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Some RV repairs can be temporarily put on hold, but an RV roof repair is not one of them. Failing to repair your RV roof can cause a frustrating and expensive set of circumstances that will only grow worse with time.
Because roof repair is such a critical piece of RV maintenance, in today’s post we’ll share with you some important tips for finding and repairing holes in an RV roof. Let’s get started!
How Can Your RV Roof Get Holes?
Unless your RV is stored indoors, your RV roof is constantly exposed to varying climates and weather conditions. The ever-changing environment can cause caulking and seals to expand and contract repeatedly, which can eventually lead to holes, cracks or gaps in the roof.
Holes can also occur when you’re on the move. A tree branch might scrape and puncture the rooftop if you were to underestimate the height of a tree limb, for example. This type of accident can easily occur and can cause significant damage to an RV roof.
Tree damage can also occur when you’re sitting still. Anytime you park your RV under a tree, you risk damage. High winds, lightning, or a tree’s advanced age can cause branches or entire limbs to drop. If your RV happens to be parked there at the time, your RV roof could sustain extensive damage.
RV Roof Types
Not all RVs have the same type of roof, of course. The four most common types of RV roofing are EPDM, TPO, fiberglass, and aluminum. Let’s take a look at some details, including the pros and cons of each.
EPDM and TPO are both commonly referred to as “rubber roofs” although they’re not identical products. EPDM (ethylene propylene diene terpolymer) is the least expensive and easiest to install. This lightweight material doesn’t dent, scratch, or scuff easily, but RVers can generally pick up repair materials from their local big-box store when it does. Holes generally occur from lack of preventative maintenance or rough impacts with tree limbs.
TPO (thermoplastic polyolefin) is a white, single-layer rubber-like roofing material. Because it’s white, it excels at reflecting heat from the sun. TPO roofs come in a variety of thicknesses depending on the manufacturer’s request. Whether or not the thicker material is more effective over the long haul seems to be a hot topic in RV discussion forums.
TPO roofs have a laminate cover that helps keep them from weakening and developing cracks. This material is applied in sheets, which increases the potential for damage due to aged or faulty caulking.
Fiberglass is another common RV roofing material that’s especially durable. RVers appreciate the fact that fiberglass is rot and rust-resistant, both significant concerns for RV roofs. Despite its many benefits, if fiberglass is damaged, repairs can be expensive, requiring a fair amount of labor. Fiberglass can become damaged from extended exposure to intense heat which can cause cracking.
A fourth common material used for RV roofs is aluminum. Aluminum roofs tend to be capable of avoiding serious damage from contact with light tree limbs and branches. This metal roofing material is also fire-resistant. Despite these good qualities, the list of cons is relatively extensive. While aluminum may be more robust than rubber or fiberglass, a few bumps or a minor hailstorm can quickly diminish the smooth appearance of a new aluminum roof.
Aluminum doesn’t work well with adhesives, so rivets are generally used to secure it to the roof structure. Any hole in an RV roof creates an opportunity for leaks. Aluminum tends to retain its shape which you might not consider being a “con”, but in fact, it has the potential to mask leaks and other damage.
If you want to know even more about all the different types of RV roof materials, read our post all about them: The Complete Guide to Your RV Roof
How to Inspect Your Roof for Holes
No matter what roofing material your RV uses, it’s very important to regularly inspect your RV roof for leaks, cracks and degrading or damaged sealants. Many RV manufacturers recommend checking all seals every 30-90 days. Catching holes and potential leaks early is the key to minimizing repair time and costs.
If your RV doesn’t have an attached ladder, you’ll need a way to gain access to your RV’s roof, such as a folding step ladder, or a collapsible extension ladder. Once you get up there, do a broad visual sweep of the surface, looking for scuffs, rips, tears, or dents, followed by a detailed inspection of every potential source of leaks.
Of course, you should only go up onto your RV’s roof if you’re comfortable that you can be safe up there. If you’re not physically able to climb up there, then don’t. And be especially careful if your roof is wet so that you don’t slip and fall off!
Inspect potential problem areas, and then take a closer look at the seams and caulking. Look for cracks and signs of hardening or separation. You’ll also want to inspect areas around vents, air conditioners, antennas, solar panels, and any additional installations.
Cleaning Your RV Roof
Ridding your RV’s roof of harmful substances is one of the best preventative measures you can take. You’ll want to do a general sweeping of your RV’s roof to remove excess leaves and debris. This presents an opportunity to thoroughly inspect your roof for mold, mildew, and sap.
Next, spray the roof with clean water to remove loose dirt and grime. Having a few tools on hand, such as a long-handled sponge mop or soft brush, is helpful for this process.
Check your owner’s manual to learn what the manufacturer recommends for cleaning your RV, and the roof in particular. Be aware that using products that include petroleum distillates on rubber roofs can damage them, or the adhesive that bonds them to the roof structure. This could potentially void your warranty.
Rubber roof cleaners can work well with fiberglass and aluminum roofs as well, but double-check any warnings on the packaging to confirm before purchasing. During the cleaning process, give extra attention to areas where mold, mildew, tree sap, bird droppings or other stains are present. Rinse thoroughly and often to prevent residue and grime build-up.
If you’re standing on the roof while cleaning, watch where you step. Most importantly, never step backward without looking, and don’t step on anything not meant to walk on, such as skylights or vents.
RV Roof Repair for a Rubber Roof
The first step to repairing an RV roof composed of rubber is to clean the damaged area to see the extent of the damage.
If you’re doing routine maintenance, use a tube or two of self-leveling sealant with a caulking gun for any seam holes or cracks. Just be sure that you’re only using the self-leveling sealant on flat, horizontal surfaces as it is too fluid to stay in place on sidewalls. It’s the nature of the sealant… it flows and self-levels in order to smoothly and cleanly seal the surface you apply it over. And because it remains pliable it can flex and remain sealed, even if the parts it’s sealing expand/contract differently with changes in temperature or due to movement.
If you discover a puncture or tear on your RV roof, there are multiple RV roof patches and RV roof tapes (Eternabond is a popular & effective choice) that will provide a quick, easy, and durable fix. It comes in several different combinations of width & length, and several different colors:
RV Roof Repair on a Metal Roof
Clear your metal RV roof of any debris before you begin a repair. Inspect the repair area carefully and take note of what’s around it. Remember, metal roofs are capable of concealing the true extent of any damage.
Inspect the seams and use seam tape and patching compound to fill them and prevent future leaks. Eternabond is one of the most popular tapes (it comes in several colors, including gray which will likely match your metal roof better than other choices), which can actually be used on any type of RV roof, and is virtually permanent. The key is to make sure any seams are completely covered by the tape, overlapping if needed.
RV Roof Repair for a Fiberglass Roof
Fiberglass is less forgiving than other RV roofing materials when it comes to damage. Extensive damage likely requires professional assistance, which can be costly. You’re also at their mercy in terms of the repair timeline. If you’re handy, it’s possible to fix minor cracks and blemishes in a fiberglass roof. Just know your limits and when to hire a professional to prevent future problems.
For any issues you can repair yourself, clean the damaged area thoroughly, and let it dry. Sand the damaged area to provide a smooth surface for repair sealants. If you’re confident, you can even use fiberglass resin, and fiberglass cloth if needed, to make the repair yourself.
But for most minor damage, Eternabond is a great fallback, which just about anyone can apply.
Stay Ahead on Maintenance
We cannot overstate the importance of preventative maintenance. Regularly checking your RV’s roof for damage and cracking seals is the best way to notice small changes that may occur over time. Note that the warranty on your roof may depend on having your RV inspected annually and evidence that you’ve been doing preventative maintenance.
Cracks and sun damage to your RV’s seals can potentially allow water into your RV. Leaks can often go unnoticed until significant damage has occurred. Water sitting in your RV’s ceiling and walls can cause mold to grow, leading to potential health issues for anyone regularly spending time inside the RV. Of course water penetration left unchecked over a long period of time can lead to serious structural damage and rot.
We inspect the roof of our RV about once a month. We recommend that you regularly inspect your RV’s roof as well and that you don’t put off even the most minor repairs. Tending to minor wear or damage as it occurs may be easy and inexpensive. But delaying regular DIY maintenance and repairs can lead to extensive damage and very expensive professional repairs.
Our best advice: Stay on top of your RV roof! ????
But if you haven’t you can check out our video (from many years ago, but still useful) about how to repair holes in an RV roof:
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Even though we're handy RVers, we're not professional technicians. So although we're happy with the techniques and products we use, you should be sure to confirm that all methods and materials are compatible with your equipment and abilities. Regardless of what we recommend, consult a professional if you're unsure about working on your RV. Any task you perform or product you purchase based on any information we provide is strictly at your own risk.