Rot is the biggest enemy of any exterior woodwork so learning how to repair eaves can save you a small fortune. Nowhere is this more true than at roof level, and the visible timbers — fascias, bargeboards and soffits — are most at risk. Repairs are generally simple, but should be done soon to prevent the more serious spread of rot into structural timbers such as rafters and joists.
The overhanging eaves of a roof are designed to shoot rainwater well clear of the walls where it can be collected in the gutters.
But this overhang leaves the ends of the structural timbers, which support the roof, exposed to damp themselves.
To protect these timbers as well as to give a neat finish to the roof and support the guttering, the eaves are finished off with boards. The most obvious of these is the fascia board fitted vertically to the ends of the rafters — it’s this that supports the gutters in most constructions. Similar facing boards fitted to the sloping ends of a pitched roof are called bargeboards. In older houses they were often cut into decorative shapes. The underside of an overhang is protected by a further board called a soffit.
All of these timbers are very exposed to the elements and — particularly if they are not painted regularly — there’s always a risk of rot. Most at risk are the fascias, since they are more exposed and can easily be splashed with water if the guttering is faulty.
Because they are out of sight, eaves timbers tend to get forgot ten. The chances are that by the time any decay is noticeable it will have advanced to the stage where replacement is the best or only cure.
The first signs from ground level will probably be cracked and flaking paintwork. If this is extensive, or if any of the wood is wet from a leaking gutter, you need to take a closer look.
Binoculars will help you to make a quick check, but you need to use a ladder to make sure.
You must be very aware of ladder safety before you climb, and make sure you take all the precautions. For a quick inspection, a ladder is more convenient and cheaper to hire than a tower scaffold but for any large amounts of work at eaves level you will find the tower an invaluable aid.
The illustrations show various different types of eaves construc tion. With any of these, it’s generally the fascia which suffers most, with the damage then extending to the soffit if one is fitted.
Look for obvious problems such as cracked or missing tiles and slates or leaking gutters. These must be cured as quickly as possible, or any other repairs will quickly be rendered useless.
1. Determine the extent of any rotten patches by pushing a knife blade in to the wood to see where it is soft. Since the fascia supports the gutter. It isn’t gener ally possible to get access to it without removing the whole run of guttering. This means that if the rot is at all widespread, you are generally better off replacing the whole run. However, if rot has not gained a hold, you may be able simply to strip any flaking paint, prime and repain to protect the wood. Very minor wet rot can be completely cured with products ,like Fixrot or a Ronseal kit.
Soffit damage is usually ‘elated to similar areas on the fascia.
But a further possibility is that if rainwater running down the roof appears to run from the soffit, it could be that the roofing felt under the tiles has cracked where it runs over the fascia.
The felt has then dropped into the recess over the soffit so that water collects in this space.
Lift the tiles or slates over the eaves to check. If this is the problem, cure it by removing some of the bottom row of tiles.
Insert a new piece of felt, tuck it well under the original and secure with bitumen adhesive. Drape it over the fascia into the gutter then retile.
Bargeboards generally suffer from the same faults as fascias. The only complication is where
the board is highly decorated. In this case, total replacement may not be the best move. And if you must replace any timber you’ll have to avoid destroying the character of the house.
In some houses, there are no bargeboards — instead, the verge tiles may be bedded in mortar. Repairs to this type of roof are also detailed in the bargeboard section.
1. The first thing to do is to remove the guttering to give you access to the fascia board behind. As you do so, look for any signs of leaks which might have caused fascia damage — this is especially common with older castiron gutters. If you find any. you’ll have to repair or replace the gutter as well.
The fascia may be fitted in a variety of ways. It may be nailed to the ends of the rafters, or to a wall plate. On flat roofs it is usually fixed to the outer roof joist. It may be fixed to a soffit as well, where one is fitted.
2. Prise it away carefully from all these fixings. A long piece of fascia will be heavy and awkward, so have an assistant standing by to take the weight, or else rope it securely so that the weight is supported until you can let it down gently.
With the fascia removed, inspect the timber behind very carefully.
Look at the condition of the soffit. This may need to be repaired as well. Look at the ends of the rafters and inspect these for rot. If you detect any, the timber should be replaced. If there’s extensive decay you should have it profes sionally surveyed in case the roof structure has been seriously affected. If this is the case, you might need to replace all, or part of, the damaged timbers before painting.
Whether or not the rafters are sound, treat all the exposed timber to a thorough soaking in wood preservative — especially the end grain of the rafters which are more porous.
If the old fascia is whole, use it as a pattern for the new timber. If it was grooved to take the soffit, it will be difficult to match this and you may be better to fit a plain board and cut the soffit back accordingly.
If you are reusing the old gutter, transfer the fixing positions for the brackets onto the new timber and drill these.
, Mark the positions of the TIP \ original fixings onto the new wood — it will save you from having to guess the position of the rafters when you fit the board back in place.
3. Coat both sides of the timber with timber preservative. If pos sible. Stand the ends in the fluid to allow maximum
absorption:alternatively, buy pressureimpregnated timber. Seal knots with knotting compound, then prime the wood thoroughly.
4. Lift the fascia to the eaves and support it securely while you nail it close to the original fixing positions. Use galvanized cut nails to secure it in place.
Decorate the fascia with at least two coats of paint to match the
existing woodwork. When dry, fix the gutter brackets to the pre drilled holes and replace the gutters.
Soffits don’t suffer from exposure as much as other eaves timbers. Any problems may well only come to light after the fascia is removed. If you are replacing the fascia in any case, the soffit is easily replaced first. I3ut in cases of isolated damage, it is possible to cut out and replace a small section without removing the fascia.
To do this, you need to drill holes at the edges of the damaged area to insert a padsaw blade. Cut through it and prise away from the supporting timbers, Trim back the ends flush with the nearest support on each side. Screw support battens to the sides of these so that you can attach a new patch as described below.
Soffits can be made of a
variety of materials. In old houses they are usually made from softwood. If these are wide. They may be built up from tongue and groove boards – usually 100mm by 15mm. You may also find lath and plaster. If this is badly damaged, it’s best replaced with timber, although small sections can be patched or quite easily replaced with plasterboard. Modern houses, however may have plywood or a variety of other manmade materials which should be much more durable and hardwearing.
If a soffit needs to be replaced in its entirety, prise it carefully away from its supports once you have removed the fascia.
A narrow soffit may just be nailed to the ends of the rafters.
Wide soffits have extra bearers. If these come away with the boarding, they must be replaced. Note also that many old soffits have a tongue let into a groove in the back of the fascia for extra support.
Treat the exposed timber as for a fascia board — also treat all the new wood that you use as a replacement. If the old fascia was grooved for the soffit, it’s difficult to duplicate this on new board. Where you are replacing this type of fascia, the new soffit will have to he narrower than the old.
It’s a good idea to drill large diameter holes — 25mm, say at intervals in the new soffit board to allow ventilation of the roof timbers.
Replace any suspect supporting battens or add new ones if there doesn’t seem to he adequate support. Fix the new soffit in place.
Use screws rather than
nails to fix the soffit. All the weight acts downward and would tend to pull out the nails. Choose rustproof zincplated screws for weatherresistance.
Plain timber bargeboards can be treated much like fascias. It’s generally best in the long run to replace the entire board rather than just a section.
The new board must be prepared as for a fascia. Cut its ends to match the original and nail in place. It’s unlikely that the rafter and purlins will have been affected so you should have little problem finding fixings. Add support battens if you have to. Once again, it’s a good idea to treat the exposed roof timbers with preservative.
1. Decorative bargeboards are more of a problem. To retain the character of the roof you need to fit a new shaped piece that matches the old. Use the old boards to make a cardboard pattern for the replacement.
2. The bargeboards must be mitred where they meet at the ridge. Use a sliding bevel to set the angle and transfer it to the new board.
3. Cut the mitres then fit the two together to check the angle, again using the bevel.
Some bargeboards are jointed together. If this is the case, always try to remove a complete section by loosening the joints.
When you refit a jointed section of board, fill all the gaps in the joints with putty.
Deterioration often starts with water penetration here.
Sometimes, no bargeboard is fitted, and the tiles are bedded directly on mortar. Cracked and crumbling mortar should be raked out and repointed with a bricklaying mortar mix (3:1 sand and cement).
Alternatively, on tiled roofs you can use a plastic roof trim.
This comes in panels which clip into place along the verge.