Dear James: 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 any low-maintenance fix for this? — Keith W.
Dear Keith: This area beneath the roof overhang — called a soffit — should not require such frequent painting, as 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 a new vented aluminum soffit is the best low-maintenance fix for this problem. Before you install it 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 painting problems are improper surface preparation and constant dampness. The underside of the overhang should stay reasonably clean, so a layer of dirt is not often the problem. If the base coat is peeling and never thoroughly scraped, none of the additional coats of paint will adhere well.
Check for signs of a leaky roof, which may 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 inlet air vents in them, add some. This will improve ventilation beneath the roof and reduce dampness.
If you are sick and tired of the painting and don't want to give it another try, installing vented aluminum soffit panels is your best choice. Because you have a one-story house, this will not be a terribly difficult job. It will require a helper, though, primarily to handle the long (but lightweight) pieces.
You should be able to buy aluminum soffit at most home centers, usually in shades of white or brown. It is not expensive material, so if you do the work yourself, it may make sense to purchase higher-quality soffits, which professionals use, at a building supply outlet. This is often heavier-gauge aluminum, so it is stiffer and easier to handle.
You may or may not decide to also replace the vertical wood facia strip immediately beneath the soffit with aluminum so that it matches. Professionals usually do this, but it is not necessary if you are not also having a painting problem with it.
If you decide to replace the facia, 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 them are already loose. You should be able to reuse the old gutters. It would be wise to use long gutter screws to reattach them and 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.
Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com. To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.