The soffit is the surface that sits under a roof's overhang, sitting parallel with the ground below. In some cases, the soffit might be the point of entry for water seeping into your attic, instead of the roof's surface. If you determine water is leaking through the soffit, you must take specific steps to stop the leaks and keep your attic dry.
A gutter that is clogged with organic debris such as leaves, or that is damaged so that water does not flow down the gutters as intended, can lead to water leaking through the house's soffit. Because water does not flow down the gutters properly, during the winter snow that begins to melt off the roof can freeze again and end up pushed against the soffit because the rain gutters are full. The water freezes again, and then thaws out, leaking through any seams or damage in the soffit because it cannot flow down the rain gutters. Maintaining your gutters eliminates this problem because melting snow flows off your roof without any backup.
The backup of melted snow on the edge of your roof, which can refreeze into ice, is called an ice dam. Ice dams also can cause leaks as water backs up under the shingles on the portion of the roof that sits over the soffit. If your house has icicles hanging off the edge of the roof, this can be an indication of an ice dam formation on the roof. You can help stop ice dams not only by keeping your rain gutters clear, but also by insulating the attic so warm air from your house does not enter it. The warm air melts the snow on the roof, causing it to flow to the edge of the roof where it freezes again. You may also clear off snow from your roof using a roof rake, eliminating the source of the water.
Water leaks cause the paint on any surface, including the soffits, to bubble, crack and peel off the surface it normally is adhered to. If you paint your soffit and then notice that the paint is peeling off the soffit within a few years, this can indicate a water leak in the soffit. You must find the source of the leaking water before you can solve the peeling paint problem.
You may decide to replace your old soffit after it has been damaged by leaks. Aluminum soffits provide a lower-maintenance material that withstands the elements better than old wood soffits. Aluminum soffits also do not need to be painted like old wood soffits do. If you install the new soffits yourself, be aware that you must remove the house's rain gutters to swap out the soffit, and then reattach the gutters once you are done.