The biggest enemy of any RV is water leakage, and its never a question of if an RV will leak but when. Water damage is one of the most common significant problems that affect almost all RV’s eventually. Damage to the roof is the most common leak reason and must be addressed immediately to prevent significant damage and mold.
During our time RVing, we have repaired our own and helped others with RV roof problems. So climb on up, and we will take a look at what’s required to repair an RV roof.
Are All RV Roofs the Same?
First of all RV roofs are not like a roof in your house. They must be lightweight and made very differently from a shingled home roof.
RV roofs, however, are not all built the same and differ as much as the different types of RVs. For example, you can walk on some roofs but not others. Many different materials are used as well. Some require particular chemicals to clean them, while using the same chemicals on other roofs might damage them. So it’s crucial to know the type of RV roof to maintain and protect it adequately.
What Are RV Roofs Made Of?
Most RV roof underlayment is made of plywood. This plywood, however, will vary in thickness, and some roofs are much stronger than others. On top of the plywood are waterproofing materials that come in two primary categories, ridged or flexible.
Ridged roof materials primarily include fiberglass or aluminum. Both options are heavier and are usually only used on RVs with lots of weight capacity. Ridged roofs are much more costly than their flexible alternatives but provide much better protection and longevity. While they last longer and are less likely to get damaged, repairing a ridged roof is more challenging than a flexible type.
Flexible materials are much more common on RV roofs. They are lightweight and cost-effective as well as easier to repair. Flexible roofs, however, are more prone to damage from branches or objects penetrating them. The materials used in flexible roofs are usually rubber, vinyl or PVC type. You will hear terms like TPO and EDPM when referring to rubber roofing.
Thermal Polyolefin (TPO) rubber roofing material is one of the most standard materials manufacturers use today. It’s a cheaper alternative while reflecting heat because of the white tone, but it’s less resistant to overall wear and tear.
EDPM as an RV roofing material is ethylene propylene diene terpolymer. It’s lightweight and straightforward to install, and because it can use recycled materials, it’s cheaper than others. However, it’s often black with a white coating. Over time the white coating can erode and make the roof dark and hot.
In the time we have been RVing, we have had vynyl, PVC, TPO, Fiberglass, and Aluminum roofs. This goes to show how different each RV is.
Pro Tip: Learn why roof maintenance is so important to help prevent The Biggest Downfall to RVs: Water Damage
Why Knowing Your RV Roof Type Is Important
You can’t clean aluminum like fiberglass. Some cleaning products and techniques will damage one type but work excellently on others. For example, because EPDM RV roofs have less solvent and oil resistance than other materials, most manufacturers warn against harsh, abrasive cleaners. In addition, citrus-based cleaners could also harm the rubber membrane.
Knowing what sealants to use is also crucial to maintaining the quality of your RV roof. For example, this Dicor HAPS Free Self-Leveling Lap Sealant is “compatible with EPDM, TPO and PVC membranes” and “adheres firmly to aluminum, mortar, wood, vinyl, galvanized metal, fiberglass and concrete.” However, only apply this Pro Flex RV Flexible Sealant to aluminum, glass, coated steel, steel, wood, fiberglass, and vinyl surfaces.
You don’t want to cause an RV roof repair because you use the wrong chemicals, cleaners, and sealants. Let time and general wear and tear be why you need an RV roof replacement.
- Flash Point: 93.0 Degrees_Celsius
- Excellent Adhesion To Many Surfaces, Even When Damp
- Resealable; May Be Applied Over Itself
What Is the Best Way to Repair a Damaged RV Roof?
First, you have to assess the damage. Identify whether it’s structural, which requires a costly repair, or if it’s a new leak, which you can sometimes fix by applying caulk, sealant, or special tape. Lets take a look at the different methods.
RV caulk is used around roof penetrations and overlaps seams. It is usually a special type for RV roofs that has lots of flex to help stay attached even with the movement of the RV. You’ll usually need a caulking gun for application. Each tube will provide specific details about compatibility. You don’t want to use the Pro Flex sealant on an EPDM RV roof. You also never want to use silicone. Over a short period, silicone peels up and doesn’t adhere to most roofing materials properly.
Individual manufacturers sometimes also recommend certain sealants. You can read about that in your owner’s manual. If you don’t follow the guidelines set forth by the manufacturer, you may void your warranty should something happen.
You’ll want to apply sealant when you notice cracks in the RV roof. Check around the air conditioning units and the ladder railing. Anywhere where a hole exists in your RV should be properly sealed. We always inspect an RV roof for any new separation or holes every 6 months at a minimum.
Taping is another method of RV roof repair. If there’s a large gash, you’ll want to use tape instead of sealant. Sealant is best for seams and along places like the antenna or vent, but not for tears.
Eternabond is an excellent product for taping up gashes in the roof. It’s not cheap, but every RVer should keep a roll on hand. It adheres to almost any type of material. We have used a lot of eternal bond over the years because its usually the first line of defense if we notice a leak or tear.
Pro Tip: We spilled our insider secrets about The Truth About Eternabond Tape for RV Roofs and Repairs.
- MULTI-USE: Perfect for use on metal buildings, trailer/RV roofs...
- NO ADDITIONAL SEALING REQUIRED: Aluminum backing, combined with a...
- DURABLE SURFACE: Industry leading one step repair system that...
Sealing an RV roof is a process where you use a liquid product that dries into a rubber coating. This can be applied over a large area and can add additional protection to an existing roof. Some roof sealers claim to be as strong or better than the factory materials.
An RV roof can be sealed by a professional with a product like RV armor or done by yourself with products like Liquid Rubber. If you plan to seal an entire roof, it takes more work than just painting it on, however. Lots of preparation work is required to make sure the product lasts.
Pro Tip: We have covered roof sealants in more depth in this article 10 Best RV Roof Sealants and How to Choose for Your Camper.
For fiberglass and rubber roofs, a self-leveling sealant works well to repair seams. However, you wouldn’t use the same glue for an Airstream roof. Instead, you’d use something like Dicor’s Metal RV Roof Coating. When you use a sealant, be very careful not to tear the rubber roof when removing the old adhesive or tape.
Replace Wood Underlayment If Rotten
You’ll have a much larger RV roof repair if you notice the roof structure is soft. This will need more attention than a sealant tube or a few pieces of Eternabond. You may need to replace some of the wood underneath the roof.
You’ll need to cut and peel back the covering to determine how much wood rotted. Because no RV roof is the same, replacing the wood underlayment will be different for each RV and will require evaluation before you even know what thickness of wood to get. Usually, you will also need to remove more wood than just the soft spot, as you will need to find the joists or beams that support the wood. Once you have found the supports, you can cut a new piece of wood and screw it in place.
After replacing the wood, use the taping and sealing methods above to seal the repair completely.
Pro Tip: If during this process you discover a mold issue, you’ll have to kill and remove it from your camper.
How Much Does It Cost to Have an RV Roof Redone?
If you have to have a complete RV roof replacement, it will be expensive. You hope to catch potential problems before they turn into giant catastrophes. But sometimes, things out of your control happen, like a limb falling off a tree during a storm.
Should you need to redo your RV roof, the type of material and the size of the roof will significantly affect the cost. Plus, where you live will affect how much it is because Texas’s labor and materials cost won’t be the same as in Virginia. Generally, an RV roof replacement will cost $300-$325 per linear foot. If you have further damage underneath the roof, that will require even more labor and materials.
What Would Be Cause for an RV Roof Replacement?
If you only have a few tears in your rubber roof, there’s no need to panic. You can usually patch those up with tape. If you notice water leaking from your air conditioning unit, you’ll need to apply a sealant as soon as possible. However, these RV roof repairs don’t mean a total RV roof replacement.
Still, if you’ve made several repairs for ten years or more, it might be time to redo the roof entirely. Or, if your roof has sustained a large amount of damage, perhaps due to hail or a fallen tree, it’s probably best to pay for a total RV roof replacement.
What Does It Take to Replace an RV Roof?
If you’re handy, it’s possible to replace your RV roof yourself. This will save you thousands of dollars in labor costs. However, if you’re unsure of your skills, don’t risk it. Make an appointment with a professional.
You’ll need several tools, including safety glasses, rubber gloves, acetone, or another cleaner. You’ll need a roller to roll out the adhesive, a knife to cut the material, a scraper to remove the old caulking, and a bucket to mix the adhesive.
An essential step may be the first: cleaning the roof. For the adhesive to bond with the roof material, you must remove all the oil, grime, and silicone sealants. You’ll also need to remove residual silicone caulking or surface wax on a rubber roof. Then you can apply the primer and follow the process to replace the roof.
How Often Should an RV Roof Be Replaced?
An RV roof should last at least ten years, depending on the type of material. Rubber roofs will generally last about 10-12 years. Aluminum and fiberglass roofs usually last longer, up to 20-25 years. General wear and tear will happen even if you follow proper maintenance and repairs. Misuse or neglect will decrease your RV roof’s lifespan. So if you’re coming up on ten years and have a TPO or EPDM roof, it’s best to start putting away some money for an RV roof replacement.
If you keep an eye on your roof every six months or less, you significantly reduce the likelihood of needing a whole roof replacement. Keeping up on small repairs is far better and will prevent further water damage.
How Can You Prevent RV Roof Repair and Replacement?
No matter what type of material your RV roof has, it’s crucial to stay on top of regular maintenance. Inspect and wash it at least twice a year. Try to avoid parking under trees that drop lots of sap. Otherwise, you might need to get on the roof to clean it more often.
Most RV manufacturers suggest preventative maintenance about once every three months. Regularly inspect the roof for tears or holes. Apply fresh sealant even if you don’t notice any problems. You may want to recoat the roof once a year.
You always want to remember how you store your RV in the off-season. Your RV should have a cover to protect it from the sun’s harmful rays, which can damage the roof, body paint, and tires.
If you do all you can to prevent damage, it’s likely an RV roof replacement will be many years down the road. So do your part to save money by spending more time inspecting and maintaining your RV roof.
When was the last time you got up on the ladder and did a thorough roof inspection? Tell us in the comments!
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