How to Easily (and Cheaply) Clean Your Soffit Vents

dirty soffit vents

how to clean soffit ventsLast fall we got a notice from our homeowner association we needed to ensure our soffit vents were cleaned out before the first snow arrived.

They relayed to us, blocked soffit vents are one of the leading causes of ice dams forming on the roof. Eek!

 Here's an article I wrote about how poor insulation can also lead to ice dams 

Now, if you're living in the cozy, southern states, you can likely skip today's post or go play some golf (that's what I would do).

What are ice dams

Ice dams are one of the northerners greatest fears in wintertime. They form when there is heat escaping through the roof, melting the snow on top of it and then freezing – repeating this pattern over and over again until you get this large sheet of ice on your roof. Once the ice gets high enough on the roof, the melting water can run underneath the shingles, and inside your home, causing massive damage.

We learned this first-hand about 7 years ago when we had a ice dam form on our roof. It was just after Christmas when we heard a loud pop and whooshing sound that ended up being water that broke through our roof and inside our walls.

Water eventually seeped through the basement walls onto the floor and we were in for a month-long repair project that caused almost $20,000 in damage. Fortunately, our insurance covered the majority of this.

Avoiding ice dams

Basically there are a few things one can do to help prevent ice dams from forming.

One is to ensure you have proper insulation inside your attic and no escaping air from the living quarters into the attic. A proper insulation inspection can ensure you have the needed values. Essentially you want an attic that is almost as cold as the outside temperature.

Another way to prevent ice dams is that your roof is breathing. To enable proper air flow through your attic, homeowners need to watch out for blocked soffit vents. This is one item that often gets neglected – but is important to do. Even after our ice dam mishap and insulation repair, we never made sure our vents were cleared.

How I cleaned our soffit vents

While I'm not a repairman by trade OR roofing specialist, there are a couple ways to go about cleaning your soffit vents.

  1. The most effective way to clean your vents is with blasts of compressed air. This depends on your access to an air compressor, and vents being at reachable heights.
  2. Another way to clear these is using water pressure. Again, you'll need a way to pressurize your water and have the vents within reach.
  3. And, the least expensive and thrifty method is to use a broom.

Since the first two solutions weren't applicable to our situation (our vents are 20'+ high and had no access to pressurized systems), I opted to purchase a broom head and an extension handle for under $50.

I purchased the broom at a local hardware store and made sure I had enough extension on the handle to reach our vents. I also wanted a broom with longer, gentler bristles so that I would be able to get into the vents but not harm them.

dirty soffit vents
Nasty looking soffit vents – sure to make venting your attic / roof null and void.

The extension had a reach of 16′ so plenty for me to reach the vents and do a decent job.

I made a few passes at each vent and once they appeared clear, moved on to the next. I didn't exert a lot of pressure on the vents because I didn't want them breaking / causing any damage.

Once I finished our house, I moved on to my neighbors vents – and then another neighbors. Soon enough I had done about 7-8 homes.

And, I have to say, I was wiped out. While it is easy enough to clear the outside of the vents w/ the debris – it gets a little tiring after handling the long extension. I'm not as young as I used to be!

I got to thinking though, I could make a few extra dollars out of this – perhaps start my own business cleaning soffits! Then, reality hit and thought about the insurance I'd need to get and the young help that I'd need to enlist. I don't think I could manage to do this every day. At least it could be a neat job for teens.

I didn't use any liquid when doing this – just the dry broom. I've seen some videos online where they cover the broom with a cloth.

I would also recommend wearing eyewear and a mask or something to cover up your airways. Due to all the dust and debris falling down, it's probably not advisable to breath it in.

Have you ever cleaned your soffit vents? What's worked best for you?

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