Owning an RV implies taking care of it. Just as the RV grants you comfort, "gets you off the ground," protects you from severe weather, it requires adequate care and attention. Although you could drive it to maintenance shop and get it done for you, we want to propose more economical and personal approach to maintaining your RV.
In this article, we will discuss RV rooftops maintenance, and the steps you need to take if you want to do the job on your own and do it right. We will guide you through the entire process, explain what roof kits will you need, what tools will make your endeavor more pleasant, and so forth.
RV Roof Maintenance Steps
Before we start, we want to emphasize one thing: RV roof maintenance isn't complicated nor tedious. In fact, if you do decide to take matters into your hands, you will learn a lot about your RV, and connect to it in a more meaningful and engaging way.
Evaluating The Situation
Before you take any concrete measures, you need to climb and observe the situation. Mind your safety, let someone dear to you know that you'll perform a roof diagnosis; if something wrong happens, at least they'll know where you are.
Bring a bottle of water (in case you get thirsty), and bring your phone with you, for you might decide to take pictures of the roof. When you climb up, don't get discouraged by the view.
As you move towards the front, patiently observe the roof, look for previously sealed objects. Anything that is attached to your roof had to be connected to it and sealed. Look for cracks, rips or any damage done to your roof. Big and apparent breaks don't need your attention (yet).
Instead, you can photograph or mark the small cracks, the ones that are difficult to spot from a considerable distance. Pay most attention where two elements adhere: roof and ladder, roof and vents, etc. These spots are the familiar source of problems for all RV owners, and they tend to crack first.
Do not rush this process. It is best that you do it once, so you don't have to repeat the process all over again. As you reach the end of the roof, do a secondary check as you move towards the ladders. Once you evaluate the situation, start thinking about the tools you'll need to finish the job. Consider the damage, number, and size of the cracks, and most importantly, what type of roof you have!
You will obtain the roof kits depending on the type of roof you have because some tools may damage the ceiling; you want to maintain it, not hurt it further. But relax, we will explain this now.
Gathering Tools And Supplies
Here is the list of tools you'll use regardless of the type of roof you have:
- caulk gun
- lap sealant ( if you can't judge how much sealant you need, its always better to buy tube extra), also, look for self-leveling sealant
- adjustable wrench (or set of wrenches, depending on what you have)
- bottle of mineral spirits (one bottle should be enough)
- trash bag (disposable)
- toothbrush (preferably hard toothbrush)
- one role of putty tape
- nitrile gloves (a couple of them, disposables)
- paper towels
- old rags
On Roof Types
As we previously noted, you need to determine the roof material. There are three main categories regarding RV roofs:
Arguably the most common RV roof material. They are either EPDM or TPO type. Rubber roof is often tricky to maintain since the roofs vary in design. We suggest you look at the manual and see what the recommended cleaning kit is. Avoid abrasive and citric cleaners, and avoid petroleum-based cleaners, for they may damage the roof.
Fiberglass is rarer RV roof material since it tends to be more expensive (it also adds more weight to your RV, meaning more fuel, more oil, etc.) But, it is more durable, robust, and is simpler to maintain. So, while you do spend more money on gas, you save it on maintenance. They are cleaned with the same tools as the rubber roof.
Aluminum RV roof is a rare sight. It is expensive, heavy (compared to rubber and fiberglass), but is also very durable and easy to maintain. Both fiberglass and aluminum will require gentle cleaning, using aluminum-intended cleaners. You should also do regular inspections (this holds true for every roofing material), and look for cracks.
To seal aluminum or fiberglass roof, you will need self-leveling sealant, preferably one intended for aluminum sealing (such as c-10). Make sure it is waterproof (that is the whole purpose of sealing, to prevent water from penetrating the material).
On RV Roof Caulking
Now it is time to take your caulking gun. We recommend you perform these checks once a year. That will also help you notice small cracks, and stop the problem in its roots.
Make sure you buy the sealer that matches your roof material and color. In essence, caulking prevents water from penetrating into the material. You want to stop the damage as soon as possible, seal the cracks while they are tiny.
Pay close attention to vents, skylights, or any other object that is adjacent to the roof. If unsure about the caulk, consult with the RV manual or manufacturer and find which caulk is compatible with your RV roof. Also, make sure you are working in the well-ventilated area, preferably outside.
Don't be stingy: use a right amount of caulk, especially on the areas with big cracks. And don't worry about the look; after all, it is a roof, how pretty can it be? Self-leveling caulk will penetrate in the pores, on its own, and you'll get a beautiful finish once the process is done. More importantly, the cracks will be well sealed if you followed the procedure right.
RV Liquid Roof
In essence, RV liquid roof is a coating which you apply on the roof, for various reasons. This step applies mostly to those with rubber RV roofs since rubber tends to lose its quality over a certain amount of time. RV liquid roof gives your roof new shining look and protects the rubber from natural elements.
RV liquid roof is often an EPDM coating, and you apply it as if you are painting the ceiling. It is a paint nonetheless, but made specifically for RV roofs, to protect and class up. The layer protects your roof from rain, debris, and most notably, the UV light, which wears the rubber out over time.
Though this technically isn't necessary, it is highly suggested, especially if your RV is a couple of years old. The process of applying the coat is reasonably straightforward. Use a simple brush, bring a bottle of your favorite drink, and enjoy the view.
RV Roof Covers
Though optional, RV roof cover can save you a lot of time (and money) on a long-term basis. If you are parking your RV outside, if you don't have a garage big enough to store it, then roof cover is a must. But, even if you have a garage, once you are on the move, you can carry your garage with you, right?
So where do you park? During summer, you probably look for shade and big trees. And you can't hide from snow during winters, right? RV roof cover is a situationally perfect protection item. It protects the roof from notorious tree sap, snow, rain, UV lights, even frost.
The problem is, you can't keep the cover on for too long because you'll create an excess of moisture between the roof and the cover, which helps mold accumulation. So, if you decide to buy roof cover, make sure it is breathable.
We also suggest you avoid conventional tarp cover, since they are barely breathable, allowing zero to none airflow. Regardless of its quality, you can't keep the cover on forever. Take it off from time to time, let the air out and wipe the roof surface. They also come in various sizes, so make sure you consult with the seller on your particular situation.
Know that the quality roof cover will protect your RV on a long-term basis, and will provide a safe haven for the RV during extremely cold or hot weather, protecting it from heavy snow, rain or strong UV lights.
RV Roof Air Conditioner
RV's are mobile, which means that everything in it and attached to it is portable, from cold drinks to cool atmosphere. And during those hot summer days, there's nothing better than laying back in your cool RV.
But, there comes a time when you have to return the favor and take good care of your air conditioner. Air conditioners consume a lot of power and work tirelessly to keep the entire RV cool, so you should perform maintenance checks every year.
You don't have to be an electrician to do the necessary things: clean the outside cover, clean the coils, and remove the dost of the louvers. Not only will the dust-free air cool more effectively, but it will also conserve energy.
Make sure that the conditioner's shroud is in good shape. If you notice any cracks, patch it. If the crack is too big, then consider obtaining new cover.
RV Roof Fans
Roof fans are an advanced alternative to traditional roof vents. They are often of the same size, so the upgrade from vent to fan shouldn't be painful. Vents allow some and hot air to escape the RV. However, they are passive and do nothing other than letting the air to escape.
On the other hand, fans actively suck the air out of the RV and bring it out. They are powered by electricity (usually 12 V) but are much more efficient when it comes to airflow. Modern fans are smart, in the sense that they have integrated thermostats that automatically regulate the RV temperature. Thus, they open and close the vent on-demand, depending on your needs and preferences.
So, not only do they keep the air fresh, but the fans also take care of the optimal temperature in the RV. In a way, installing the fans means fewer problems with the vents and less air conditioning.
RV Roof Rack
Roof racks are an efficient and convenient way of bringing extra things with you, ranging from kayak to bicycles. But, as with anything else related to RV, you have to maintain them properly. Specifically, you have to look for cracks in the adjacent area, that is, at the place where the rack and roof merge.
Furthermore, make sure that the rack is stable and fixed before you attach anything to it. Those who bought the RV without a roof rack can install them additionally. When you look for the RV roof rack, make sure it matches your RV dimensions, and that you are satisfied with its weight capacity.
Naturally, make sure that you don't damage the roof while you install the rack (consider the roof racks that don't require drilling for installation). Then again, if you don't mind having small holes in the roof, buy the ones you can fixate atop of the roof.
Well, ladders allow you to clean and maintain the roof, so it would be nice if you check them too. If you don't have a built-in ladder, you can always order one and attach them to your RV (just like the racks). They are usually positioned on the back of the RV, or on the side.
Make sure that you inspect the attachment on the roof, as well as the connecting points. Seal them correctly, using the same material you used before. It is better to use too much than too little caulk since you want your ladders to be fixed and firm.
RV Roof Replacement
Sometimes the damage is irreversible, and it would be more cost-effective to replace the roof entirely. It isn't the same as cleaning and sealing the roof, but requires step by step methods:
- You need to obtain the necessary elements and tools to install those elements (roof)
- Then you need to remove any objects attached to the ceiling (air conditioner, fans, vents, etc.).
- After that, you need to remove the roof, layer by layer. Remove the top membrane, replace the plywood.
- Then, you install a new roof, and after that seal the edges and areas around the things you attach to the roof (vents, antenna, etc.).
It isn't the easiest of tasks (it isn't complicated, but requires patience). Then again, it would cost you a lot if you let professionals do it.
Cleaning The Roof
First things first, you have to sweep the junk that exists on your roof (debris). Pay close attention to the edges and the around the roof fixtures. Note that this step is an excellent way of inspecting your roof, a time when you should look for cracks and damage.
Rinse the roof with a hose. Before you do that, you could rinse the sides and the front of your RV, thus making sure the filth doesn't stick to the front or the sides of your RV. After that, pour water into a bucket and mix it with soap, preferably oil-based cleanser.
To save your back, use a long-handled mop, and start mopping the surface from beginning to the end. You could also use a hand brush to get those hard to reach spots (toothbrush, as we suggested in the beginning). Naturally, be very careful! The surface is slippery, and you have to watch the objects that are on your way or behind you (air vents, air conditioner, antenna, etc.)
If you encounter headstrong stains (you know what I'm talking about, the ones that won't go away!) you could use fiberglass stain remover. Or, you could look for cleaners made for maintaining RV roofs especially. Again, make sure that the detergent isn't harmful to your roof. The process is straightforward, and shouldn't consume much of your time. But, if your roof is very dirty, take your time and don't rush the process.
Fiberglass Roof Oxidation
Once the roof is clean, you probably want this cleanliness to last as long as possible. So, you need a layer that will protect the roof from oxidation, peeling, and aging (regarding UV lights). Roof oxidation needs to be removed before you apply a protective coating on it.
What you need is a wax remover (cleaner or restorer), do to their mild abrasiveness. Start small, apply the cleanser and use round motion. Let it dry, and then polish it to get a brand new shining roof. If the cleaner isn't strong enough, you can go for more aggressive cleaners, while making sure that it complies with the user manual.
You could also add rubbing compound into the mix: apply and rub the surface, but don't rub too hard. If you are satisfied with the way your roof looks, it is an excellent time to apply RV Roof Cover, which will protect your roof and make it shiny, as if it is brand new.
The entire process isn't complicated but requires patience and determination. Professionals know that that's why they charge by the hour! Jokes aside, if you think this is process is too complex for you, leave it to the pros.
Fiberglass Roof Protection
Once you removed the oxidation, it is time to protect the roof to prevent oxidation. Whatever you buy, make sure it protects the roof from UV lights, since they damage your roof on a continual basis. You can put a coat wax, or any UV protectant (preferably Aerospace protectant).
We always suggest going with the more expensive products, whether they are waxed cleaners or restorers, polishers, rubbing compounds, etc. After all, it is much cheaper to buy proper protection than to risk roof damage and replacement, which will always cost more.
And if you maintain your RV roof once a year, it will last for a very very long time. Perhaps it would be best too look for RV-designed cleaning and keeping kits, for they often contain everything you need for adequate DIY roof maintenance. Plus, the manual will explain the process, so, even if you never cleaned your RV roof before, you will still do a good first job.
Rubber And Fiberglass Roof Repair
Sometimes the roof is damaged, but not entirely, meaning that it doesn't require complete roof replacement, but the cracks are too big to seal. The damage can come from all sides: branch may tear the roof membrane, an object might fall on it and crack it, or the time will do its thing and eat the material.
In any case, the damage often occurs in the joint area, where two dimensions collide (roof and walls). Also, areas around air conditioning, vents, fans, antenna are also prone to full cracking. For starters, you could use putty tape and fix the crack, at the same time making sure it adheres well to the surface.
We suggest obtaining high-quality tape, from respectable companies that make excellent tapes (like Dicor or EternaBond). You could also consult with the boat owners since they probably encounter similar issues (and boats are made mostly of fiberglass, so they probably use same maintenance material).
If you already have the tape strong enough to fix and hold the RV roof in place, make sure it's not older than five years because the tape loses its adhesive power over time. Furthermore, make sure that you perform regular checks on these significant cracks, and replace the tape when you see fit (when the tape is worn out).
Do not use regular tape, an insulating tape or other similar tapes. Instead, buy the ones that can adhere to any surface and keep the roof in place. Also, do this step only when you are done with cleaning and sealing. RV is an expensive thing to own, and you certainly don't want to save money on some tape.
Unfortunately, we can't tell whether you should replace the roof or fix the damage. You should evaluate the situation. Perhaps you could tape it and see if it will hold for some time. If the tape does the job correctly, there's no need to replace the roof, yet. But, know that this is a delay and that you'll eventually have to replace the roof.
And that's it: the roof is clean, sealed, coated, covered, replaced and protected. What now? Well, have a drink and marvel at what you have accomplished with your bare hands.