I am an RV enthusiast with more than 50 years of experience owning, driving, traveling and living in recreational vehicles.
Mildew, Mold, and Wood Rot in RVs
If you want to protect your camper, travel trailer, or motorhome from water damage due to flooding and other issues, it’s important for you to understand how these problems can affect your coach.
Water is the number-one enemy of recreational vehicles because it leads to problems such as mildew, mold, and wood rot which can permanently damage the basic structure of a travel unit over time.
This is why it's so important for you to protect your RV by finding and repairing the sources of moisture problems early.
Common Sources of Water Damage
Water damages recreational vehicles in a number of ways. The most common culprits are:
- high humidity
- improper use and storage
- improper construction
Where to Look For RV Leaks
Water leaks inside of a coach can come from sources which can be difficult to find because a leak can visually appear in one spot but actually be coming from another. Once you find the source, repairs can be something as simple as caulking a crack in a tail light or as complicated as removing and rebuilding part of your coach's structure.
To trace the source of a leak, look for:
- metal items that have rusted
- damp areas on carpets
- discolored areas on ceilings
- moldings that have come loose
- rust-colored stains around windows and skylights
- spongy areas on roofs
- indentations on side walls
- any type of discoloration or bubbling
Avoid RV Condensation
Condensation is what happens when water changes from vapor to liquid. It is caused by
- excess moisture in the air due to temperature,
- the amount of liquid in the air, or
- other similar issues that are the result of normal daily living.
Condensation can cause health problems, corrosion, and other problems, so it's important to keep your coach dry by lowering the humidity or increasing air ventilation.
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- use a small dehumidifier when your travel unit is in storage or when you have flooding problems,
- place charcoal briquettes in small containers in several areas of your coach when storing it, or
- leave the window over your kitchen sink cracked open and one roof vent partially opened to allow for ventilation.
These actions will maintain air flow while at the same time sucking dampness out of the air.
Water Damage From Improper RV Storage or Use
Improper storage or use of your recreational vehicle can also cause water damage. If you don’t want to deal with this problem, you need to do everything possible to keep damp and moisture out of your RV.
Store properly by doing these things:
- Keep the air moving by opening windows slightly and using fans or your air conditioner.
- Insulate single-pane windows during extreme weather to reduce condensation.
- Store your coach on gravel rather than dirt.
- Park in the sun rather than in the shade whenever possible.
When using your RV,
- run exhaust fans or open windows when cooking or showering,
- wipe excess moisture from showers, sinks, and windows immediately after use,
- use an electric coffee pot to provide boiling water when cooking,
- hang wet clothes and towels in the shower, open the ceiling vent above it, and turn on the exhaust fan, and
- keep awnings open so that rain water does not blow into your coach.
Water Damage Caused by Improper Construction
Some manufacturers cut corners by using low grade materials when constructing recreational vehicles. This is what causes delamination which is what happens when the materials in sidewalls and roofing of a travel unit have been installed in such a way as to allow water to enter the spaces between them and slowly cause them to separate from the foundation of the coach.
It can take five years or more for the problem to visibly appear, but the damage is always ongoing and permanent.
If your coach shows signs of discoloration, bubbling, or indentations on its sidewalls or roof, you had best save your money and get rid of it as soon as you can because there is no reasonably priced way to repair this problem, if at all!
Causes of RV Flooding
One of the most common reasons for water damage is flooding that occurs due to
- aging equipment,
- malfunctions in equipment,
- simple forgetfulness,
- slide room issues,
- excessive amounts of rain, and
- common mistakes.
I clearly remember the day when the hot water tank in our older Beaver Motor Home broke. I was seated on the raised platform where the passenger seat was located and, fortunately, was not wearing shoes. When my husband and I stopped for lunch, I stepped down off the platform into ankle-deep water! It ran all the way across our thick carpet from the front of the cab almost into the bedroom!
This is the type of aging incident I’m referring to. It’s one that happens out of the blue to an appliance that breaks and always seems to happen when you least expect it to do so! A big flood like this makes for a very messy cleanup and can cause real damage if you don’t work to repair problem right away.
This issue could have totally been avoided had we taken the time to inspect all of our major appliances to make sure they were working properly, were not damaged, and were not too old.
This type of flooding is the result of something going wrong with the basic functioning of equipment. The one I remember most is when I used the toilet, flushed, and did not realize that the flush pedal did not return to its original position after I pressed on it with my foot. Water kept filling the toilet until it overflowed into our hallway and kitchen. Had we gone out for the day, this could have turned into a real disaster!
We learned from this experience to take the time to make sure equipment is working before walking away from it in order to prevent problems!
There are so many things to do in an RV that it is very easy to forget the simplest things, such as turning a water faucet off completely. This creates an insidious type of flooding because a continual flow of water, even when small, can and will overflow sinks and end up sliding down cabinets and onto floors.
To keep this problem from happening, you should either double-check faucets each time you leave the coach or turn off the water at the spigot. Water can’t flood if you stop it at its source!
Slide Room Leaks
Slide rooms are famous for causing flooding as well as other types of water damage. If you look at the wall structure of an RV that has slides, you can see that a large, U shaped area has been cut out to allow room for the slide. That opening is covered with heavy gaskets. If not properly maintained and regularly checked, gaskets can loosen and eventually leave openings through which water can enter a coach. They also can dry out and develop cracks through which water can seep.
- If rain is heavy enough, these things can actually flood small portions of the coach.
- If a travel unit has numerous slides, then the problem duplicates itself.
The secret to avoiding this slide room flooding is to keep careful watch on those gaskets and make sure they are lubricated and free of cracks. If they are old, you should consider replacing them. To do otherwise is to invite problems.
Unless your RV is properly sealed, rainwater can push into weakened areas and cause leaks and major internal flooding within your coach. This is why it is so important to inspect your RV regularly for things such as
- cracks in roofs and external lights,
- loose awning connections, and
- windows that do not properly close.
Anything that attaches to the walls or roof of your unit are potential sources of water intrusion during rainstorms.
It is very easy for travelers to forget to turn of a water faucet completely, open a grey water tank at the wrong time, or make other mistakes that can cause flooding.
One of the most common is to avoid using a water pressure regulator. Doing this can cause hoses and pipes to burst and can create unnecessary flooding problems. The RV water pressure regulator you use should be easy to use and of good quality like ours, which is called the Renator M11-066R.
We purchased this unit because it is lead-free, has an easy-to-read gauge and is adjustable. We have found it to be durable as well as dependable. Although there are less costly brands and types available, they do not have the amenities that this one has. To deal with the damage from water pressure issues, you need to
- turn off the water in the entire coach,
- find the source of the problem, and
- correct it before cleaning up the mess in the same manner as noted below.
Until you are certain that you have dealt with the problem completely, do not turn your water on again.
Dealing With Flood Damage
The best way to deal with flooding is to act quickly once you discover that there is a problem. For example, if a heavy rain has caused a roof leak that is flooding your coach, cover that area with a tarp immediately so that you can prevent further damage until the rain stops. If the water has not reached carpeted areas...
- mop up the mess with a sponge or shop vac,
- turn on a dehumidifier and your AC, and
- allow all wet surfaces to dry.
However, if the water has gone further, you will also need to
- sop up as much of the damp as possible with sponges and towels, and
- lift the edges of the carpet where possible to allow air to circulate.
If the carpet is soaked through, you will also have to dry out the underlying pad and sub floor.
If the weather is hot enough, you can do this simply by driving around for several hours because the heat from the hot road will do most of the job for you! If these methods don't work, you will have to remove the carpet, dry out the coach and install new flooring.
It’s Important to Stay Dry
As you can see from what has been written here, it's important to do whatever you can to protect your travel unit from flooding, water intrusion and the damage it can cause. The effort it takes will make your coach more comfortable and more enjoyable for vacations and will also help it to maintain its value. Now you know what you need to do, but it is up to you to take action.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2016 Sondra Rochelle