Exterior Trim Guide

Exterior Trim Guide Feature

What makes historic residential communities so interesting is their wide range of architectural styles. You see a variety of designs ranging from high-pitched roofs on Colonial homes to low and wide overhangs on Craftsman bungalows. Tudor homes have a distinctive style. So do Cape Cods. All these American houses have entirely different shapes and curb appeals making them stand out. But they all have something in common. They use the same terminology to describe their exterior trim components.

You might have heard common house construction terms like siding, gutters and soffits. Every house has them and they serve both practical and decorative functions. But what about the terms frieze and fascia? Do you know what a bargeboard is? How would you answer if asked the difference is between a rake board vs. fascia or fascia vs. soffit? And do you even know the correct pronunciation of fascia?

There are many different words describing what is considered exterior trim on a house. Most of these phrases originated in Old English or Latin. Having a rake attached to the purlins of your eaves might sound weird. Having dentil molding blended with crown headers comes off strange to the untrained ear. But the difference between rake vs. fascia is significant to architects and builders. These terms are also important for you to know, especially if you’re talking to an exterior renovation specialist.

To help you speak intelligently about soffit or fascia, we’ve put together this exterior trim guide. This short and clear reference piece will help you understand various exterior trim terms. Knowing what each means makes a big difference in understanding your home’s architectural style, what each exterior trim’s purpose is and precisely what they’re called.

General Exterior Trim Design and Function

Your home’s exterior serves two general purposes. First and foremost is protecting you from nature’s elements. Your roof and siding functionally shield you from driving rain and scorching sun. The second, and nearly as important, purpose is giving aesthetic or visual appeal. Exterior trim details tie your home’s form and function together.

Your roof and siding work as a system. There are clear lines where your inclined roof sections end and your vertical and horizontal siding lines begin. But there are a lot of gray areas where frame and finishing trim members hold your exterior lines together. They need strength to withstand load pressures from gravity. They have to be durable and long lasting to withstand the weather. They also must look like they’re properly finished to accent your theme.

That might seem like a lot to ask from foreign-sounding terms like rake, fascia and frieze but these exterior trim details do the task. Some are more exposed to strain and weather than others, but all are essential parts of the system. And some trim components have dual meanings and overlapping purposes. Let’s have a look the most common exterior trim pieces.

Fascia Boards

Fascia Boards Trim

Fascia boards are the horizontal members tying your rafters or truss tails together. This seemingly insignificant part serves a crucial structural role. Fascia board bind your roof eaves, or overhangs, giving them lateral rigidity. They keep you roof’s lower line together and prevent sagging and separation.

Fascia boards also provide strength for mounting your gutters. There’s a tremendous amount of weight being transferred from your roof shingles to your gutters during a rainstorm. Water weighs ten pounds per gallon. In a heavy rain, hundreds of pounds are loading your gutters, and they depend solely on your fascia boards to stay put. Add in leaves and debris that clog gutters, and you’ll have a massive strain on your fascia.

There are two main types of fascia boards:

  • Exposed Fascia: You see this trim peeking out below your gutters, and the exposure serves more for decoration than structural integrity. Exposed fascia is often finished-grade wood that’s painted a contrasting color. Done right, exposed fascia boards have a dramatic visual effect.
  • Hidden Fascia: These fascia boards are still there tying your truss tails together, but they’re composed of rough-grade framing lumber. You don’t see that fascia material because your gutters drop below the fascia line and connect directly against your soffits. This prevents the maintenance that exposed fascia boards require.

One more thing about fascia boards is the funny-sounding name. Fascia derives from the Latin term for “face.” There’s no absolute correct pronunciation for fascia. It depends on your schooling and what part of the country you’re from. Most people say “fay-she, ” but others pronounce it “fa-she-ya” or “fa-cee-ah.” It’s like tomato or to-mah-to.

Frieze Boards

Frieze Boards Trim

Frieze boards are horizontal trim members you see at the top of your siding right where it meets the eave or soffit line. Frieze boards sit flush against your wall but jut out enough for your siding to tuck under. This creates a nice, neat appearance while protecting against water ingress behind your siding

Originally, frieze boards acted as a structural division between the roof rafters or truss heels and the junction of the wall studs and top plates. Frieze boards were left exposed partly for structural reasons and partly for decoration. Once plywood sheathing evolved, frieze boards were no longer needed for strength. Panelizing from plywood gave the entire stud and plate wall assemblies rigidity.

On today’s new homes, most frieze boards are purely decorative. They give a contrast to the siding and soffit intersection and allow decorative additions like crown and dentil moldings. Crowns provide a regal look to frieze boards with their pronounced curved lines. Dentil molding is a series of evenly spaced blocks that look a bit like teeth.

America’s historic homes have used frieze boards for centuries. We’re not sure where the term “frieze” came from, but we do know how frieze is pronounced. It’s “freeze” just like what happens to water in the winter.

Rake Boards

Rake Boards Trim

No one seems to know where the term “rake” originated. It’s pronounced the same way a lawn or garden rake is. But in exterior trim terms, a rake refers to an inclined trim piece angling up along the roof gables or exposed peaks. Rakes can be flat along the wall and act as extensions of frieze boards. They form a corner between the siding and soffit. Rakes can also be pronounced and finish the end of a gable overhang. This can be as far as two feet from the wall.

Rake boards follow or parallel your roof pitch. You measure this as a rise and run equation such as 6/12 where the rake angle rises six units in 12 units of run. For example, six inches up for every 12 inches across. Rakes are always miter-joined at the ridge of your roof. There’s no correct way to finish rake lower edges. Some are cut at 90 degrees to the horizontal plane while others are finished plumb or flush. This is a decorative detail and adds a unique aesthetic to a home.

Rake board outer faces are critical for topping off your home’s architectural statement. Most rakes are made from tight-grained, knot-free lumber that can be painted or stained. Rakes must withstand extensive weather exposure. In some instances, metal that’s prefinished in any number of stock colors covers the rakes. Other rakes display intricate detail through elegant sculpting, such as seen on classic Victorian homes, or through crown and dentil moldings.

Many builders and architects also call rakes “bargeboards.” “Barge” came from the Old English word “berge” which meant a scaffold used in building construction or a vessel used to transport building materials. In America, it’s thought the term bargeboard originated from Creole houses in New Orleans where Mississippi River barges were built upstream, towed down and then dismantled and recycled into lower Louisiana houses. The stripped plank boards from barge decks were the perfect size to use as rakes on house gables.

Soffits

Soffits

Soffit is an adaptation of the French word “soffite” which means to fix underneath. That’s exactly what your home’s soffits do. They sit under your eaves and protect the underside of your lower roof from rain and wind. Soffits also guard your attic from pesky invaders like birds, bats and squirrels. They also prevent wasps, bees and hornets from nesting.

Your soffits are necessary for moisture control and preventing wind-driven rain from entering the home. Vented soffits help air flow from your lower roof edge to the vents on your roof ridge. Fresh flowing air helps control the humidity that builds in your attic, which can cause mold.

Soffit runs appear at every underside of your roofline. Sometimes, exposure is limited like in gable rake lines, which include a small overhang. Other soffit exposures are large. Covered porch soffits have hundreds of visible square feet. It’s these large exposures where soffit material makes a significant impact on aesthetic appeal.

Soffits have been made from many materials over the years. Most older homes used lightweight, tongue and grooved boards for soffits. These were painted to suit the home’s color scheme, and most were light shades to enhance light reflection. Wood soffits had holes drilled for ventilation that were kept small for pest control. They often utilized mesh screen, particularly when stucco was the finishing soffit material of choice.

Today, synthetics are the most popular soffit materials. For big areas where expansion and contraction is a challenge, aluminum soffits are ideal. Metal also provides excellent resistance against wind shear in places where soffits have high exposure risk. Aluminum soffits are lightweight, and their factory-applied finishes last indefinitely.

Polymer plastics are now taking the lead over aluminum soffits. PVC and other vinyl products are sturdy, durable and pleasing to the eye. Vinyl soffits are impact-resistant. That’s a drawback for wood, stucco and aluminum soffits. Today’s vinyl soffits are available in profiles like beadboard and channels that mirror wood soffits used on heritage homes. Vinyl soffits are virtually maintenance free. They’re also relatively inexpensive.

Boxends and Gutters

Boxend Corner Exterior Trim

Boxend trim is always a challenge for builders and siding applicators. Boxends are that no man’s land in roof and trim detailing. It’s where the corners of frieze and rake boards come together with soffits and siding. It’s also where your gutters begin and end.

Depending on the rake angle and surface material, boxends can be difficult to finish. They often require compound miter cuts which are tough to do, especially when working with several different materials. Many builders don’t fight with boxends. Instead, they make these transitions into statements by building out boxends and highlighting them with trim and paint.

Gutters are indispensable in rainy climates. Gutters attach horizontally to your fascia boards and depend on the fascia to hold them tight. Some home designs have hidden gutters where the water trough is built inside the eaves and behind the fascia. These complicated designs can sometimes trap water rather than shed it. Hidden gutters aren’t recommended for coastal climates where heavy rains are common.

Most of today’s gutters are made of metal. The best gutters are constructed right on the building site and custom-fit to work with all the trim pieces. That includes the fascia, frieze, rakes, soffits and boxends. Modern gutters use factory-finished metal coils. Gutter coil materials are available in a wide selection of colors. They’re also lightweight and put minimal strain on your fascia.

Other Exterior Siding Terms

Fascia, frieze, rake, barge, soffit, boxend and gutters are the most common exterior trim terms you’ll hear. But if you’re talking with an exterior renovation expert, it’s handy to be familiar with a few other industry words. Here are some other useful trim terms:

  • Brackets or knee braces were commonly used in historic homes to hold up wide roof overhangs. Brackets weren’t just structural. Many were designed to be major architectural features. Today, most brackets are purely decorative, but they add style to the right home.
  • Channels are specialized moldings that siding and soffit panels fit into. Channels enclose soffit and siding panel ends and keep them from being exposed to the elements. They also support the weight of hanging soffits and prevent siding pieces from popping free.
  • Corners are areas where siding and soffits change directions. Most corners are either inside or outside on your home’s vertical face, but they also appear in horizontal spots where soffits meet your walls and gutter lines.
  • Drip caps are placed over the top of window and door trims. Drip caps have a defined leading edge that reduces water’s surface tension and makes it break or drip off.
  • Flashings are strategically placed trim strips that serve to control water ingress. You’ll mainly see flashings used in roof shingling where vent pipes protrude or around chimneys and skylights, as well as for through-wall separations and protection wall protrusions.

Talking With an Exterior Trim Professional

Now that you know and understand these commonly used exterior trim terms, you’ll be in a much better position to talk with an exterior trim professional. The friendly folks at Sunshine Contracting are the ones to turn to in Northern Virginia. We speak the language when it comes to trimming your home’s exterior.

Sunshine Contracting has been in the exterior siding and trim business since 1993. We know that trim and accents make a huge difference in your home’s curb appeal. We also understand the difference properly applied siding and trim make to your feelings of pride in your home.

Contact Sunshine Contracting today to learn more about our professional trim installation services.

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