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Trailer Roof Inspection

We get several calls every month from RV owners who need information on repairing their RV roofs. More seriously, there are those who need to repair structural damage caused by water seeping through the RV roof membrane and rotting the wood underneath. There are few other repairs that can be as costly as an RV roof replacement.

Most of these calls and the associated pain that goes with them could have been avoided with a small amount of regular work. Performing a camper roof inspection every spring and fall and curing any issues can mean that you can avoid replacing your RV roof indefinitely. It is also a good idea to inspect the roof after any substantial weather events, like drought, hail, snow, and excessive heat, rain, or wind.

In hot climates, your roof and sealants will dry out faster, so consider monthly roof inspections. If your RV is in storage not being used, consider an RV cover that will protect your roof against this premature aging.

RV roof maintenance is the single most important thing that your RV requires, regardless of the type of RV roof you have installed. Inspecting, cleaning, and repairing your EPDM roof or metal roof takes almost no time at all. It can also save you thousands of dollars for a trailer roof replacement.

Semi-Annual RV Roof Maintenance

Start by getting up on the roof and inspecting the surface of the membrane. Clean any debris off the roof so you can properly inspect it.

First, apply a light amount of weight to all areas of the roof. You are looking for areas that are "soft" or "crunchy" that may indicate rot or water in the substrate panels.

rv roofNote that on entry-level RVs or "lite" RVs, you may find more soft spots than in more expensive or heavier models. These soft areas will be present on a good amount of the roof's surface. This is because fewer and lighter materials are used in the construction of these units.

Ignore these, instead look specifically for anomalies in the feel of the roof. Identify soft spots that are softer than the average soft area. If leakage exists it will generally be close to seams, vents, or other installations on the RV roof.

Next, look for any tears or cuts in the rubber roof membrane that may have been caused by tree branches, flying debris or other foreign objects. If you find any, they should be sealed in one of three ways:

  • Self-Leveling Lap Sealant can be applied to small cuts
  • If the cut is larger or a circular piece of roofing material is missing, consider using an RV roof patch kit.
  • If the cut is extremely long, the solution is to use a roofing tape such as Eternabond. This tape comes in widths between 2 inches and 6 inches.
  • If you have a large area that is damaged, strips of replacement roofing membrane are available in 25-foot lengths by 12 inches wide. The damaged membrane can be pulled up and replaced. (Note that the seams between the old membrane and replacement strip will have to be sealed at the edges using the other repair methods.)

Next inspect all caulking, lap sealant (the goop around the edge of everything), and sealing tape for cracks or areas where the sealant/tape is missing. Lightly clean the area around any affected sections and reapply new lap sealant (or tape) over the affected areas. Use a high-quality lap sealant from a manufacturer like Dicor.

Finally, do not forget to inspect the sealant around your RV skylight, roof vents, and other rooftop installations. After you apply lap sealant around the edge of vents, use a putty knife to smooth the surface. Spread the sealant slightly up the side of the vent frame. This will prevent there being any trough at the side of the vent where water can accumulate and possibly enter the RV.

If you are using a roof seal tape like Eternabond, be careful because this type of tape is very adhesive. Once it makes contact, it will be impossible to remove, so make sure you are applying it where you want it the first time.

If there are any air bubbles in the rubber membrane, this may indicate water beneath the surface. Consider cutting the bubble open, drying it out, and re-applying adhesive to the underside of the membrane to hold it down. After you are finished, seal the cut you made with lap sealant or adhesive roof tape.

On aluminum roofs, look for:

  • Cracked or missing lap sealant or roof tape around the perimeter or along the seams, same as you would do with an EPDM or TPO roof.
  • Metal RV roofs are generally coated with rubberized paint. If any of the aluminum roof coatings have flaked off, it should be re-coated.

Carrying out these periodic inspections and taking action is your best defense against having to do a camper roof replacement.

Cleaning your RV Roof

For more detail on cleaning the roof of your RV, see our article "Cleaning your RV Roof"

RV Roof Refurbishment

Trailer Roofs can be refurbished by applying what is commonly referred to as an "Elastomeric" RV Roof coating. This is a rubberized paint specifically designed to be painted onto the roof's surface to restore its integrity and increase the life of the roof. There are specifically formulated to be applied to either EPDM Rubber, Fiberglass roofs, or aluminum RV roofs.

Applying a new coat to the roof surface is generally done every five to seven years. If your roof is subject to high temperatures constantly, you may want to consider doing this process more often. Also, if the roof surface is affected negatively by the presence of corrosive debris like pine needles, a more frequent re-coating might be warranted. When you do it, make sure to follow the roof coating manufacturer's application instructions.

It is recommended to do the entire roof when you are in the process of re-coating it.

RV Roof Safety

It is a good idea to have a buddy on the ground while you are working on the roof, in case there is an accident. You will also have someone available to pass up the tools or products you will inevitably have forgotten when you climbed on the roof.

Be sure to wear safe, hi-traction footwear that will ensure that you will not slip on the roof surface and take a serious fall. Also, avoid doing roof work in the early morning when there may still be dew on the roof surface.

You may be thinking after reading all this that you are not comfortable with this type of work. Maybe you do not have the ability or expertise to inspect or do minor repairs to your roof. Be aware that you can always get the materials you need from us. Then, just hire a mobile RV repair technician who specializes in RV Roofs to do it for you.

Final thoughts on RV Roofs

All these tasks might seem like they will add up to a big job that takes a lot of time. However, the reality is that most inspections and DIY jobs on a typical RV roof repair can be done in a couple of hours. Even if you have major damage to the membrane that needs attention or replacement, it likely will not take more than a weekend to finish.

Maintaining your RV's roof in tip-top condition will prevent major repairs. These maintenance procedures also help you retain the resale value of your travel trailer, fifth wheel, or motorhome. It is well worth the small investment in the time and materials you will need.

Nick is the author of this solution article.

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