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Do It Yourself: Permanent soffit covers will resist peeling

Sun., April 21, 2013, midnight

Q. The roof of our one-story house has a fairly wide overhang, with wood soffit boards about 10 inches wide underneath. These boards get dirty quickly and some of the paint has cracked and peeled. Is there a more permanent solution than repainting?

A. You can eliminate painting and make the soffits easier to clean by installing soffit covers made of vinyl, vinyl-covered aluminum or prefinished aluminum. The vertical fascia boards, which usually support rain gutters, should be covered too if possible.

You might not want to cover fascia at this point, because it would mean removing or replacing the gutters. However, covering soffits is rather simple and since you have a one-story house, you might be able to do it yourself with materials bought at a local home center. The materials should come with installation instructions.

Start by checking the existing wood soffit boards; make sure they are not rotted, warped or badly cracked, and spot paint peeled areas.

The soffit panels, which are cut a little short to allow for expansion, fit into channels, one at the rear edge and one at the front edge of the soffits. Soffit panels are often perforated for ventilation, and there are special panels to fit over vent openings that help ventilate the attic.

Some contractors prefer aluminum soffit panels, pointing out that they are fireproof and more rigid, but many do-it-yourselfers prefer vinyl, which usually costs less and is easier to cut to size.

Cutting is often done with a fine-toothed plywood blade installed backward in a circular saw.

All types of soffit covers are easy to clean; if you clean them every year or so, you might only have to wipe them off with a damp cloth. Very dirty soffits can be cleaned with a detergent solution, then rinsed. Soffits get dirty faster than some other parts of building exteriors because they are not exposed to rain water, which helps keep siding and vertical trim clean.

Owners of two-story houses who want soffit covers should consider having the work done by a contractor, who has the scaffolding and other equipment needed to do a safe installation.

Q. I have some pressure-treated fence posts that I installed years ago. They are in good, solid condition except for the tops of some. The top ends have rotted out to a depth of several inches. Why did this happen in treated posts and how can it be prevented?

A. If the top ends of the posts are left unprotected and are exposed to repeated rain over the years, the end grain will soak up water like a sponge and eventually rot.

You might be able to salvage the old posts by protecting the end grain so the posts shed water instead of soaking it up. A simple way to do this is to install end caps on posts.

The caps, usually made of vinyl, aluminum or other material that won’t rust or rot, are available in many styles and are sold at home centers and on the Internet. Most can be attached to a flat-top post with nails or screws.

Prices for caps start at about $3 each and go up. For example, fancy caps for deck or mail-box posts can cost $20 or more each. A cheaper but still effective method is to install small “roofs “on top of the posts.

To do this, cut the top of a post to a 45-degree angle and attach a small piece of treated wood cut from a deck board. The roof should be about a half-inch larger on all sides than the dimensions of the angled post top.

Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at Send regular mail for Gene Austin to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.

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