Inspecting an RV roof isn’t difficult. And there is rarely a problem. But if there is a problem, fix it as soon as possible. The good news is most RV roof maintenance and repairs are simple.
What Type is Your RV Roof?
There are 3 types of RV roofs: rubber, fiberglass, and metal. Because most RVs have rubber roofs, you need to know what type of rubber is on your RV. If there is a repair needed, you will need to use the correct caulk. If you don’t have your owner's manual, a quick call to the manufacturer will tell you what type of roof is on your RV.
Rubber RV roofs are durable, last for over a decade, and they’re easy to fix. For those reasons a rubber roof on an RV is ideal. Not a lot of RVs have fiberglass or metal roofs, so I want to focus on the two rubber roofs. Without getting too far in the technical weeds, there are two types of rubber RV roofs. There is EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monome) and TPO (thermoplastic polyolefin). As a general role, EPDM roofs are dull and have a chalky look while TPO roofs are glossy with an orange peel look. If you've ever seen a white chalky residue on the side of an RV after rain, you saw the residue from an EPDM roof. By design, EPDM roofs "shed". That's the whitish residue. It's normal and part of the design of the roof to protect it from damaging UV rays, dirt, and rain. Now that you know how to identify what type of rubber roof is on your RV, you'll buy the correct products to repair it.
Inspecting the RV Roof
When I check our RV roof I first do a quick walk around on the roof. What I look for are any tears or punctures in the body of the roof. We often camp beneath trees so damage from a falling tree limb is always possible. Even if you don't camp under trees, you still want to inspect the roof.
After a quick walk around, I take a good look at the seams and caulking around roof penetrations in the roof. We’ve had problems with both areas, so they get extra attention. I also check the caulking around the air conditioner and vents. The air conditioner is the most difficult to check because its body is larger than the roof opening into the RV.
Our last motorhome had a seal fail on one of the A/C units, but we didn't know about it until it rained. If you get a leak beneath the A/C, you might have to remove the unit. Two people can do the job and it takes a couple of hours.
Modern RV manufacturing avoids seams in the roof. But there are still roof penetrations with caulking. Check the caulking for cracks. And check seams for separation.
Whether it's a new or older RV, inspect the roof at least once a year to spot any problem early on. In preparation for this article, I went ahead and got on my RVs roof for a fall inspection. It took about 15 minutes.
Products For RV Roof Maintenance
Here are the products I take with me when I check the RV roof.
Eternabond Tape. This product is fantastic. I keep a roll with us because it will not bond to most roof materials except silicone. I’ve used it to patch loose seams on our RV roof and I've used it on a travel trailer underbelly where a seam broke.
Dicor Self-Leveling Caulk. Another great product. The caulk will self-level and creep into any cracks and seal them. It is not designed for use on vertical walls. We had a friend that tried using it on the side of his motorhome and most of it ended up on the ground.
Mineral Spirits. This product is a great cleaner. Rub a little on caulking and it will strip off the dirt. Only use a little. Do NOT pour it on the roof. Mineral spirits can damage rubber roof material.
Window Cleaner. If I use mineral spirits, I follow up by washing the area off with a window cleaner.
Eternaclean. This is a great cleaner to prep an area before applying Eternabond tape. And it will also remove tree sap.
Rags. Checking and cleaning an RV roof can get messy. A few rags will make the job cleaner.
Seam Roller. Be sure to roll any tape repairs. A small seam roller does the job.
RV Roof Maintenance Repairs
In most cases, a roof inspection won’t be anything more than a quick look. But with the movement of an RV caulking can crack and seams can loosen. And there is always the risk of a falling tree limp puncturing the roof. Most roof repairs are easy. And repairs are on the roof where people can't see what kind of job I've done.
Fixing Tears, Punctures, and Separated Seams
Small tears, punctures, and separated seams are easy to fix with tape. I use Eternabond Tape. It comes in rolls with backing tape. It’s easy to apply but you have to be careful. The tape is sticky. It will bond to clothes, and skin, on contact. The only thing it won't bond to is silicone.
How to apply Eternabond tape
It takes a little practice. Plan on wasting some tape. I have tried using it in long strips, but I’ve found it too hard to keep from touching something and bonding. What I do is apply it in small sections by pulling off 12” to 18" of backing and then pressing the tape onto the damaged area.
TIP: Complete clean the area before application. Eternabond Tape has a 25-year warranty. It's a must-have item in my RV roof maintenance toolkit.
Re-caulking Caulked Areas
RV manufacturers caulk all roof penetrations. In time, Caulk around the roof penetrations will crack or pull away from metal.
Dirt loves caulk. Taking the time to deep clean caulk will pay off. I use mineral spirits to get a good cleaning. A small amount on a rag will clean off dirt and debris. After cleaning with mineral spirits clean the area with a good, oil-free, cleaner. I use window cleaner.
TIP: If you use window cleaner make sure it doesn't have any oils in it.
If the caulking has large cracks, I use a knife to clean out the cracks before applying new caulk. In small cracks, I run a knife blade through the crack to clean out any dirt then wash the area to make sure it's clean. Once the area to be re-caulked is ready, I apply the new caulk over the old caulk.
TIP: Don’t worry about using too much caulk. I’ve found more is better than less. If you are unsure about how much to use, look at the old caulk. Manufacturers aren't stingy when they apply the caulk. With practice, you’ll know exactly how much to use.
TIP: Use a good self-leveling caulk. It will flow out and fill any gaps. I have used Dicor Self-Leveling caulk for many years and found it works great.
Inspecting an RV roof isn't difficult or time-consuming. If inspected at least once a year, the roof will stay in great shape for many years.
Most RV roof maintenance and repairs are easy. You don't need a pro. A good inspection only takes a few minutes. Having the right products to fix any damage will insure a good repair.