Your RV roof is what keeps you from getting rained on — not to mention all the other stuff inside your rig! Since water damage is what eventually comes to cull the majority of motorhomes and travel trailers, it’s super important to have a firm understanding of your RV roof, as well as the maintenance, cleaning, and repairs necessary to sustain it.
If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to RV roof repair and maintenance, or even if you’re wondering, “What type of RV roof do I have?” — hang tight! We put together this guide to walk you through all you need to know about RV roofing, from materials to care to replacement.
What is the Best RV Roof Material?
Generally speaking, there are four different kinds of roofing material used on an RV.
1. Rubber TPO – Probably the most common material for an RV roof, and actually comes in two different types: an EPDM RV roof (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer), or a TPO RV roof (Thermal Poly Olefin). Each type of RV rubber roof requires slightly different maintenance, so be sure to consult your owner’s manual for the proper way to care for your roof.
2. Rubber EPDM – roof stands for Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer; it is a membrane-type rubber used for flat roofs.
3. Fiberglass – This type of RV roof is hard to the touch, and is a bit more rare than a rubber RV roof because the material adds cost and weight to the RV. Having said that, fiberglass RV roofs require less maintenance than rubber RV roofs, which makes them preferable for some campers.
4. Aluminum – Perhaps the rarest material used for RV roofs is aluminum. It’s fairly unlikely that you will find an RV aluminum roof — with some notable exception (like the iconic Airstream trailers). Like fiberglass, aluminum adds weight to the RV. However, an aluminum RV roof has fairly low maintenance.
It’s important to understand the type of material your RV roof is made of, because each different type has various care and maintenance needs. Once you know the type of roof you have, you’ll be able to do a visual inspection of your roof on a frequent basis. From there you’ll be able to determine what type of maintenance it will need, how often it will need maintenance, and what type of RV roof products you’ll need to perform the maintenance.
What Are the Different Types of RV Roofs?
Regardless of which is the best RV roof material, you need to be able to differentiate between different types of RV roofs to learn how to care for your own!
While fiberglass and aluminum roofs are fairly easy to spot, telling the difference between the two types of rubber roofs — EPDM and TPO — requires a bit more vigilance. Check out this helpful video from the company Dicor to learn more.
Best RV Roof Coating and Sealant?
As mentioned above, water damage is one of the most common causes of RV disrepair, and the cost of fixing a leak can get pretty pricy pretty quickly! That’s why most experienced campers recommend you go over your RV roof coating and reinforce seams with RV roof sealant at least once a year.
One example type of RV roof caulking is the popular sealant Dicor. At roughly $11 per tube, it’s an affordable RV roof repair option. Furthermore, this self-leveling sealant adheres to both types of rubber RV roofs as well as fiberglass and aluminum, and can even be used on other materials like mortar, wood, vinyl and concrete.
RV roof sealant prevents water from entering your RV, and ensured that any equipment on your roof is secured properly. Use RV roof caulking around roof vents, skylights and any other areas where something has been secured to the roof.
Although Dicor is indicated for a wide variety of materials, it’s always better to be safe than sorry! Be sure to consult your owner’s manual or the manufacturer to determine what type of RV roof caulk they recommend, and use the “spot check” method to ensure the sealant you have is compatible. (That is, apply a small amount in a relatively inconspicuous area before you go around the whole roof performing maintenance.) There are different types of caulk available depending on the specific application needed.
Additionally, the climate you live in may dictate the type and application of RV sealant. Again, be sure you check with your RV’s manufacturer for their recommendations.
RV Roof Maintenance
Along with reinforcing your seams with a sealant like Dicor, there are additional steps to maintaining your RV roof.
RV Roof Coating
Most likely at some point during an RV rubber roof’s life, it will need a new RV roof coating. The protective layer on an RV rubber roof becomes chalky and wears off slowly over time. This is normal.
While you’re going over your seams with sealant once per year, you may also want to cover your entire RV roof with RV roof coating, which helps further waterproof and weatherproof the entirely of your roof. Again, keep in mind that different types of RV roof coating are indicated for different RV roof materials, so be sure you know what you’ve got before you go shopping for your RV roof coating product.
RV Liquid Roof
One common type of RV roof coating called RV Liquid Roof, and it can give your RV’s roof a nice, new shine as well as protecting it from the weather and elements.
RV liquid roof is an EPDM coating which you apply by painted onto the roof of your RV. Liquid roof provides a protective barrier from the sun’s UV rays and from rain and debris. Protecting your roof from these elements will prolong its life, and in turn, prolongs the life of your RV by preventing water damage.
How to Clean Your RV Roof
While rubber is the most common material used on RV roofs, due to its low weight and relatively low cost, an RV rubber roof does require more maintenance than a fiberglass or aluminum roof. The maintenance is not difficult, but it’s important to make sure you have the right materials.
No matter which kind of material your RV roof is made of, however, it’s imperative that you keep it clean in order to maintain its finish for as long as possible. Dirt and debris can actually damage the seal on your RV’s roof over time, making it more vulnerable to water damage and leakage. In fact, washing your RV in its entirety on a regular basis is critical for extending its lifespan, so it’s a good idea to make a habit of performing a full RV deep cleaning after each and every trip.
To wash your RV roof, you may use the same mild detergent you use on the exterior of the rig if the roof is aluminum or fiberglass, or invest in a rubber-safe RV roof cleanser if you’ve got a rubber RV roof. Actually get up on your RV roof using the ladder at the back to be sure you’ve cleared all the dirt and debris away, and be sure to rinse thoroughly after washing!
RV Roof Covers
If you won’t be able to store your RV indoors — which is preferable, but also expensive — it can be a very good idea to invest in an RV roof cover. These UV-resistant, waterproof covers can help extend the life of your RV roof, even if it’s outside all the time.
It’s important to ensure the RV roof cover you invest in is actually fit to your rig, as they come in a variety of measurements. A proper fit will help the roof cover provide as much protection as possible.
Even though a good cover will allow moisture to evaporate, mildew can still grow on your RV under the cover because the cover prevents light from getting to your RV. Adding to the mildew concerns, an RV roof cover will also prevent airflow from circulating around your RV.
For this reason, it’s important not to keep a roof cover on your RV for too long. Keeping the cover on your RV during a storage season is fine, but any longer than that and you may find yourself with a “growing” mildew problem.
Warning: Avoid using a traditional tarp to cover your RV for long periods of time. Tarps allow absolutely no air movement or breathability, so they will cause mold and mildew issues on your RV in a short amount of time. Tarps work fine as a short term solution if part of your RV is exposed to the elements, but keeping them on for long periods of time is not recommended.
Another option is to go with a full RV cover, which protects not only your roof, but the rest of your rig as well. Just like RV roof covers, high-quality RV covers are waterproof, UV-resistant, and can help extend the finish of your entire RV paint job and exterior coat.
That said, just as with RV roof covers, you do need to beware the possibility for mold growth due to lack of air movement under the cover. You’ll also want to shop for one that’s cut to fit an RV of your rig’s length and type, since these covers are made for travel trailers and motorhomes of various sizes.
What Does it Cost to Repair a RV Roof?
Unfortunately, even with the best care and maintenance, sometimes our RV roofs need repairs. Perhaps you got gouged by a low-hanging branch or didn’t quite meet the clearance at a parking facility.
As with all other maintenance expenses, RV roof repair costs will vary widely depending on the extent of damage to your RV roof — and which provider you go to. Mechanics of all stripes are often considered scam artists, but it is possible to find trustworthy RV repair professionals! Just make sure you do your research and shop around.
How to Repair a Puncture in Your RV Roof
Looking to keep down your RV repair and maintenance costs? Consider repairing minor RV roof punctures yourself! There are a variety of ways to go about it, though your mileage may vary depending on your expertise and also the extent of the RV roof damage.
RV roof patch, also referred to as RV roof tape, is something that you should add to the “Just In Case” tool kit in your RV. If something happens to cause a rip or tear in your RV roof while you are out for a trip, you’ll be glad you have some RV roof patch on board.
RV roof patch is an easy to apply, water-resistant patch that uses adhesive to stick to your RV roof, sealing up the rip or tear. These patches create a permanent fix on your RV roof by sealing the rip or tear and allowing it to stay flexible for long periods of time so they will not peel away unexpectedly.
RV Roof Air Conditioners and Fans
We mentioned the benefits of having a roof over your head, but another benefit of having an RV is probably sitting on top of that roof – an RV roof air conditioner.
On those hot summer days, when you’ve spent hours and hours outside swimming, biking and playing catch, it’s quite a luxury to return to a nice, cool RV.
RV roof air conditioners are a necessity in many climates, and because they are doing a hard job of cooling a hot area, the air conditioner is probably the most power-hungry appliance on your entire RV.
Because air conditioners use so much energy, it’s important to keep them in top working order so they don’t use more resources than necessary.
Like your RV roof, your RV’s air conditioner requires some yearly maintenance. It’s important to keep the air conditioner clean so that it has a long and “cool” life. If the coils or the louvers on the air conditioner are dirty, that can cause the air conditioner to have to work harder than normal, which will shorten the life of the air conditioner.
Finally, when you are inspecting your RV roof, you’ll want to inspect your RV air conditioner’s shroud cover to make sure that it is in good shape. Cracks in the shroud can lead to dirt and debris entering the air conditioner, which will limit the efficiency of the air conditioner’s ability to cool your RV. Some cracks in an air conditioner shroud can be patched, while others may require you to replace the shroud completely.
What’s the Best RV Air Conditioner?
As in all things RVing, different campers have different opinions when it comes to the best brand of RV air conditioner. That said, some of the biggest names in the game are Dometic, Airxcel, and Coleman. To install an RV air conditioner unit, you’ll need to remove your existing unit, removing the shroud on the exterior and the interior fittings as well. A putty knife will be necessary to remove the exterior of the unit from the sealant holding it to the RV roof.
While each specific RV air conditioner unit will have its own specifics as far as wiring goes, the video above gives you a general idea of how to install a rooftop RV air conditioner onto your rig once you’ve removed the old unit.
RV Vent Fans
Along with your rooftop HVAC system, there’s another series of holds in your RV’s roof. Throughout your RV are several roof vents. These vents open to allow hot air, and sometimes moisture, to escape from the RV. Traditional roof vents have a manual crank that is used to raise and lower the vent cover.
An upgrade to these roof vents may be RV roof fans. These fans fit into the same size opening as the existing roof vent, but they use 12-volt power to push air out more efficiently or to draw air in as needed.
One of the most popular RV roof fans is the Maxxair 12V Roof Top Fan and Vent, a well-known model that is widely considered to be one of the best RV roof fans on the market!
Many RV roof fans come with automatic thermostats which open & close the vent, along with turning the vent fan on or off, depending on the temperature setting on the fan. These fans are a great way to maintain a comfortable temperature in your RV without having to use traditional fans or a power-hungry air conditioner.
RV Roof Racks
If you’re lucky enough to have an RV equipped with an RV roof rack, you have a great place to store extra equipment while you are traveling. Luggage, bikes, your mother-in-law (!), all kinds of things can be transported on your RV’s roof if you have the right equipment.
As with other items on your RV roof, make sure your RV roof storage rack is sealed around the area where the rack is secured to the roof. Also, be sure the rack itself is secure and in good condition before attaching anything to it.
If your RV isn’t equipped with a roof rack you can purchase an aftermarket RV roof rack to install yourself. Surco makes a universal roof rack model, available on Amazon.
Always be sure to use caution and the proper materials when securing anything to your RV roof.
RV Roof Replacement
If you have multiple areas of damage on your RV roof, or you have one area of damage that is so extensive that it has compromised the rest of your RV roof, you may want to consider replacing your RV roof completely.
RV roof replacement is a big job, but the materials and tools are readily available if you wish to do it yourself.
Replacing an RV roof requires you to remove the awning and any equipment that is secured to the roof of your RV. You then need to remove the existing roof membrane and replace any plywood underneath the old roof membrane that has been damaged. You then adhere the new roof membrane to your RV roof before sealing the edges, replacing the items from the roof, and sealing the seams around the roof vents and antennas.
As with any piece of RV roof maintenance, if you aren’t comfortable with tackling the job on your own, consult a local RV service center for estimates.
Now get out there and inspect and seal that RV roof! Please share this article with anyone you know who could use a quick education on RV roofs!
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