Last week I was asked by a friend to “make good” and tidy up the roofline on one of his rental properties in the south of the UK.
This seemed like a great opportunity to discuss soffit boards, what they are, where they’re located and how to maintain them.
Soffits are located on the underside of the roof overhang near the eaves, this area is also known as the roofline.
This part of the roof also supports the roof gutters and the fascia boards.
If you’re unsure of what a soffit looks like and where it’s located, see the photo below:
If your timber soffits are looking a little tired, you have a few options:
- Paint them.
- Replace them with plastic or ply.
- Cap over them with plastic or ply.
When replacing soffits, most DIYers and tradespeople will also replace the fascias too, although this is optional.
We’ve already discussed prices for replacing roofline boards.
If you’re on a tight budget or your existing soffits are in good condition, then you could paint rather than replace them.
Step 1 – Check Soffits For Asbestos
Unless you work in one of the trades, chances are you’re unaware of how popular asbestos-containing products once were in the UK.
Unfortunately, soffit boards were often manufactured from a mixture of cement and asbestos. These boards were very popular due to their durability – they are fireproof, rot proof, easy to paint, cheap and last for decades.
From 1960 to 1999 it was estimated that up to 40% of homes in the UK were built with asbestos soffit boards.
Before you proceed with any work to your roofline, we suggest you double-check the soffit boards aren’t made from asbestos.
Here are a few photos to help you make a visual check:
It’s usually quite easy to spot asbestos boards, they are greyish in colour, thin, brittle and the material is sometimes confused with cement or plasterboard.
If you’re in doubt about whether your boards contain asbestos or not, you can take a sample for analysis. It currently costs £30 to send off one sample for analysis and you will get the results within 48 hours.
If your soffits do contain asbestos, you have a few options:
- Get a qualified professional to remove it, see how much asbestos removal costs here.
- Get someone who has received “asbestos awareness” training to seal it with special paint.
- Get someone who has received “asbestos awareness” training to encapsulate it with plastic.
We don’t recommend painting, sealing or capping these boards yourself as there’s a risk of the dangerous fibres being released, this is very likely to happen if you need to prepare the surface prior to painting.
Step 2 – Clean and Prepare the Soffits
Assuming the boards aren’t made from asbestos or plastic (which can be cleaned easily with a cloth), you can paint soffits by following these steps:
- Remove any pollution and dirt from the soffit boards with a damp cloth and detergent.
- Allow to dry and then rub down gently with coarse sandpaper.
- Fill any gaps with a two-part quick-drying performance wood filler.
- Rub down again but this time with fine sandpaper.
- Brush off any loose dust with a brush.
The soffits are now ready for painting.
Step 3 – Painting
Any bare wood should be primed with a quick-drying wood primer.
Once the primer has dried, which should be around 3 hours in the summer and up to 9 hours in the autumn or springtime, you can apply one layer of undercoat by brush.
The undercoat will take anywhere from 2 – 36 hours to fully dry, it depends on the time of year and the type of paint you use.
Once dry, a final gloss coat should be applied.
Here’s a couple of photos I took last week, the fascia boards and guttering are made from plastic, so they just needed a clean with detergent.
The soffit boards were made from plywood and a couple of coats of paint made a huge difference:
Tools and Materials Needed
- Sandpaper; both coarse and fine.
- Cloth and detergent.
- Quick-drying wood filler.
- Primer for any bare patches.
- Brush and paint kettle.
Winter is not an ideal time to paint roofline soffits and fascias as there’s very little sunlight, it’s cold and there’s more moisture in the air. The best time is usually from April to October.
Quick-drying paints are more practical for this type of project although they’re more expensive.
I prefer to use quick-drying Dulux Weathershield, the drying time is between 2-4 hours in the summer.
If you or your tradesperson want to paint asbestos soffit boards, you should use masonry paint and not regular undercoat or gloss, which won’t adhere to cement-based boards. You should also avoid sanding down these boards as dangerous fibres will be released.
If your boards are plastic, there’s no need to paint them, a good clean with detergent and a cloth should be sufficient.
Other Options For Your Soffits
If you don’t want to paint the soffits, you can either cap over them or remove and replace them with something that requires less maintenance, such as Upvc plastic.
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