RV, Motorhome, and Camper-Trailer Roof Maintenance and Repair FAQS
RV Roof Maintenance and Repair
A leaky roof on your RV, whether it is a large motor home or a small tow-behind model, is the most destructive problem faced by many owners. A small and unnoticeable roof leak will gradually spread out to other sections of the unit’s body, walls, and floor structure.
This is why it is so important for an owner to visually inspect their RV's roof several times a year. The reason for this frequent inspection is that many units are only used a few times a year, so a leak may spread quickly with no one to notice the beginnings of a ceiling stain.
If your RV or camper trailer is stored under a shelter of some sort, your RV's roof and rubber coating will last far longer than a camping unit that sits out in the weather. Direct sunlight and heat may deteriorate the chemical compounds of many sealants over time, allowing moisture to eventually find the cracks in the roofing material.
Accessing RV Roof Damage
The following tips will help you visually inspect your unit's roof for leaks.
A small unit may be inspected without having to get on the roof. In fact, it is recommended you never stand on an older camper’s roof, as many weren’t built to support heavy weight.
Any repairs to these types of roofs may be safely accomplished by placing planks across the top of the unit with the walls supporting the weight. Just be sure the walls themselves are not water damaged and can support your weight. Try to stay as close to the side of the unit as you can while inspecting or performing repairs to the roof. If the roof is badly damaged, you may require scaffolding to span the distance across the roof in order to access the repairs.
RV Roofing Types and Materials Used
There are several types of roofing materials used for RV roof coverings with each requiring different techniques for maintenance and repair. We will start with the older types and move on to the newer types.
The “oldie-but-goodie” tow-behind camping trailers of yesteryear are still around with some becoming highly sought after for restoration and investment. Old Airstream, Avion, Serro Scotty, and other less well known but still classic models are frequently spotted being towed by equally classic restored cars and trucks. The Airstream and Avion roofing material require special repairs not usually done by the amateur, so repairs for these units will not be included in this article.
The roof material on most older units consisted of sheet aluminum attached to 2x2’s reaching from one side of the unit to the other. These 2x2’s attach to the side walls and also form a base to attach the ceiling to. On some of these 2x2’s, the roof sheeting may meet which requires annual sealant application to ensure watertight sealing.
The sides of the sheeting are usually screwed down the same way and require the same sealant applications. It is not unusual for holes to be punched into this thin roofing material by falling limbs or other debris. Fortunately, these can be easily repaired.
Roof Inspection and Repair
If the hole is more than an inch in diameter, it may be best to cover it with a small piece of aluminum sheeting. Cut the patch larger than the hole, use putty tape or another non-hardening putty around the edges, and use self-tapping screws to secure the patch to the roof.
Smaller holes can be patched with sticky-backed aluminum such as Peel N Seal roof repair tape. The sheet-metal screws that hold the sheeting down need to be sealed annually by coating them with a flexible rubber or plastic coating to prevent leaks caused by the flexing of the roof and body while the unit is being moved to or from the next campsite.
The newer camping units may use a rubber sheeting over the aluminum covering to ensure waterproofing the roof. Once again, annual inspection and preventive maintenance are important to keep the roof in good shape.
There are products made especially for these types of roof materials and will protect and repair rubber roof coverings. Pay close attention to the area around roof mounted A/C units and any other vents used for gas refrigerators, air ventilation, or plumbing fixtures. There are kits made just for replacing this rubber roof material available from RV dealers and suppliers. Annual application of a good sealant coating will save you possibly thousands of dollars in the long run.
DIY RV Roof Replacement Kits
Rubber roof repair kit. Complete with patching and sealants.
RV Roof and Ceiling Inspection
Complete inspection of the roof includes checking the inside of the RV along the walls where the roof sheeting is attached to the edges. This interior inspection may include having to look inside cabinets and closets to see if water damage is apparent along the top sides of all walls.
Discoloration of the ceiling or walls indicates a present or past leak. If the discoloration is slight a simple sealing application may solve the problem. Rotting or mildewed wood indicates a serious need for repairs.
Check the top of the unit to ascertain the location of vents, A/C units, or any other item which entails waterproofing. Check these same items on the inside to be sure they are still watertight. Many motorhomes use vinyl stripping to cover the screws on the upper exterior of the unit.
These strips do not last forever and tend to crack and will fall out of the retaining groove eventually. Replacement strips can be purchased at many RV and camper trailer repair sites. These leaks are often hard to detect and it is a good idea to replace all of the stripping every five years or so.
Another hard-to detect-leak area is around the running lights. These lights use a rubber gasket to seal between the light fixture itself and the body of the unit. New gaskets or an annual sealing using silicone caulk will usually solve this problem. This type of leak may go undetected and cause deterioration to walls and floors.
Repairs on a camping unit's roof may run into thousands of dollars if the owner does not catch the leaks in time. Preventive maintenance is usually easy and relatively inexpensive to perform by most owners having basic skills. Just like our real homes, these recreational units need love and care to provide you with the best possible use.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2009 Randy Godwin