Cornice and Eave Returns from My Neighborhood

Get ready for a nerdfest, readers, I’m going to rattle on about eave returns today.  I want to talk about it because when I googled around, it was hard to find info about them.  So I’m gonna show you a lot of photos of eave returns from my neighborhood.  They are more properly called cornice returns, I think, but I’d rather call them eave returns.  Eave returns are the decorative extension of the roof eave that wraps around the gable end of the house.  This article has some good snobbish info about how cornice returns are supposed to look.  Heres some terminology for you (click to enlarge):

SHINGLED EAVE RETURN
Here’s a typical shingled eave return from my neighborhood:
A couple things to notice about it:  It’s got shingles on top, and the fascia has all been wrapped with sheets of brown aluminum.  Also, notice that the pitch of this little chunk of roof is much more steep than the snobbish article I linked to above recommends.  One of the key issues with this part of the house, is how the rake fascia meets the eave return faschia.  Notice how there is a layer of shingles stuck between the eave return fascia and the rake fascia.  It’s awkard trying to figure out how to make this joint between the rake soffit, rake fascia, and the shingled eave return work well.
Here’s another shingled eave return that doesn’t look nearly as nice:
Notice that they haven’t really figured out a good way to make that joint work, either.  I imagine any time you want to re-shingle, you’ve got to somehow shimmy some shingles up into that little gap.  Awkward.  Unsatisfying.
PLYWOOD EAVE RETURN
A lot of houses in the neighborhood have eliminated this problem of shingling the eave returns by just replacing them with plywood.  Here’s a few examples:
This works ok, and I find it kind of tempting as a solution to the awkward shingling problem.  But as the photos show, it can also look pretty bad once the squirrels chew through the plywood, and I don’t know how much I trust that plywood to handle rain very well.
ALUMINUM EAVE RETURN
So another option is to wrap it in aluminum:
This is another good option that solves the shingling, squirrel, and rain problem, but I’m just generally not a big fan of wrapping things in aluminum.  No reason in particular, I’m just kind of snobby that way.
BOX EAVES
In new construction, you see a lot of box eaves, also called porkchops:
These are simple to construct and they eliminate the issue of how the rake fascia meets the return faschia.  There simply is no return faschia, so it’s no big deal.  No shingles or plywood.  From a drainage standpoint, this is a much more simple design that eliminates a lot of opportunities for leaks.  Architectural purists turn their noses up at these features, though.  They are kind of ugly, and eave returns add a lot of charm to a home.  This box eave adds a little bit of curvature to the design to spruce things up a little bit:
FULL EAVE RETURN
A related feature is the full eave return, a single eave that stretches across the entire gable end of the home:
NO EAVE RETURN
I’m sort of inclined to believe that eave returnss are more of a liability than anything else.  They’re attractive, but useless from a functional standpoint.  I should note that some homes don’t have any return eaves:
Some don’t even have fascia or soffits:
FLARED EAVES W/ SHINGLED EAVE RETURN
And now, with that little bit of  background, it’s time to look at my own sorry eave returns:

 

Obviously, they need some work.  They clearly need some paint, and a lot of the fascia and trim work will just need to be replaced.  Key to this design is that the slope of the roof flattens out towards the edges.  This is a design feature called flared eaves, and we have the Dutch to thank for this splendid, ice-dam prone design.
Notice how previous homeowners have had a difficult time finding some crown moulding that will bend around that curve or come to a complete point at the end of that curve.  That will be challenge #1 for me this summer.  Also notice how I’ve smartly stapled some wire mesh up to keep squirrels out of those gaps where the rake faschia meets the return eave.  This is because previous owners have also not been able to figure out a great way to fit a piece of faschia into that acute angle.  That will be challenge #2 for me this summer.
I’ve toyed with a lot of ideas of how to approach these eave returns…. should I remove them and replace them with a simple box return?  Should I use plywood instead of shingles?  Should I remove the crown moulding entirely and just have a simple flat fascia (notice that the crown moulding has already been removed in some places to accommodate the rain gutter)?  Should I liberally squirt massive amounts of foam insulation into that gap?
Answers to these questions and more to follow in the upcoming months…. Stay tuned!

16 comments to Cornice and Eave Returns from My Neighborhood

  • Mostly everyone I have seen has been shingled or no return at all. The plywood Idea looks bad. When you shingle it make sure it is flash and ice and water correctly. Any advise drop me an email

  • I would say this is pretty much one of my favorite blog posts ever. Not kidding.

  • Cool post, Reuben. I've never really thought about eave/cornice returns, though the varieties were immediately familiar. I agree with Live Life: plywood bad, shingles good. It looks like your shingled area is pretty small, though, and considering your siding is already aluminum, an aluminum flashing on the return wouldn't look out of place, either.

  • @Live Life – I agree that the plywood thing is a bad idea. Interestingly, in my neighborhood, I think there are a lot more houses with plywood than with shingles. I had to search for photos of shingled eave returns.

    @Gastro – Nerd. Glad you liked it. Got any advice on what I should do with my eave returns?

    @Josh – thanks, Josh. That's saying a lot coming from an experienced house blogger like yourself. I think you're right, The soffits/faschia are the only part of my home's exterior that hasn't already been covered with vinyl or aluminum, so it would probably fit in just fine. If money weren't an issue, though, I'd also like to rip all that vinyl siding off the house and expose the original clapboard siding beneath it.

  • Excellent details and great discussion! I'm sure I'll be referring people to this blog post.

  • @InspectorReuben – I'm glad you enjoyed it. I hope somebody finds it useful. Got any tips on how to handle the fascia with the flared eaves?

  • I don't. I think you've done far more research on this topic than I have.

  • Ren

    Did the police drive by and ask you what the hell you were doing (after someone called about some freak with a camera casing the neighborhood)?

  • @Ren – no police, but i did get some pretty nasty looks from a group of ladies hanging out on the sidewalk. I think I might have been photographing one of their homes. I think they might have tried to call out to me from across the street, but I was wearing headphones so I can't be certain. Also, I was specifically ignoring them.

  • Anonymous

    Do you guys know how much more it typically costs to do a cornice return with shingles over a standard box type on a new build?

  • @Anonymous – no idea. sorry. you'll have to ask a contractor.

  • Chuck

    How about a piece of sheet metal over the plywood then apply caulking to seal it. It may alter the overall charm thou as plywood wood punny. I lived in florida for a time and alot of the homes are using metal copper roofs material big bucks but overall lifetime roofs low maint. allowing jack not to become a dull dude all work and no play gets boring. Great Post you got me thinking!!

  • Rick Victor

    Do you have any pics of the actual framing, I can’t seem to find any for the “pork chops” that form the detail of a continuous eave return for a gable wall.

  • Ray Unseitig

    What a great article. It seems as though the cornice or eve return as you like to call it came about as a way to match Rake fascia and eve fascia when an ornate moulding is used as fascia rather than just plain board.

    The cuts ‘compound miters” would not be able to make acceptable to joints without the return.

    Today a 45 degree plum cut seems to be the choice for a simple wood fascia.

    I wonder how long you’d have to search to find a carpenter who could undertake that type of exterior finish.

  • Ray Unseitig

    One permanent solution for roofing of the lil return would be to have a roofing (sheet metal guy make up a top for tiny roof and just paint it, or use copper..
    Trying to put regular shingles and huge clunky counter flashing on the walls detracts from the nice delicateness of this feature (pictue #2)- in my opinion.
    Rather that fighting with shingles, one could use rolled roofing over black paper roofing match colors. Don’t worry about ‘cramming shingles up under the rake fascia, that’s where they are supposed to be so any water under there lands on roofing material and drains down. This work is akin to inlaid lineolium or tailoring a suit of clotes. :-) The issues are joining fascia and soffit in 2 planes. That’s why soffit is not used as much now and one sees a lot of open eaves and rakes where weather permits.

  • Todd

    Well, did you ever fix it? If so, let’s see an update. I’m designing a house, garage and workshop and want to spend some time on the cornice details to class them up and tie them all together. I learned a new term: pork chop. Truly a gross detail. Your post was helpful, and I enjoyed your writing style.

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