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RV Rubber Roof: EPDM to TPO – What Are the Pros & Cons?

RV Rubber Roof: EPDM to TPO – What Are the Pros & Cons?

In this post, we’re talking about the RV rubber roof.

From EPDM to TPO, rubber RV roofing is very common on a wide range of rigs, so it’s important to understand. There’s quite a bit of confusion around the different types of rubber roof material, so we’ll try to clear things up in this post.

If your rig has an EPDM or TPO RV roof (or any type of “rubber” roof material), it’s important to know how to care for it. Routine inspections and maintenance keep your roof’s integrity strong and performing as it should over time. Exposure to UV rays from the sun, harsh weather, and impact with tree branches can take their toll.

It’s also important to know that different types of roofs require different types of products like lap sealant, RV roof coating, and even cleaning solutions. So, let’s get into this important topic for anyone with an RV with a roof made of synthetic rubber material.

What Is an EPDM RV Roof?

EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer) is a flexible rubber-like membrane typically used on flat roofs. One of the most frequently used RV roofing materials, it’s often made from recycled materials like tires, sawdust, and slate dust.

EPDM roofing is available in sheet and liquid form. The liquid form dries to a semi-solid finish providing a flexible watertight seal.

EPDM sheets are dried and cured, so they offer less flexibility, but the finish is slightly sturdier. This material is sometimes black, although many liquid EPDM products dry to a white finish, which offers better heat rejection.

Pros

An EPDM roof is lightweight and easy to install, and repair. The material is resistant to scratches, scuffs, and dents. It can also resist leaks since it’s manufactured in large, continuous rolls with fewer seams. EPDM is an affordable roofing option and can easily last up to 25 years, or longer if properly maintained.

Cons

Although EPDM is damage-resistant, it’s not damage-proof, especially when it comes to punctures. A tree branch, for example, can easily poke a hole in the material. Punctures require immediate repair to prevent water penetration.

Also, the outer surface of an EPDM roof is typically very smooth, which means it’s likely to be slippery when wet. So you’ll need to use extra caution when walking up there. (See more on this in our post, “Can I Walk On My RV Roof?“)

EPDM is also prone to leaving white or black streaks down the side of your RV. This mostly occurs as a result of the slight “shedding” that occurs as a protective mechanism against UV damage. Keeping your RV’s roof nice and clean can help reduce streaking.

Again, some EPDM roofing is black (really more like slate gray). Not only does black/dark gray roofing transmit more heat, making it harder to cool your rig, but it’s also more prone to worse black streaks. White EPDM roofing is preferable in terms of both energy efficiency and minimizing black streaks.

How to Care For an EPDM RV Roof

Keeping your EPDM roof clean is an integral part of ensuring a long life. Depending on how much you use your RV, you’ll want to clean and condition it at least once a year. Ideally, washing and conditioning the roof every 3-6 months is even better.

Start by gently sweeping loose debris off the roof. Then wet the roof and wash it with a gentle, rubber-safe cleaner (avoid petroleum distillates or citrus cleaners as they can damage the membrane).

Valterra V88548 Rubber ROOF Cleaner, 64OZ
  • Safe for use on all synthetic and natural rubber surfaces
  • Deep cleans, conditions and protects in just one application

If you don’t want to use a dedicated product to clean your roof, a popular choice is to use the same type of car wash soap typically used to wash the entire RV. Be sure to use a soft-bristled brush or sponge to avoid damaging the membrane.

Meguiar's Gold Class Car Wash, Ultra-Rich Car Wash Foam Soap and Conditioner for Car Cleaning, Car Paint Cleaner to Wash and Condition in One Easy Step, 1 Gallon
  • ONLY ONE STEP: Meguiar's Gold Class foaming car wash soap simplifies your car cleaning routine by combining cleaning and conditioning into one easy...
  • CLEAN AND PRESERVE: Featuring an advanced formula, this powerful car shampoo and conditioner not only cleans your car, but it’s also gentle enough...
Carrand 93086 10" Bi-Level Soft Fiber Car Wash Brush , Yellow
  • 10 inch bi-level brush head
  • Use for flow-thru or dip brush
MR. LONGARM 2408 Fiber Glass and Aluminum Extension Pole
  • Smooth composite fiberglass handle with anodized aluminum slider
  • Heavy-duty, external quick locking device

You can extend the life of your EPDM roof by using a protectant designed to keep it pliable, reduce UV damage, and preserve the material. Once the roof is clean, apply a protectant, following the directions accordingly. (You can find more information in our post on RV rubber roof protectants.)

Protect All RV Rubber Roof Treatment - Anti-Static - Dirt Repelling - UV Protectant - 32 oz 68032
  • Reducing Powdery Roof Chalk: Protect All Rubber Roof Treatment coats the roof in a tough polymer with anti-static properties, preventing grime from...
  • Less Maintenance of the RV Roof:  Reduces maintenance up to 75% - More protection, less cleaning required.

You can walk on your EPDM roof when necessary, but only in soft-soled shoes. Again, it will be slippery when wet, so be extremely careful up there.

If your EPDM roof should tear, specialized sealing tapes like Eternabond are usually the best choice to repair it.

Sale
EternaBond RoofSeal White 4" x50' MicroSealant UV Stable RV Roof Seal Repair Tape | 35 mil Total Thickness - EB-RW040-50R - One-Step Durable, Waterproof and Airtight Sealant
  • MULTI-USE: Perfect for use on metal buildings, trailer/RV roofs and sides, drain pans, drain pipes, boats, canoes. bonds to a wide range of surfaces...
  • NO ADDITIONAL SEALING REQUIRED: Aluminum backing, combined with a layer of advanced MicroSealant, creates a waterproof, moisture, and air tight...

There are also RV roof patch kits available but those may require additional sealant. Finally, keep an eye on any joints/seams in your roof since a failed seal is a common cause of rubber roof leaks.

What Is a TPO RV Roof?

TPO (Thermoplastic Polyolefin / Thermoplastic Olefin) is another common type of “rubber” membrane that has been a popular RV roofing material since the 1990s.

In fact, it’s among the most common RV roofing materials used on RVs. Between TPO and EPDM, TPO is probably the first choice for manufacturers these days.

TPO is a single-ply membrane that’s both UV-resistant and affordable, with heat-welded seams. But, like EPDM, it should be repaired at the first signs of a puncture or tear to prevent water penetration into the RV.

Pros

TPO roofs are durable and resistant to mold, help prevent dirt from accumulating, and are more difficult to damage by impact and punctures than EPDM. Again, they also include UV protection to prevent deterioration from sun exposure.

TPO membrane is less slippery than EPDM due to its “orange peel” texture, making it safer to walk on your RV’s roof when it’s wet. It’s also less prone to causing the white/black streaks down the side of your RV since it doesn’t “shed” or “chalk” the way that EPDM does.

Cons

A TPO RV roof won’t last quite as long as EPDM due to the breakdown of its chemical makeup from exposure to the elements. But it should still last 15-20 years with proper roof inspection, care, and maintenance.

While less susceptible to punctures, TPO roofs may show divots from anything that impacts the roof (hail, branches, etc). Severe enough divots can potentially leave permanent damage on the surface of the material.

How to Care for a TPO RV Roof

Maintenance and repair of a TPO roof is virtually identical to that of EPDM (see above) and involves regular cleaning and protecting to keep it in tip-top shape. Check out our post on how to clean a rubber roof on an RV for more details.

You’re also able to walk on a TPO roof, but light traffic in soft-soled shoes is recommended to avoid causing unnecessary wear or damage.

Keeping EPDM and TPO RV Roofs Well Sealed

The most important objective with any RV roof is preventing water on the outside from making its way inside.

Regardless of the material used on your RV’s roof, it must be inspected regularly for signs of potential leaks. Joints, seams, and roof penetrations (roof vents, plumbing vents, skylights, antennas, etc) are places where sealants can fail.

If water gets through the seals and under your roof membrane, it can significantly damage the underlying structure. Water can often find its way to places far from where it initially entered.

What makes leaks so damaging is the fact that they’re insidious. You often have no idea that you even have a leak until years of slow leaking are discovered to have caused major damage. So, by the time you become aware of the leak, the cost of repairs can be substantial.

That’s why it’s so incredibly important to be diligent about your RV roof care and maintenance.

At least once a year, you should inspect every potential opening, re-sealing where necessary to keep the water out. Most often, you’ll see Dicor Self-Leveling Lap Sealant used around these locations.

Be sure to clean and inspect your Dicor RV roof sealant to keep things watertight.

Dicor 501LSW-1 HAPS-Free Self-Leveling Lap Sealant for horizontal surfaces - 10.3 Oz, White, Secure, Ideal for RV Roofing, Maintenance, Repair, Appliance Application
  • RV ROOFING USE: Lap sealant is sun-ray stabilized to avoid spoiling and discoloration; Plus, it will not stain or discolor any roofing material to...
  • COLOR: White hue for stylish and beautiful RV roof

If you think your RV roof maintenance has fallen short, or if you had an unfortunate meeting with a low-hanging tree branch, check out our post on How to Repair Holes In an RV Roof.

Meanwhile, here’s a video about the choice between EPDM and TPO RV roofs:

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Tom T.

Friday 25th of August 2023

My 5th wheel camper's roof (2021 model) is labelled as having "Dicor Tuff Flex" material. Is that TPO or EPDM? Or is it something else? If it is something else, what material is it and what is the recommnded maintenance procedures and products for taking care of that roof? Thank you for considering this inquiry.

TheRVgeeks

Tuesday 29th of August 2023

Hey Tom... Dicor Tufflex is neither TPO or EPDM. It's a PVC material (https://dicorproducts.com/product/tufflex-pvc-roofing/) and here are Dicor's instructions (PDF) for care: https://dicorproducts.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2019/05/Roof-Care-and-maintenance.pdf

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