bungalows, A-frames and traditional home designs employ eaves. A cornice is sometimes integrated into the eaves if the home employs classical architecture, especially with an open eave. The cornice is often constructed from wood or formed from steel or aluminum.
Airflow in the Attic Space: Eaves provide a place for attic ventilation, which is essential for keeping temperature and moisture control in the attic. Excess heat and moist air leave the roof system out the ridge vents and gable vents through convection – hot air rising. Fresh, cooler and drier air is pulled in through the soffit vents to replace it.
Note on rakes: The overhang on a gable end is called a rake, so it is not technically an eave but is often referred to as one.
Further Reading: Eave Vs Rake
WHAT IS SOFFIT?
Soffits, also called soffit eaves, are the undersides of any roof overhang. They are part of horizontal eaves at the low end of the roof and rakes along the roof pitch on the gable ends of the roof if there is an overhang there.
The purpose of the soffit is to cover the gap created by the overhang, to close off the attic from birds, rodents, insects and other pests. And as noted, it provides attic ventilation that allows the roof system to breathe.
Further Reading: Soffit vs Fascia
The material used to cover the gap can be solid, vented or perforated. When the material is solid, then metal vents may be placed in the soffit every 8 to 12 feet to allow air circulation for proper attic ventilation. Narrow vent, 1-2 inches wide, might also run the full length of the soffit.
Your soffit material options and their cost without labor are vinyl/PVC ($1.25-$1.75 per linear foot), aluminum ($1.60 – $2.25 per linear foot), fiber cement ($1.80 – $2.50 per linear foot) and plywood or wood composite ($1.90 – $2.35 per linear foot).
Of your material options, aluminum and vinyl soffits are the most durable. Wood and fiber cement have greater maintenance needs, requiring painting every 4-10 years depending on the quality of the paint and your climate.
Roof eaves are constructed as part of the home’s framing. As such, they aren’t replaced. But they are covered with materials on their soffit and fascia which must be replaced as needed due to age or damage.
The fascia boards and the side of the building or home have ledges, in many cases, that the soffit material rests on. When wood or fiber cement are used, the material is fastened directly to the fascia boards and to the exterior siding of the home.
MAINTENANCE AND REPAIRS
The eaves, consisting of the soffit and fascia, should be inspected a few times per year to check for damage, loose or missing materials and the need for upkeep such as painting or replacement.
Because the soffit is the underside of the roof overhang, it is less susceptible to weather damage than fascia boards. The main reason for replacing soffit materials is to provide proper ventilation for the attic and roof structure. As a result, solid fascia is often removed and replaced with some form of vented soffit – either perforated aluminum or PVC soffit or wood or fiber cement soffit with vents.
Installation tip: To ensure proper ventilation, when adding insulation to the attic space, it is important to keep the soffits uncovered so that their vents are not blocked. Covering the vents, especially with blown-in insulation, is a common mistake that negates the value of soffit ventilation and leads to mold, mildew and rot in the roof framing and shortens the life of shingles or other roofing material.
DAMAGE TO EAVES AND SOFFITS
Weather-related damage from ice and excess rain is the most common. Pests like birds, racoons or squirrels attempting to get into the attic for shelter are also a source of damage. Eaves also provide shelter for wasps to build nests attached to the soffit material, though this usually doesn’t damage the soffit materials.
Is an eave the same as an overhang?
Yes. The overhangs along the horizontal edges of the roof are eaves. Overhangs along the roof pitch or slope are called rakes. Both eaves and rakes feature soffit on their underside.
Is the eave the same as fascia?
Yes and no. Fascia boards are the boards on the front or “face” of the eaves of your home. In other words, the fascia is part of the eave.
What are the three types of eaves?
Open eaves, closed eaves and boxed eaves are the three types. Closed eaves covered with vented soffit made from aluminum or vinyl/PVC are the most common type of eave.
What’s the difference between eaves and soffit?
It’s not really a difference. Instead, soffit is the underside of an eave – the underside of the roof overhang.
Do all houses have eaves?
No. Some homes are built with trusses or rafters that are the same width as the house, so there is no overhang. In such cases, alternate methods of providing proper attic ventilation must be found such as the use of gable vents in conjunction with roof and ridge vents.
What are the practical functions of eaves?
We’ve mentioned that eaves provide a good location for ventilation. In addition, since the eaves extend out from the walls of the home, they help prevent rainwater that overflows the gutters from falling too close to the home’s foundation and exterior siding. Overhanging eaves provide minimal shade, depending on the time of day.
Further reading: Vinyl Versus Aluminum Gutters
Lighting can also be installed on the underside of the eave either recessed into the soffit material or on the surface of it. The lights offer home security and provide enhanced curb appeal. Holiday lighting is often fastened to the soffits too.