Rotten fascia: causes and cures

Roofing experts say to repair fascia damage before replacing the roof itself.

Roofing experts say to repair fascia damage before replacing the roof itself.

Fascia is the portion of your homes' exterior trim to which gutters are usually installed. We ask a lot of fascia boards. Though their location makes them inherently vulnerable, they need to look good and last. And they will if we choose good boards from a species of wood that is naturally decay resistant. As carpenters and builders, we use the best practices to install them.

Over the years, I've gotten calls from people saying, "I just had a new roof put on, and now I see that I have some rotten wood around the eaves [meaning the fascia and its associated partner, the soffit, or portion of your overhang to which flood lights are usually attached]. Can you come out and take a look at it for me and tell me what it's gonna cost?"

I sigh to myself, wishing they had called me before the roofers came out, because it's easier – and less expensive – to replace the rotten wood before the roofers install a new drip edge, which is the shiny metal that flashes the joint between the edge of the roof and the top of the fascia board. Not only is it easier and less expensive, but also from an aesthetic standpoint, without the new drip edge in my way, I can sometimes do a little nicer looking job as well.

Regardless of whether we get to come before or after the roofers, here are some tricks of the trade we employ to do what we think is the best work possible and why we employ them in our work.

1. Hand pick each board and pick them from a species of wood that is naturally decay resistant. Here in south Florida, that means picking boards that come from the heart wood of cedar or cypress. It also means picking boards with grain structures that aren’t likely to split or twist or warp or bow as it endures being alternately rained on and baked by the sun.

2. If at all possible, never nail a board near the edge of the end grain. You see this all the time where two boards have been joined on the end of a 1 ½-inch rafter or truss. If perfectly centered, each of the two adjoining board ends gets at most a ¾-inch bearing on the end of the roof truss or rafter. The carpenter angles his nail from about a ½-inch away from the edge of the fascia board into the end of the rafter or truss and expects, hopes or prays the board will not split. If he's lucky, it won't – not that day, anyway, but rest assured, the forces that will soon split that fascia board have been set in motion.

Why should you care about split board ends? One, they don't look good. Two, splits allow for more water to get into your fascia board, again, setting in motion the forces that eventually lead to you having to spend money to fix your fascia boards, because the boards will begin rot. If you begin to notice things like this as you walk around checking your and your neighbor’s homes, it’s usually at the joints in fascia boards that the rot begins.

We always nail blocking to the end of trusses or rafter tails so that we can back our nails away from the edge of the board when we nail the fascia to the ends of the rafters or roof trusses. And if there is any doubt about it, we pre-drill holes for the nails. This may sound like a lot of effort, but if it makes the difference between you not having to ever call anyone again to repair the work we did. It's time and money well spent.

3. Speaking of nailing, make sure you use either stainless steel or old fashioned, hot dipped galvanized nails. The labor is the same and the additional cost is negligible, but the difference in how long your fascia lasts is substantial.

4. There is one more step we take to protect the edges of fascia boards. These edges are the end grain of the wood. If you look at the end grain under a microscope, it looks like you are looking at the end of a tight grouping of straws, and actually, you are. Wood wicks water into its edge grain the same way paper straws in a glass of water will eventually be wet, much higher than the level of the water in the glass. We like to dip each end of each piece of wood we put up into the best grade of primer paint we can buy. We leave the board in the primer for a few minutes so that it can wick as much paint as it wants. This goes a long way toward protecting the most vulnerable portion of the whole board.

In business since 1974, Tom Southern Builder LLC, is based in Miami and serves Dade County as well as parts of Broward and Monroe counties. The company doesn’t try to be the least expensive carpenters and contractors in town. Instead, it focuses on doing the best quality work it can at a price that is hopefully fair to everyone involved.

As of Feb. 3, 2012, this service provider was highly rated on Angie’s List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie’s List.

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