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Why I Don't Caulk Certain Exterior Joints


Drum

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Some "shop talk" for my fellow tradesmen, DIYers, and others interested in the important exterior details.

Question/Proposition

If caulking the bottom edges of lap siding and frieze board is a no-no, shouldn't the same apply to the fascia-to-soffit connection in a wood-constructed eave?

Argument/Reasoning
 

I've seen many good painters and builders caulk these areas and it always makes me pause, shake my head, and propose this very argument.

 

In my mind, ventilation and drainage take precedent: the same reason we don't caulk the bottom edges of lap siding. And if moisture build-up and water infiltration can occur behind the gable wall, it certainly can get inside the overhang via roofing failures, gutter overflow, pressure washing, ice dams, etc. (For this same reason, years ago I changed my approach to fascia trim treatment after installs: never caulk the underside of the fascia trim where it overlaps the fascia — gutters or none.)

One might say, "If soffit vents are installed, then your eves are getting plenty of ventilation." And I'd reply, "That may solve the ventilation issue, but not the drainage issue." If it's a continuous soffit-vent installed at the fascia-to-soffit joint, and the soffit was installed at a slight angle toward the fascia, then you may have your solution; in which case, this talk about caulking would be irrelevant. But, most homes do not have both (1) continuous soffit-vents at the fascia joint and (2) soffits installed at a slight angle toward the fascia.

It may seem a bit trivial, or overkill, to grind out these details, but I've seen way too many cases of wood-rot and mold as a result of poor ventilation and drainage. And it usually stemmed from unnecessary, overzealous caulking and foaming.

 

Now, I understand the "aesthetics" argument for caulking these areas before painting. You don't want the crack to show in case someone looks behind the fascia. But there are alternatives to totally sealing the joint.

Solution/Aesthetics-fix
 

If the homeowner decides the soffit-to-fascia joint is unsightly without caulk, then offer to install a tiny quarter-round molding or other tiny trim which would allow for ventilation and drainage. If the homeowner still insists on caulk instead, be sure they know the potential hazards before proceeding. Just. In. Case. And if the joint was already caulked by the previous painter or builder, then inform the homeowner of the potential dangers and preventative options.

I certainly haven't covered every possible scenario pertaining to eave maintenance, and I'm well aware that an unsealed soffit-to-fascia joint isn't exactly the end-all in case of a roof leak over the soffit. But I'm confident that I'm technically correct here. If I'm not, then I'd be grateful to anyone who can shed some light on where I may have faltered. Thanks.

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I think I understand the bulk of your explanation, you aren't referring to vinyl soffit and aluminum fascia are you?

Nevermind I just re-read the introduction to this.

In the case of wood construction trim, does the fascia overlap the soffit a little, or does it sit flush with it?

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The fascia would typically hang below the plane of the soffit by about 1–1¾". Most of the ones I've seen in my area are around 1½".

 

Here's a pic of an overhang I repaired recently, showing the typical fascia reveal:

20151204_184759.jpg

Edited by Drum
To add a photo.
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Ok perfect that makes complete sense. Never should caulk that, drainage is important on the underside of things like that. Same goes for putting a roof flashing around a pipe, never put caulk at the bottom of the flashing if you're putting shingles over the whole thing.

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