I have an older home with wooden fascia, soffits, and trim. I have been updating my windows and doing other renovations to improve the look and efficiency of my house. Next spring I want to replace my soffits and fascia with aluminum or vinyl. One of my friends, who has some renovation experience, said that I don’t have to remove the old wood soffits before I cover them with the new ones. I think that it should be better to remove the old ones rather than covering them with the new material. Is it necessary to remove the old soffits and do I have to do anything extra to vent the new soffits? I don’t mind doing the extra work to take the old soffits down, but I may not bother if it isn’t beneficial.
I commend this reader for continuing with regular maintenance and upgrading of his house. The most common defects found during a home inspection are usually associated with poor maintenance or neglect. Aluminum fascia and soffits have been used for many years and have proved to be a very cost effective way to provide a low maintenance solution to a problem area. They prevent the need for scraping and painting every few years and are not prone to rot and deterioration like wood. No one likes climbing on ladders and scraping and sanding old paint on a continual basis.
Covering the old fascia and soffits directly with new vinyl or aluminum is not a problem as long as several things are taken into consideration. The first thing to determine is if there is existing rot in the wood in these areas. A sharp probe, awl, or screwdriver can be used to determine the presence of deteriorated wood. If these tools penetrate the wood with little or no resistance, then rot is likely the culprit. Covering up rotten wood is not a good idea, as the rot can continue to spread and the new material may even expedite the process by limiting air circulation. Rot present in fascia or soffits may eventually spread to roof framing underneath and cause a more costly repair. If any rot is found, the boards affected should be removed and the framing beneath inspected to see if it is still sound.
If the existing trim is in good shape and the new material is being installed for cosmetic reasons, then ventilation considerations should be examined. The original soffits may have vents cut into the surface to provide fresh air to the attic. These are integral to proper ventilation of the attic and should be maintained. I recommend removing any vent covers and screens to inspect the area behind the soffits. This area must remain open and clear in the attic to be effective. Often insulation added after original construction, especially blown-in types, will block the soffit vents. If this is the case, the insulation should be pushed or pulled back from the soffit area to allow for maximum air flow.
If the existing soffits do not have any vents installed, then this is an ideal time to add extra venting to the attic. Before installation of the new soffits, cutting inspection holes or removing a section of soffit material is a must. Once the area behind the soffits is visible, it can be determined if there is a clear passage for air already in existence. If one is not visible and wood blocking is present between the roof rafters, then ventilation holes may be drilled in the blocking and existing soffits. This will dramatically increase the attic ventilation from the exterior. Most aluminum and vinyl soffit material has integral venting built into the design and assuring that the material beneath it is has enough air circulation is important. This will not only improve the conditions in the attic, but will also reduce the likelihood of rot in the old soffits.
To simply answer the question, it is not necessary to remove the old soffits as long as they are in good shape and proper allowance is made for ventilation and air circulation.