Why Would My Roof Need Soffit Vents?
I recently completed some routine maintenance on my home and began to wonder if my roof needed soffit vents. So, I did some research on soffit vents and other types of attic ventilation, and here is what I found.
So, does my roof need soffit vents? A roof may need soffit vents if there is no other ventilation allowing for adequate air movement. However, if the attic space is properly sealed and insulated, there is no need for this type of ventilation.
There is no question that a standard attic space should be vented. While allowing the ambient air temperature to flow through the space between your house and your roof may seem counterintuitive, this actually allows for home components to last much longer and perform at their best. Soffit vents are an easy, aesthetically pleasing way to vent the attic space.
Venting an Attic Space With Soffit Vents
For proper circulation, soffit vents require additional venting in the form of a ridge vent. Additionally, installing a ridge vent without soffit vents will result in the improper circulation of air, rendering the ridge vent obsolete.
The combination of the ridge vent and the soffit vents is what allows the air to move through the space. Air enters through the soffit vent and naturally rises towards the roofline and out the ridge vent. The result is the consistent movement of air no matter the season.
Proper circulation in an attic is necessary both in the harsh heat of summer and the cold of winter. Summer, with its hot temperature and intense sun, quickly turns an attic into an oven. This buildup of heat can not only make a home harder to air condition, but it can also wreak havoc on building materials.
Electrical components and heat are never a good mix, and too much exposure to heat can lead to failure. This poses financial risk as well as health and safety risk, as these failures can result in fire or electrical shock. The excess heat is also very hard on the home’s roofing materials. It can lead to premature failure of roofing materials, requiring expensive repairs and replacement.
Homeowners may easily understand why a properly vented attic is important in the summer. However, some find it confusing that ventilation would be necessary for the cold winter months. In the winter, particularly in areas prone to snow and freezing temperatures, attic ventilation prevents the attic from holding excess heat that would cause layers of snow to melt in the daytime and form ice at night.
This ice can build up and cause water damage as well as pose a safety risk, as ice can slide off a roof and injure occupants. Beyond this, without proper ventilation, warm air combined with cold outside air will result in condensation that can lead to rot.
Soffit Vents Explained
Simply put, a soffit vent is a ventilation device that is installed outside of a home’s exterior walls, beneath the eaves of the roof. Soffit vents allow for outside air to be circulated throughout the attic space.
They protect home materials such as HVAC components, structural elements, and other crucial items from extreme temperatures or potential water damage risks. There are various types of soffit vents, but the general idea is the same.
The most common soffit vents are individual soffits. However, continuous soffit vents have gained popularity in modern home construction. Regardless of type, the soffit vent works by providing an intake spot for air to enter the attic. The reason soffit vents require an additional type of vent is to allow somewhere for the air to exit.
Otherwise, the air that entered would remain stagnant, providing little to no advantage over a complete lack of ventilation. However, without an exit installed and positioned higher than the soffits, the soffit vents will likely not draw in much air anyway.
Homes Without Soffit Vents
If your home does not have soffit vents, do not be alarmed. Just because you do not see soffits does not mean the attic space lacks ventilation. Soffit venting is more common in modern homes, while older homes utilized other means of ventilation.
Some homes, both modern and older, utilize gable vents. These vents are exactly what they sound like. They are positioned on the home’s gable and allow air to enter and exit the attic space. Gable vents are effective means of circulating air, however, they do not possess the same discrete aesthetics that soffit vents do. To solve this, architects and builders often use decorative trims that tie the gable vents into the overall look of the home.
Oftentimes, homes may have both gable vents and soffit vents. In these situations, the gable vents often act as the exit for air that enters through the soffits. It is rare to see a gable vent, ridge vent, and soffit vent, as this would be overkill and not necessarily gain anything for the homeowner. However, some older homes have only gable vents.
To increase the air circulation, homeowners often add an attic vent to draw air through the gables, circulate it throughout the space, then push it out the roof.
Do soffit vents need to be cleaned? Yes. Soffit vents absolutely need to be cleaned. Ideally, soffits should be cleaned every one to two years. However, any cleaning is better than no cleaning at all. Soffit vents can easily become clogged due to dust, dirt, and other debris, which will lead to completely ineffective vents.
Because of the soffit vent’s placement, insects, rodents, and other pests pose a significant risk to soffit vents and the vents should be checked for residue left behind by these pests. To clean, simply remove the covers of the soffits if possible and clear away any debris.
If the soffits do not have removable covers, simply blow compressed air through the holes to ensure any debris is blasted away. If the soffits are accessible from the inside of the attic, simply use a shop-vac to suck out any debris. Some homeowners prefer to work with a local business to ensure this process is done properly.
Do soffit vents require a fan for circulation? An attic fan is not completely necessary to pair with soffit vents, but it certainly does not hurt. Without attic fans, the soffit vents operate by the natural flow of air into the soffit vents and out through the ridge vents. In most cases, this natural flow of air is more than enough to satisfy the needs of the attic space.
However, there are individual circumstances that may benefit the added assistance of an attic fan. Attic fans are also great alternatives to ridge vents if a home is lacking them.
Do soffit vents need screens? Not always. The type of soffit vent a home has will determine whether or not a screen would be advantageous or unnecessary. If the soffit vent has large holes, some type of screening material will prevent pests from entering through the soffits. However, many types of soffit vents already have very small holes that prevent the majority of pests from entering. At the end of the day, this will completely be determined by the type of soffit vent you have and the way it was installed.